China's Richest Man Spends Only $20 a Day
Zong Qinghou is the world's twenty-third richest man. In Asia, he's number three, and in China, he's number one.
A spokesman for the billionaire recently revealed that he owned an 80% stake in his beverage company, Hangzhou Wahaha Group Co., almost double what was previously expected, putting his net worth at $21.6 billion and bringing him to his high ranking in the world of the rich.
But Zong didn't start out that way. He was working as a shopkeeper in a school when he decided to open the Wahaha Nutritional Food Factory in 1989.
His company's products took off, and in 1991 Wahaha, which means “laughing children,” moved to a canning company in Hangzhou.
It's now the third-largest soft drink distributor in China, preceded only by Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) and Tingyi (Cayman Islands) Holding Co. (HKG: 0322).
“Zong has made himself a billionaire by staying in the right industry, positioning Wahaha well and eventually seizing the opportunity of growth in smaller Chinese cities,” said Zhang Lu, an analyst at Capital Securities Corp. (6005) in Shanghai. “Given the fact that Wahaha is already a well-known brand domestically, disclosing his share and wealth would help to boost the global profile of both Wahaha and Zong himself.”
But Zong has not allowed his immense wealth to define him. In fact, and this is perhaps what sets him apart from the other 22 billionaires in the world that precede him in ranking, he has said that he spends no more than $20 a day.
He told BBC's Nick Rosen:
“My only exercise is doing market research...my only hobbies are smoking and drinking tea.”
And Rosen said when he met him last summer, he was eating in his company's staff canteen, consuming food no different from the rest of the workers at his company.
Zong's monk-like devotion to duty is legendary. A former employee remembers he personally reviewed every office expense, including the purchase of a broom.
Not only is he modest – he's frugal. Perhaps one of Zong's secrets to success is his tendency to keep track of every dollar spent by the company, a trait he carries over to his personal finances.
After all, it has to be difficult for a man worth billions to maintain the discipline necessary to spend so little each day.
But his methods could be telling us something. Zong was probably always a man who tracked his finances to make sure he was spending wisely. Rosen describes the sentiment behind his philosophy:
He said hard work was the key to the poor lifting themselves out of poverty. If you give money to the poor “they just spend it,” he told me.
Hard work and careful spending made him China's richest man. And as he believes, it's something anyone can do.
*Image courtesy of CEO World Magazine+6
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