Before Zhong Huijuan became a pharmaceutical self-made matriarch worth over US$18.9 billion, she was a chemistry teacher. So no wonder she’s been playfully compared to Walter White, the fictional drug kingpin and protagonist of hit TV series Breaking Bad, for her career change – although without the criminal aspect.
Rather than manufacturing and pushing methamphetamines, Zhong heads up a company that develops drugs to treat a variety of health issues. It might be more appropriate to compare her and her husband to the Schwartzes, the show’s power couple who founded a successful legitimate biotech company and broke ties with their one-time partner White.
Zhong is the founder, majority stakeholder and chairperson of the publicly-traded Chinese drug maker Hansoh Pharmaceutical, which researches and develops drugs for central nervous system diseases, cancer, infections and diabetes, as well as gastrointestinal and cardiovascular treatments.
She holds her 66 per cent stake in the company through the Sunrise Trust, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands, and has received around US$750 million in dividends since Hansoh was founded in 1995.
Zhong, born in 1961, holds a chemistry degree from Jiangsu Normal University and taught her subject at a middle school in Lianyungang after graduation. Her husband, Sun Piaoyang, worked at a state-run pharmaceutical factory in the same town.
In 1995, Zhong quit teaching and founded Jiangsu Hansoh Pharmaceutical with just 10 employees. The company grew quickly and reached US$4.5 million in revenue in 1997. The company then launched its first factory for oral formulations in 2000, and in 2016 received financing from Hillhouse Capital Group, one of the most prominent private equity firms in Asia.
Before going public, Hansoh raised US$344 million from nine cornerstone investors including Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC and Chinese investment firm Boyu Capital. The company raised US$1 billion upon its summer 2019 debut on the Hong Kong stock exchange, bringing its valuation to US$10 billion.
After Hansoh’s first day of trading, Zhong became the wealthiest self-made woman in Asia with a US$10.5 billion fortune, exceeding her husband’s separate US$9.4 billion fortune from his pharmaceutical firm, Shanghai-listed Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine, the formerly government-run company that he worked at when Zhong was a chemistry teacher.
Today, Zhong is listed as the most successful self-made woman on Hurun Research Institute’s annual list. The pharmaceutical power couple’s net worth, meanwhile, exceeds US$54 billion, outpacing that of other storied drug families such as the Sacklers, who have most recently been linked to the opioid crisis in the US, and the Bertarellis of Switzerland.
Note: This story was originally published on SCMP and has been republished on this website.