Founder of Wahaha Beverage Group Tops Hurun's Rich List

China May Have the Largest Number of Billionaires Worldwide

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SHANGHAI ( -- China may have the largest number of billionaires anywhere in the world, according to the Hurun Research Institute, which tracks the mainland's entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals. Many of China's wealthiest citizens made their fortunes in real estate, manufacturing, and construction but Hurun's "rich list" includes a handful of prominent marketing and media executives.

"We already know of 189 U.S. dollar billionaires in China this year, but you can safely say that we have missed at least half again, meaning there are between 400 and 500," said Hurun's Shanghai-based founder, Rupert Hoogewerf.

Forbes’ better-known “World’s Billionaires” ranking, published in March, found just 64 billionaires in 2010 in China, compared to 403 in the U.S., but that would still rank China as the No. 2 country for billionaires. Two other BRIC countries scored third and fourth, with 62 billionaires from Russia and 49 from India. The fourth BRIC market, Brazil, has 18 billionaires, according to Forbes. The richest individual in the Forbes ranking is Mexico’s Carlos Slim Helu and family, followed by Americans Bill Gates and then Warren Buffett.

Hurun released its twelfth annual ranking of the richest individuals in China this month. The 2010 list is topped by beverage king Zong Qinghou, 65, of Wahaha, who has a personal fortune of $12 billion, according to Hurun. (The Forbes ranking reports Mr. Zong’s assets at $7 billion, and ranks him No. 103 among the world’s billionaires). Mr. Zong has grown Wahaha into China's dominant beverage business with 2010 profits forecast to reach $1.5 billion and 30,000 employees. This year, Wahaha finally settled a protracted dispute with France-based Danone Group, a former partner. Mr. Zong, who with his wife and daughter owns 60% of Wahaha, jumped up from the No. 12 slot in last year's list.

Ranked No. 1 last year, car and battery manufacturer Wang Chuanfu has seen his wealth drop by 10%, making him No. 12 on the list with a fortune of $4.6 billion. (The Forbes ranking is similar, at $4.4 billion for Mr. Wang). BYD, which is partly owned by U.S. investor Warren Buffett, is expected to sell 600,000 electric cars this year. founder Robin Li Yanhong, 42, saw his wealth double since last year, ranking him No. 5 on the list at $5.3 billion. (The Forbes list puts Mr. Li at $5.3 billion). Mr. Li has Google's departure from China to thank for leading search engine Baidu's sharp increase in market share. This year, he's lining up Baidu to take on Alibaba Group's in the online shopping market.

Yan Bin, 56, grew his fortune on the back of strong sales in China for Red Bull energy drinks, which are expected to hit $800 million this year. Mr. Yan started his business in Thailand and is also known by his Thai name, Chanchai Ruayrungruang. Apart from Red Bull, Yan owns the luxury Reignwood Group, which includes the best-known golf club in Beijing.

The average age of individuals on the Hurun Rich List is 51, or 15 years younger than their U.S. or European counterparts.

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