Where China’s young billionaires earned their degrees

Chinese billionaires
Many of China's billionaires like Jack Ma have set the path to success for their children. Source: AFP

Zhong Shanshan. Jack Ma. Chen Jianhua.

These are the names of some Chinese billionaires whose financial successes have been nothing short of astronomical.

They are also dads. And they’re ready to hand the reins — and a total wealth of over US$120 billion — over earlier than previous generations.

“China’s entrepreneurs are thinking about succession five to 10 years earlier than they used to. They are seeing more paradigm shifts in the economy and business environments,” Hao Gao, director of Tsinghua University’s PBCSF Research Center for Global Family Business, told Bloomberg.

China's billionaires

The film Crazy Rich Asians offers a timely insight into how the world’s wealth is shifting eastward. Source: AFP

A new wave of Chinese billionaires 

The children of Chinese billionaires are inheriting wealth and businesses as their country, and the world’s second-largest economy, faces a more challenging economic landscape.

The China when their parents became billionaires recorded double-digit GDP growth — a boom that made it possible for Chinese billionaires to collectively build up US$1 trillion of wealth.

That growth had cooled down a lot.

Nonetheless, the heirs of China’s billionaires were born on silver platters.

In this saga of “The Rich Getting Richer,” the narrative is woven with ambition, education, and the seamless transition of power.

And a key chapter is about how Chinese billionaires are equipping their children with the knowledge and skills to take over their family business at the top of the country’s economy.

To do this, many send their children abroad to prestigious universities in the UK and US.

How does this shape this new breed of soon-to-be Chinese billionaires? How similar or different are they from the world’s youngest billionaires?

China's billionaires

Kylie Jenner is one of the most famouse Gen Z billionaire. Source: AFP

Gen Z billionaires

The era of Gen Z leaders and billionaires is poised to redefine the landscape of power and influence with a leadership style that breaks free from tradition.

Unlike their predecessors, these young leaders are shaping a new narrative driven by a tech-savvy, socially conscious approach.

Research indicates that Gen Z leaders are more collaborative, valuing inclusivity and diversity in decision-making.

According to a study, 77% of Gen Z leaders believe that diverse teams enhance creativity and innovation, steering away from the hierarchical structures of the past.

A survey conducted by McKinsey found that Gen Z leaders consider technology proficiency as a key leadership attribute. This proficiency isn’t confined to just tech industries; it permeates every sector, from finance to healthcare.

Take, Liu Shuqi, for example.

The Queen Mary University, London graduate worked as a director, assistant president, and general manager of leading Chinese silicon producer Tongwei’s PV business department. Most recently, she was appointed as the new chairwoman and chief executive officer.

Pair her experience with the industry’s fast growth, Tongwei expects net profit to reach between 25.2 billion yuan and 27.2 billion yuan (about 3.7 billion USD to 4 billion USD).

Where did the heirs of Chinese billionaires go to uni?

China's billionaires

Zhong Shanshan is on top of the list of China’s billionaires. Source: ETX

1. Zhong Shu Zi

  • Parent(s): Zhong Shanshan
  • Role: Non-Executive Director
  • Family wealth: US$62.3 billion 

Zhong studied English at the University of California, Irvine and graduated in December 2011. In 2014, he joined his dad’s business, Nongfu Spring, China’s largest bottled water maker.

It made US$5 billion in revenue last year.

The company’s 2020 initial public offering helped make Zhong’s father the richest man in China. 

2. Chen Yiting

  • Parent(s): Chen Jianhua, Fan Hongwei
  • Role: Head of International Business and Trading 
  • Family wealth: US$10.6 billion 

Unfortunately, there’s no information on where Chen Yiting studied. 

She is the daughter of Fan Hongwei and Chen Jianhua. The latter is the co-founder of Hengli Group, one of the country’s largest private petrochemical producers,

Fan worked as an accountant before starting a Suzhou-based textile and silk trading business with Chen.

The group produces polyester chips and filaments for use in textile and packaging industries, making US$30.9 billion in revenue last year.

From 2015 to 2022, Yiting served as a board director of Hengli’s travel unit. Now, she heads Hengli Petrochemical’s international business in Singapore.

China's billionaires

Geely Auto is a leading automobile manufacturer based in Hangzhou, China and was founded in 1997. Source: AFP

3. Li Xingxing

  • Parent(s): Li Shu Fu
  • Role: Executive General Manager 
  • Family wealth: US$10.1 billion 

Li studied economics at the University of Essex in the UK. 

