Young entrepreneurs dominate Forbes' list of China's richest businesspeople

Thursday, November 2nd 2006, 3:49 am
By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) A 37-year-old appliance merchant is China's richest person, topping other young entrepreneurs who have profited from the country's economic boom, according to a list released Thursday by the business magazine Forbes.

Wong Kwong-yu, founder of Gome Appliances, saw his wealth expand to $2.3 billion, driven by a jump in home buying by China's newly prosperous middle class, according to the 400-person Forbes China Rich List.

One quarter of those on this year's list are under 40, reflecting the fact that most of China's fortunes have been made in the past decade as retail, Internet and real estate companies sprang up to serve a burgeoning consumer market.

"China's richest are a lot younger than America's richest,'' Russell Flannery, Forbes' Shanghai bureau chief, said at a news conference.

No. 2 on the list was property developer Xu Rongnao, with a fortune of $2.1 billion, followed by Larry Yung, chairman of conglomerate Citic Pacific, with $2 billion. Yung, also known as Rong Zhijian, was No. 1 last year.

The richest woman was No. 5 Zhang Yin, who built a paper-recycling business into Nine Dragons Paper Co., China's biggest maker of paperboard for packaging, at $1.5 billion.

Zhang was No. 1 on a competing list of China's richest released Oct. 11 by journalist Rupert Hoogewerf, who used to compile Forbes' rankings.

Flannery said Forbes calculated Zhang's wealth separately from the stakes that her husband and brother own in Nine Dragons. If their holdings were added together, the family would be No. 1 on the Forbes list.

The release of the list comes as some of China's richest businesspeople are ensnared in scandals.

A Chinese business magazine, Caijing, reported this week that Wong was under investigation for illegal loans. Trading of Gome shares in Hong Kong was suspended Tuesday following the report but later resumed, and the company said it had received no notice of such an investigation. Wong's name also is spelled Huang Guangyu.

The magazine noted that No. 16 on last year's list, Shanghai developer Zhang Rongkun, was dropped this year after he was arrested in a corruption investigation and his company's share price plunged.

Forbes noted that the average age of businesspeople on its China list was 46.5, compared with 65.7 for the comparable U.S. list.

But their fortunes also were smaller, averaging $950 million for China's 400, versus $13.2 billion for the U.S. list, Forbes said. The minimum net worth required to make China's 400 rose this year to $100 million, up from $62 million in 2005.

China's top 40 richest include six women, compared with seven in the U.S. top 40, but the Chinese include self-made millionaires such as Zhang, while the American women inherited their wealth, Forbes said.