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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

People crowd the hall of the Wuhan Central Department Store on Feb 5, 1988, to purchase televisions. ZHOU GUOQIANG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Fluctuating fortunes

A State-owned investment company in Hangzhou holds 46 percent of the shares in the Wahaha Group while Zong and Wahaha's shareholding platform hold 53.2 percent.

The group operates without a deputy general manager, with production, sales, and other responsibilities handled by various directors. In 2012, Zong said in an interview that: "It (Wahaha) is my entire life, my dreams, values, label and purpose. It is proof of my existence in this world."

Last November, Zong made his final public appearance at a dealers' conference, the company's annual flagship event. Addressing attendees, he discussed his health issues and his decision to quit smoking. He added that retirement is a concept foreign to him.

In recent years, Zong's daughter Zong Fuli, 42, has emerged as a prominent figure in the company, gradually assuming key roles and responsibilities.

Since 2007, Zong Fuli, who studied in the United States from the age of 14, has managed the Hongsheng Beverage Group and invested in upstream businesses including sugar-free tea drinks and sparkling water products. In 2020, she was appointed deputy general manager of Wahaha's marketing unit.

Since 2015, Wahaha has grappled with shifting consumer behavior, tastes and the rise of online shopping. The new trend challenged its traditional distribution methods, leading to an 8-year sales decline and subsequent recovery efforts.

From 2015 to 2020, the company's performance hovered around 46 billion yuan, marking a 25 percent decrease from its peak in 2013.

In recent years, Wahaha has made efforts to diversify its interests, including the launch of shopping malls and forays into children's formula milk. It also expanded into health products and franchised Wahaha milk tea rights.

Despite a revenue decline from over 70 billion yuan in 2013 to above 50 billion yuan in 2021, Wahaha is still a formidable player in the industry and boasts revenues twice that of its closest competitor, Nongfu Spring. "Innovation of its product portfolio is still what Wahaha needs the most," said Zhu, the analyst.

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