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Women dazzle China's business circle

By Shi Hao (Xinhua)    08:05, March 26, 2014
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BEIJING, March 25 -- "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." But this may not be true vice versa, especially when it comes to Kelly Zong.

Wearing a yellow jacket, pink blouse, bluish gray skirt and high heels, Zong was not as eye-catching as other female attendees with their glittering jewels at the China Development Forum 2014 that concluded on Monday.

Some men tried to talk to her, but most of the time they only got a smile or a hasty response.

Zong is president of Zhejiang Province-based Hangzhou Wahaha Group, China's largest beverage company. She is the only daughter of the group's founder and board chairman Zong Qinghou, who was crowned "the richest man" in China's mainland on the Forbes 2013 billionaire list with a net fortune of 11.6 billion U.S. dollars.

As heir to the family business, Zong's marital status has aroused interest, especially on the Internet. There have been reports that the 32-year-old businesswoman has never been in a serious relationship as she is cautious admirers are only interested in her wealth.

More importantly attendees wanted to know how she planned on ruling the business empire created by her father.

Although Wahaha has a lion's share of the beverage market in China, sustaining fast growth has not been easy. Forbes said Zong Qinghou's fortune stayed flat on its 2014 billionaire list because of "a lack of attention-grabbing new drinks". His ranking has slipped to fourth.

Dubbed by some Chinese media as "the most diligent princess" for her efforts to expand Wahaha, Zong told the forum, "I don't care what I am called. It is about doing things right."

After graduating from California's Pepperdine University in 2004, Zong returned to China and joined the family business.

"The study experience in the U.S. has made me more frank but people of my father's generation care more about human relations," said Zong, who spends most of her time and effort making the company bigger worldwide.

"We are trying to inject western culture into the group," she said.

Wahaha plans to market its tea beverages in overseas markets. Some products are available in Canada, the Republic of Korea and the U.K. The group's operating revenue reached 78.3 billion yuan (12.6 billion U.S. dollars) in 2013.

Without being born with a silver spoon in her mouth like Zong, Scarlett Li has built a successful career on her own. After seven years at News Corporation as general manager of StarTV's [V] music channel in China, Li started to focus on the cellphone-based music business in 2004. She founded Zebra Media three years later, and it has grown into a leading company that promotes pop music and concerts on TV and mobile devices.

"I was lucky. A changing society gave me the chance to succeed," said Li.

In her view, as Chinese people become richer they are thirsty for spiritual and recreational enjoyment. Music, movies and dramas are all now lucrative businesses in the country.

Li said because of tight controls it was almost impossible to start a private media company in the past. But regulators have become more market-oriented, and as a result the cultural industry is flourishing.

It's easier for women to succeed as their sensitivity, taste in beauty and better communication skills are all advantages. "For example, I can better communicate with my homosexual employees," Li said.

"I admire Hilary Clinton very much, because she didn't confine her social role to just a wife. She is powerful," Li said.

Along with Zong and Li, many successful businesswomen shared their experiences at a Special Women Session at the forum.

A survey by recruiting firm Hays earlier this month showed that 36 percent of management roles in China are held by women, compared with the Asian average of 28 percent.

According to Hays, China has made remarkable progress in developing and promoting its female workforce into management positions.

These findings are supported by a Grant Thornton report last March, which said that women in the Chinese mainland topped the world in terms of holding senior business management roles, even beating the U.S. and the U.K.

Behind the success is better education across the country.

Figures released by the All-China Women's Federation showed on average women received 8.4 years of education, only 0.8 years less than men, and 51.4 percent of undergraduates and 49 percent of postgraduates in the country are female.

Jean-Paul Agon, chairman of the French cosmetics company L'Oreal Group, said about half of the firm's management posts in China are held by women and that they have shown great potential and capability.

Although Zong has yet to take full charge of Hangzhou Wahaha Group, she is investing in the future. The group spent 70 million yuan to set up a Kelly food research institute in Zhejiang University to work on new products and nurture talent.

And Li is striving to improve her music business "so that I can help more women to succeed."

(Editor:SunZhao、Yao Chun)

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