Ex-chemistry teacher becomes richest self-made woman in Asia

She founded a drug company and is now wealthier than Christy Walton, the widow of Walmart founder Sam Walton's son.

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    The bulk of her wealth comes from her stake in China's largest maker of psychotropic drugs, which soared 37 percent in Hong Kong during its first day of trading [Kin Cheung/The Associated Press]
    The bulk of her wealth comes from her stake in China's largest maker of psychotropic drugs, which soared 37 percent in Hong Kong during its first day of trading [Kin Cheung/The Associated Press]

    Two days ago, Zhong Huijuan wasn't even the richest person in her family.

    Now, she's become the wealthiest self-made woman in Asia with a $10.5 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The bulk of her wealth comes from her stake in Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group, China's largest maker of psychotropic drugs, which soared 37% on Friday in Hong Kong during its first day of trading.

    Zhong, a former chemistry teacher who founded Hansoh in 1995, overtook Longfor Group's Chairman Wu Yajun to claim the self-made title. Zhong is the second-richest woman in Asia, trailing only Yang Huiyan, co-chairman of Country Garden Holdings, who inherited her fortune.

    The surge in shares puts Zhong's net worth just above each of the four Mars sisters, whose wealth comes from the candy empire created by their great grandfather, according to the index. Her fortune also far exceeds that of Blair Parry-Okeden, whose grandfather built the Cox Enterprises media conglomerate, as well as Christy Walton, the widow of the second son of Walmart founder Sam Walton.

    Richest Pharma Families

    Zhong's wealth has now surpassed her husband Sun Piaoyang's separate $9.4 billion fortune from his pharma firm Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine. The combined net worth for the couple also makes them one of the world's richest pharma families, rivaling the Sacklers, who made their money selling opioids, and the Bertarellis of Switzerland, who are worth $16.3 billion.

    Zhong said in the Lianyungang, Jiangsu-based company's listing ceremony that government support plays an important role in the drug maker's success. Health-care spending in China has surged to 5.9 trillion yuan ($852 billion) last year from 3.5 trillion yuan in 2014, and is projected to top 9.4 trillion yuan in 2023, Hansoh said in a prospectus for the offering.

    The company researches and produces drugs in areas such as oncology, cardiovascular and diabetes, according to the filing, and gets almost half of its revenue come from cancer treatments.

    Zhong graduated with an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Jiangsu Normal University in July 1982 and taught chemistry at Yan'an middle school in Lianyungang in the early 1990s, according to the website of All-China Women's Foundation.

    SOURCE: Bloomberg