Upon graduation, he joined Zhejiang Geely Holding Group in 2012. Today, he heads its Chinese-Swedish car brand — Lynk & Co. — which targets young professionals.

Geely, one of China’s top car makers, was founded by Li’s father. Based in Hangzhou, the company made the country’s biggest acquisition of a foreign carmaker when it bought Volvo for US$1.8 billion in 2010.

4. Sun Yuan

  • Parent(s): Zhong Huijuan
  • Role: Executive Director
  • Family wealth: US$8.4 billion 

Sun studied biomedical sciences at the University of Cambridge, graduating in 2007. She then worked as an analyst at an investment firm before joining Hansoh, a Chinese maker of psychotropic drugs, in 2011.

The company, based in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, produces medicines to treat conditions including diabetes, infections, tumours and diseases of the nervous system. In 2022, recorded revenue was US$1.32 billion.

As Executive Director, Sun is primarily responsible for guiding research and development strategies. Beyond this, she explores opportunities for the business. 

5. Liu Shuqi

  • Parent(s): Liu Hanyuan
  • Role: Chairperson and CEO
  • Family wealth: US$7.4 billion

Liu earned her bachelor’s degree from Queen Mary University of London. 

Today, she is the chairperson and CEO of Tongwei Co., Tongwei Group’s major listed new energy unit in March 2023. 

Liu’s father chairs the group, which specialises in agriculture and energy.

They make feed for fish, livestock and poultry, and its energy unit is the world’s largest manufacturer of crystalline silicon solar cells.

China's billionaires

Dali Foods Group is a baked goods company in China that was founded by one of China’s billionaires. Source: AFP

6. Xu Yangyang

  • Parent(s): Xu Shihui
  • Role: Vice President and Executive Director
  • Family wealth: US$7.3 billion

Xu studied international economy and trade at Xiamen University and joined Dali Foods Group in 2008. She was named a director in 2014 and now manages day-to-day operations.

The Xu family owns the Dali Foods Group. It manufactures drinks, snacks and pastries. They have 30 food and beverage production bases across mainland China. 

7. Jiang Anqi

  • Parent(s): Jiang Weiping
  • Role: Vice Chairperson
  • Family wealth: US$4.3 billion

Jiang graduated from Concordia University in Canada with a bachelor’s degree in 2012. 

Four years after graduating, she joined Tianqi Lithium, a lithium miner and supplier to electric vehicle battery makers. Her father, Jiang Weiping, chairs the company.

Within a year, Jiang became executive director. In 2022, she became the vice chairperson and now helps with strategy and investment. 

The company has lithium production plants and related operations in China, Chile, and Western Australia.

8. Ruan Zeyun

  • Parent(s): Ruan Zeyun
  • Role: President
  • Family wealth: US$3.7 billion

Ruan graduated from Sheffield University with a master’s degree in management and joined Flat Glass Group in 2009. She is today in charge of managing the overall business.

Her father founded the group, which produces one-fifth of the world’s solar glass. 

The Jiaxing-based company also manufactures standard glass and reported revenue of 15.5 billion yuan in 2022.

China's billionaires

Founded by Gao Jifan, Trina Solar is a world leader in solar energy innovation and reliability. Source: AFP

9. Gao Haichun

  • Parent(s): Gao Jifan
  • Role: Chairperson
  • Family wealth: US$3 billion

Gao studied economics at Brown University. After a brief stint at consulting firm McKinsey & Co., she joined Trina Solar’s investment arm in 2017.

Her father founded Trina Solar, one of the world’s largest solar product manufacturers, in 1997. 

The Changzhou-based company manufactures solar cells, silicon wafers, power plant equipment and related products. In 2022, the company recorded a revenue of US$11.98 billion. 

10. Ding Jiamin

  • Parent(s): Ding Shui Po
  • Role: Head of Half-Sugar Brand
  • Family wealth: US$1.2 billion

After returning from studying in the UK, Ding Jiamin joined Xtep’s branding department in 2019. 

Her father started the sportswear business in 1999 and founded the Xtep brand in 2002. 

The sportswear maker counts K-Swiss, Saucony and Merrell among its brands. It has over 6,400 stores around the world, bringing in a revenue of almost US$1.83 billion in 2022.

Two years after joining Xtep, Ding led a team to found Half-Sugar, a sportswear collection aimed at young female consumers.