China’s leading beverage mogul and founder of Wahaha Group, Zong Qinghou, passes away at the age of 79

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Zong Qinghou

25th February 2024 – (Hangzhou) Zong Qinghou, the renowned entrepreneur and chairman of Hangzhou Wahaha Group, China’s largest food and beverage production company, has sadly passed away at the age of 79. Zong’s death comes after a prolonged illness that proved to be incurable, despite extensive medical treatment.

Born into a humble family in Zhejiang province in October 1945, Zong faced numerous challenges early on. Due to financial constraints, he had to abandon his education and drop out of middle school. However, his determination and thirst for knowledge led him to engage in self-study during his spare time. Zong immersed himself in communist literature, delving into works such as The Collected Works of Mao Zedong and How the Steel was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrovsky.

In 1979, Zong returned to his hometown after his mother’s retirement from her teaching career. However, due to his limited education, he struggled to find employment and could only secure menial work at a local school in Hangzhou. It was in 1987 that Zong’s entrepreneurial journey began when he seized an opportunity to establish a mini grocery in a school located in Hangzhou’s Shangcheng District. Starting with the sale of milk, Zong gradually expanded his business, forming the foundation of what would become the Wahaha Group. Collaborating with two retired schoolteachers, Zong secured a loan of CNY 140,000 to produce milk drinks for distribution.

Zong’s astute business acumen and unwavering work ethic propelled Wahaha to unprecedented heights. With an autocratic leadership style, he transformed the company into the foremost beverage manufacturer in the People’s Republic of China. Zong’s strategic move to partner with Groupe Danone in 1996 further solidified Wahaha’s position in the industry. This collaboration involved significant inward investments and exclusive rights for the joint venture companies to produce, distribute, and sell products under the Wahaha brand. Over the years, the partnership expanded to encompass 39 joint venture entities.

However, in 2007, tensions arose between Danone and Wahaha, leading to a bitter dispute. Danone accused Wahaha of operating parallel companies that replicated the joint venture’s operations, resulting in substantial financial losses for the partnership. Eventually, the two parties reached a settlement and dissolved their alliance. Zong stepped down as the chairman of the joint ventures on 5 June 2007, marking the end of an era.

Zong’s remarkable achievements garnered widespread recognition and earned him the title of China’s richest man in 2010, as declared by Forbes. He retained this position in 2012 and ranked second-richest in 2013, according to the China Rich List published by Hurun Report.

Beyond his entrepreneurial pursuits, Zong also actively participated in political affairs. Since 2002, he served as a delegate to the Chinese National People’s Congress, and he was re-elected in 2007.

Zong’s passing on February 25, 2024, marks the end of an era for the Hangzhou Wahaha Group and the Chinese business community. His contributions to the industry and his indomitable spirit will be remembered for years to come. The Hangzhou Wahaha Group has announced that a memorial service in honor of Zong Qinghou will be held on Wednesday, February 28, 2024, at the Hangzhou Wahaha Group’s headquarters in Xia Sha.

Zong Qinghou leaves behind his wife, Shi Youzhen, and their daughter, Fuli (Kelly) Zong. Shi, who currently serves as the purchasing manager at Wahaha, supported Zong throughout his remarkable journey. Zong’s daughter, Fuli, pursued higher education in the United States, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen. However, she later returned to China and began the process of renouncing her American citizenship in 2007.

Zong Qinghou’s legacy extends far beyond his entrepreneurial success. He embodied the values of thriftiness and cost control, living on a modest budget of less than $6,000 per year. Zong attributed his frugality to the teachings of Mao Zedong and implemented cost-cutting measures as fundamental principles in Wahaha’s operations.