BEIJING • Mr Zhong Shanshan is a private billionaire who is rarely quoted in the press.
Now, after an improbable career spanning journalism, mushroom farming and healthcare, he has become Asia’s richest person, eclipsing India’s Mukesh Ambani and a group of Chinese tech titans, including Mr Jack Ma.
Mr Zhong’s net worth surged US$70.9 billion last year to US$77.8 billion (S$102.8 billion), making him the 11th-richest person on the planet, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
It is one of the fastest accumulations of wealth in history, and all the more remarkable considering that until last year, he was little known outside of China.
Mr Zhong, 66, is not involved in politics and his business interests are not entwined with those of other rich families such as property tycoons, which is why he is known locally as the “Lone Wolf”.
He owes his success to two unrelated fields. He took Covid-19 vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise public last April, then months later, bottled-water maker Nongfu Spring, another of his companies, became one of Hong Kong’s hottest listings.
Nongfu shares have jumped 155 per cent since their debut, and Wantai’s are up more than 2,000 per cent.
Mr Ambani has also had an extraordinary year, striking deals to transform his conglomerate Reliance Industries into a technology and e-commerce titan, and seeing his fortune surge US$18.3 billion to US$76.9 billion (S$101.6 billion).
While Mr Ambani was at one point the world’s fourth-richest person, shares of Reliance have stalled as he comes under pressure to deliver on the digital transformation he has promised.
‘LONE WOLF’ ZHONG SHANSHAN
The fortune of the private billionaire behind Covid-19 vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise and bottled-water maker Nongfu Spring.
INDIAN TYCOON MUKESH AMBANI
What Mr Ambani is worth after an extraordinary year, striking deals to transform Reliance Industries.
CHINESE TECH TITAN JACK MA
The Alibaba founder’s net worth fell from a high of US$61.7 billion (S$81.5 billion) last October.
Meanwhile, Nongfu stock hit a peak this week after Citigroup analysts said the company has solidified its market dominance and enjoys ample cash flow. And Wantai is among those developing a Covid-19 vaccine.
Mr Zhong has also climbed the ranks as China’s tech companies have tumbled with increased government scrutiny.
Mr Jack Ma, Asia’s richest person before Mr Ambani took over last year, is now worth US$51.2 billion (S$67.6 billion), down from a high of US$61.7 billion last October.