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Tycoon's rags-to-riches story echoes nation's rise

Late head of Wahaha Group remembered for innovative ideas, humble lifestyle, concern for others

By WANG ZHUOQIONG | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-29 07:41

Zong Qinghou, founder and chairman of Hangzhou Wahaha Group.

Bouquets of flowers have piled up in front of building No 160 at the headquarters of Hangzhou Wahaha Group, China's leading beverage maker, in tribute to its founder and chairman, Zong Qinghou, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 79. A memorial service was held for Zong in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, on Wednesday.

Earlier, past and present employees as well as visitors paid their respects to the business leader at the gray, six-story building, where Zong, once China's richest man, conducted his daily work.

Among the bouquets were a pair of black cotton shoes, Zong's signature footwear, which reflected his simple and frugal lifestyle, along with a container of Wahaha AD Milk, a favorite drink of generations of consumers, especially in their childhood.

Leaders of private enterprises sent their regards. Geely Chairman Li Shufu praised Zong as a pioneer of innovation and entrepreneurship in the private sector who was representative of modern Zhejiang merchants and their hardworking spirit.

"You have opened up new territories for the rise and development of China's food and beverage industry, and you are a model for the first generation of Zhejiang businesspeople," Li wrote.

Lei Jun, founder and CEO of the technology giant Xiaomi Corp, hailed Zong as a true legend, citing his book on marketing in 2002 as a source of inspiration for over two decades.

Zhou Hongyi, founder of the cybersecurity company 360 Security Group, lauded Zong's marketing theories on selling beverages as words of wisdom for his own entrepreneurial journey. "I hope his spirit can continue to encourage more Chinese entrepreneurs to work together," Zhou said.

In 2012, Zong claimed the top spot on the Forbes List for the Chinese mainland with a fortune of $10 billion.

In 2020, he was named on the Hurun list as the richest man on the Chinese mainland. By March 2023, Zong ranked 121st on the 2023 Hurun Global Rich List with a wealth of $15 billion.

Despite his huge fortune, Zong led a modest life and diligently worked from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm. He slept in a bedroom located in the same building as his office and was known for his calm and soft-spoken demeanor.

He preferred simple meals like porridge and noodles from the company canteen. The tycoon often traveled alone on business trips carrying a single suitcase and once went second-class on a bullet train, chatting to and befriending other passengers.

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