Beverage magnate Zong Qinghou declined two invitations for which most of the world’s social snobs would have given an eye tooth, according to Beijing’s Entrepreneur magazine.
The Queen of England and the Prime Minister of Britain each extended separate invitations to the Wahaha Group founder and chairman, deemed the richest man in China. Zong turned down both, saying accepting them would have been “pointless”.
In his defense Zong’s snubs weren’t entirely attributable to a curmudgeonly indifference to the social obligations of being a representative of China’s business leaders. The invitations from the Queen and Prime Minister David Cameron were for February 6 and 12, respectively. Because Chinese New Year fell on February 9, Zong, 67, would have had to make two round trips between Beijing and London within a week.
“I would have to ride for more than 10 hours on a plane just for one meal, come back, and then catch another 10-plus-hour flight for another meal, then come back again,” he explained. “It’s pointless.”
What made the snubs seem in keeping with Zong’s character is the fact that he’s become legendary as a workaholic who wears cheap suits, $5 shoes, takes all his meals at the company cafeteria and only spends 140 yuan ($22.70) a day, some of it on cigarettes to feed what is said to be his sole vice.
While Zong sent regrets to Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street he did RSVP affirmatively to a Chinese fashion magazine’s invite to receive an entrepreneur of the year award at around that time.
As of March 2013 Zong is worth $11.6 billion, according to Forbes, making him the world’s 86th richest person. He started Wahaha in 1987 by selling ice pops. Today it accounts for over a quarter of the total output of China’s 20 largest beverage makers and 53.8% of the profit.