Asia’s new richest man is a secret billionaire; Ambani pushed to 2nd spot

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Zhong Shanshan Image
Zhong Shanshan, the bottled water billionaire, is now the richest man of Asia

Zhong Shanshan is a private billionaire who has rarely received any attention from the media.

Now, after an extraordinary career ranging from journalism, to mushroom farming and health care, he has become the richest person in Asia, eclipsing Mukesh Ambani of India and a group of Chinese tech titans including Jack Ma.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Mr. Zhong’s net worth rose by $70.9 billion this year to $77.8 billion, making him the 11th-richest person on the planet. It’s one of the fastest wealth accumulations in history, and all the more impressive given that he was little known outside of China until this year.

The ‘Lone Wolf’

Zhong, aged 66, isn’t involved in politics and his business interests aren’t entwined with other rich families such as the property tycoons, which is why he’s known locally as the “Lone Wolf.”

He owes his success to two unrelated fields. He took vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise Co. public in April, then months later Nongfu Spring Co., a maker of bottled water, became one of Hong Kong’s hottest listings. Nongfu shares have jumped 155 percent since their debut, and Wantai’s are up more than 2,000 percent.

Mr. Ambani has also had an extraordinary year, striking deals to transform his conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. into a technology and eCommerce titan and seeing his fortune surge $18.3 billion to $76.9 billion. While Mr. Ambani was at one point the world’s fourth-richest person, shares of his Reliance have stalled as he comes under pressure to deliver on the digital transformation he’s promised.

Meanwhile, Nongfu stock hit a peak this week after analysts said the company has solidified its market dominance and enjoys ample cash flow. Mr. Zhong’s other firm, Wantai, is among those developing a COVID-19 vaccine.

Mr. Zhong has also climbed the ranks as China’s tech companies have tumbled among increased government scrutiny. Jack Ma, Asia’s richest person before Ambani took over this year, is now worth $51.2 billion, down from a high of $61.7 billion in October.