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Rags-to-riches result of business acumen not frugality

chinadaily.com.cn| Updated: February 28, 2024 L M S

Zong Qinghou, a beverage tycoon from Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, died of an illness on Sunday at the age of 79. There has been much mourning at his passing as he was well-known as the founder of a company, headquartered in his hometown in the late 1980s, which later developed into the Wahaha Group, a major beverage enterprise.

He is known to the public for three things — his rags-to-riches rise, his long-term spartan lifestyle, and his commitment to boosting China's national industrial entities. Forbes ranked him, with a wealth of about $5.9 billion, No 53 among Chinese billionaires last year.

Yet apart from that, it is also worthwhile to delve into the question about whether his entrepreneurial success can be replicated today and what lessons policymakers can learn from his self-made business success as they try to enrich the soil for entrepreneurship.

Before winning a contract to work as a salesperson of a small school-run factory selling stationery, iced treats and soft beverages in Hangzhou in 1987, Zong worked as a traveling salesman for nearly a decade after working for 15 years on various posts in local farming communes with Grade-9 education.

His sharp business sense, which he attributed to poverty rather than the genes of the Zhejiang business community as some suggested, enabled him to recognize business opportunities at a time when the country had just initiated the transition from a planned economy to a socialist market one.

The broad space and autonomy he enjoyed as a sales representative of the factory enabled him to continuously hone his sales tactics and enlarge his network of business partners. That not only helped him accumulate the start-up funds he later used to contract the whole factory, a predecessor of the Wahaha Group, but also influenced his later inclusive and results-oriented management style, which he summed up as always trying to make complicated things simple rather than the opposite.

As he told the media, it is the spirit of adventure of his generation of entrepreneurs and their down-to-earth work style that deserve attention, rather than his frugal lifestyle, which was a personal choice.