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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

Two customers are shown goods at a jeweler's shop in Isetan department store on Huaihai Road in Shanghai, Oct 1,1995. GERHARD JOREN/GETTY IMAGES

Strong leader

Zong was also known for his firm leadership style, exemplified by his resoluteness during lengthy business disputes between Wahaha and French dairy giant Danone. A joint venture was formed in 1996 with the company producing bottled water and congee products and Wahaha's production doubled from 1996 to 1997.

However, a decade later, tensions arose when Danone tried to acquire a 51-percent stake in Wahaha's non-joint venture company at a net asset price of 4 billion yuan, along with the Wahaha trademark.

Zong strongly opposed the move and often faced the media alone.

In 2009, a settlement was reached and the Wahaha trademark remained with the Wahaha Group. "Let's not be afraid of international lawsuits. We don't bully others, but we also can't let others bully us," Zong said at the time.

Under his leadership, the Wahaha Group flourished. It diversified its portfolio to more than 200 products, including packaged drinking water, and protein, carbonated and tea beverages.

Since its founding 35 years ago, Wahaha has accumulated sales of 860.1 billion yuan, profits and taxes of 174 billion yuan, and tax payments of 74.2 billion yuan. The company now has 81 production bases and 187 subsidiaries in 29 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions across the country, with nearly 30,000 employees.

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