June 22, 2024

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Obituary: Zong Qinghou, China’s richest man and self-made billionaire

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Zong Qinghou, the self-made billionaire who became China’s richest man by wresting control of the country’s top beverage brand from Danone, has died. He was 79.

The founder and chairman of Wahaha Group died of illness at a hospital at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, according to a statement that doesn’t provide further details on the cause of death or the location of the medical facility. The company said on Feb. 22 that Zong was hospitalized for treatment and was in stable condition. 

Born before the Communist Party took power, Zong’s life paralleled China’s transformation from a poor and mostly-agrarian country into the world’s factory floor and its second-largest economy. His wealth, which began with a $22,000 family loan, grew into billions of dollars as Chinese people became ever more voracious consumers.

Zong, who never attended high school, was forced to live on a farming commune in 1964 during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. He left in 1978, the year that Deng Xiaoping — having consolidated power as China’s paramount leader — began introducing private business and foreign investment to China, freeing up a generation of entrepreneurs like Zong to dabble in capitalism.

After working as a consumer goods salesman for several years, Zong took over a small shop at a grade school in the eastern city of Hangzhou in 1987. There, he created Wahaha, the beverage brand that would make him one of China’s richest men.

Zong was propelled onto the global stage when he fell out with French food giant Danone, as the two dissolved a decade-long partnership in a flurry of lawsuits and government intervention.

The saga started in 1996, when Zong formed several joint ventures in China with the Paris-based owner of Evian water. The terms of their agreement included the transfer of the Wahaha brand, which means laughing child in Chinese, to the ventures that were 51% owned by Danone.

That partnership grew to a sales peak of 1.1 billion…

Bloomberg

2024-02-26 20:27:33

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