HONG KONG -- Jack Ma, China's richest man, has a new rival.
Zhong Shanshan, whose drinks business and medical supply company both pulled off successful initial public offerings this year, has seen his fortunes leap to put him among the country's wealthiest individuals, with a spot near the top of the Hurun China Rich List.
The low-key entrepreneur had been largely unknown to the general public until about a month ago when shares of bottled-water company Nongfu Spring soared 54% on their first day of trading in Hong Kong.
The 65-year-old Zhong also controls Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, which manufactures COVID-19 and HIV diagnostic test kits. Wantai's shares have gained more than 2,000% since the company made its stock market debut in Shanghai in April.
With an assessed net worth of $53.7 billion, Zhong ranked third on the annual ranking of the country's wealthiest people, which is compiled by the Shanghai-based Hurun Research Institute.
The top two spots were retained by Jack Ma, the Alibaba Group Holding founder who controls Ant Group, and Pony Ma, chairman and CEO of Tencent Holdings. The 2020 ranking saw their wealth swell 45% to $58.8 billion and 50% to $57.4 billion, respectively, over the past year.
"The Top 3 are neck and neck, all making it to No. 1 this year," said Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun's chairman and chief researcher, in a statement accompanying the list. "Pony Ma started the year as No. 1, Zhong Shanshan was No. 1 for an hour on the day of his IPO in September, but Jack Ma took the official prize on the China Rich List."
Hoogewerf said that the rapid rebound in Chinese stock prices and a slew of new listings contributed to the biggest wealth increase in the 22 years since the China list was first launched.
"The Hurun China Rich List recorded more wealth created this year than the previous five years combined, suggesting that the structure of the economy has evolved, moving away from traditional sectors like manufacturing and real estate, toward the new economy," he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a catalyst for growth for many Chinese billionaires' businesses.
Wang Wei, founder and chairman of delivery company SF Express, jumped to No. 4 from No. 12 last year, with his wealth more than doubling to $35.3 billion. Wang Xing, CEO of food delivery company Meituan-Dianping, leapt to No. 13 from No. 65 with his wealth quadrupling to $25 billion.
Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of U.S.-based Zoom Video Communications, also made it to the list, tying for No. 30 with a net worth of $16.2 billion.
The electric vehicles sector also enjoyed the boom.
He Xiaopeng, founder and chairman of Xpeng Motors, saw his wealth grow 80% to $6.6 billion, following the company's New York listing in August, ranking him No. 96. Li Xiang of Li Auto made it into the Top 300 with $3.5 billion while Li Bin of Nio was close behind at $3.45 billion.
But the list was not without its share of losers.
The real estate sector was replaced by health care as the second-most popular industry for China's richest. It now accounts for 10.6% of individuals on the list, down from 14.8%. Xu Jiayin of China Evergrande Group ranked fifth, down two spots from last year, as the top person in the property sector.
Facing the pressure of U.S. sanctions, Huawei Technologies Chief Executive Ren Zhengfei saw his assessed wealth decrease 10% to $2.8 billion. The net worth of Zhang Yiming of ByteDance, operator of the TikTok video streaming app, climbed 16% to $16.2 billion, though his ranking tumbled 10 places to level for No. 30 with Zoom's Yuan.