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Founder of beverage giant Wahaha passes away at 79

By FAN FEIFEI| China Daily| Updated: February 26, 2024 L M S


This file photo taken on Aug 24, 2016, shows Zong Qinghou, founder of China's leading beverage maker Hangzhou Wahaha Group, being interviewed in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. [Photo/IC]

Zong Qinghou, the founder and chairman of Hangzhou Wahaha Group, China's leading beverage manufacturer, passed away on Sunday at the age of 79.

As one of the most respected representatives of China's first generation of entrepreneurs since the country embarked on reform and opening-up in 1978, Zong's down-to-earth style and innovative spirit greatly impressed the public.

Experts said Zong's rags-to-riches life story will surely inspire more Chinese entrepreneurs to focus on the real economy and run their businesses in a pragmatic and steady manner.

Born in 1945 in Suqian, Jiangsu province, Zong took over a small grocery store at a school in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in 1987, and worked as a distributor of soft drinks and popsicles for children.

In 1989, he founded Hangzhou Wahaha Nutritional Food Factory, which became Hangzhou Wahaha Group two years later after the acquisition of a local canned food factory on the verge of bankruptcy.

In 1996, Zong launched Wahaha AD calcium milk, which became a great hit with Chinese consumers.

The company's products now cover more than 200 categories, including purified water, milk and yogurt drinks, carbonated drinks, fruit and vegetable juice, tea and coffee drinks, with its sales revenue reaching 51.2 billion yuan ($7.1 billion) in 2022. It has nearly 30,000 employees and 81 production bases nationwide.

As one of the most iconic figures in Chinese business history, Zong was ranked as the country's richest person in 2010, 2012 and 2013 by business magazine Forbes.

However, Zong led a simple and thrifty life. He lived frugally, and it was common to see him dressed in a white shirt and black cloth shoes.

He once said, "I am an ordinary person, but luckily I was born in such an era." He said that Wahaha would not exist without reform and opening-up.

He said that Chinese entrepreneurs should fulfill their social responsibilities, and create wealth for the people, adding that they should create more employment opportunities and participate in public welfare activities, contributing to the country's economic and social development.

Zong was a deputy to the 10th, 11th and 12th National People's Congress, China's top legislature.

Pan Helin, co-director of the Digital Economy and Financial Innovation Research Center at Zhejiang University's International Business School, said, "As a representative of the first generation of Chinese entrepreneurs after the start of reform and opening-up, Zong always focused on the real economy and was not involved in finance and property."

Zong turned a small drinks business into a beverage conglomerate, and his down-to-earth entrepreneurial spirit, perseverance and courage to face difficulties will encourage further generations of Chinese entrepreneurs to expand their businesses step by step, Pan said.

Guo Tao, deputy head of the China Electronic Commerce Expert Service Center, said Zong's deep understanding and insightfulness regarding the real economy not only laid a solid foundation for the company's development, but also made a contribution to the development of China's manufacturing sector.

Moreover, Zong attached great importance to technological innovation, which was conducive to ensuring the quality and diversity of Wahaha's products in a highly competitive market, and providing strong impetus to the company's sustainable growth, Guo said. "Zong's management philosophy has set an example for the development of China's private economy."

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