Zhong Huijuan: The “996” Work Week

11.10.2020 |

Episode #3 of the course 10 billionaires and their lessons on success by John Robin


Welcome to our third lesson about the world’s billionaires and their lessons on success.

So far, we’ve learned about how a sum of money, invested wisely, can generate steady income. Whether investing in a self-generating income, or investing for the sake of growing that investment exponentially, both Isabel dos Santos and Aliko Dangote have shown us the power of money when it’s put to work with shrewd tactics.

Today, we will learn from another study of what defines a billionaire’s success.


Zhong Huijuan: A Powerhouse Work Ethic

The Chinese work culture of the last 40 years can teach us some important lessons. Of more than 200 women listed among the 2000+ Forbes billionaires, more than 60 are self-made, and half of them live in China. Zhong Huijuan is the richest of them, with a wealth of $17.5 billion as of August 2020.

Zhong represents a unique generation of entrepreneurs in China. When Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, he issued a series of reforms that banned all capitalist practices. When these were reversed by China’s next leader, Deng Xiaoping, with his 1981 incentive to legalize capitalist practices within China, many women saw opportunities for jobs they didn’t have before and rose quickly from their initial position as factory workers to become savvy entrepreneurs.

Hard work is embedded in China’s cultural spirit. This derives from a Confucian principle called chi ku, which means “persisting through hardship”. Thus, workers, especially tech entrepreneurs, are often compelled to put in what is called the “996”—working from 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week. This extreme push is also grounded in another Confucian ethic, that of individual sacrifice for the benefit of family, town, or employer.

Zhong Huijuan grew up in this culture. She started as a chemistry teacher, but in 1995, quit her job and founded a drug manufacturing business, Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group in 1995. She then put all her energy and effort into growing this company. Hansoh manufactures psychotropic drugs and has now become China’s largest healthcare manufacturer. Her stake in the growing company, at 68%, has allowed her wealth to soar into the billions.


Zhong’s Billionaire Lesson

Zhong’s success story illustrates an important principle we can learn from.

Many of us struggle with the idea of working a 72-hour week, but this is where we can learn more from the specifics of Zhong’s story:

Her success just doesn’t come down to hours put in. It comes from choosing a logical pathway that built from something relevant she was already doing.

She didn’t just quit her job because she wanted to quit her job. She had something she was deeply passionate about, so passionate about it she would gladly work from wakeup to bedtime, and even on the weekend, and her day job was in the way of that.

The best kind of work though is the kind you love so much you will push through times when you struggle. You feel you can’t get enough of it.

It also is tangible, meaning you shouldn’t have to find time to be productive on it—productivity is a byproduct of a venture so demanding that, even with a 996-style work week, you still can barely keep up.

If you are self-employed, a business owner, or employed with a side gig, you can apply what we’ve learned today through a 2-part exercise:

Part 1. Start documenting what types of work make you forget about the clock. Rate on a 1-10 scale just how immersive each one is.

Say you’re a writer and can’t wait to get your daily writing time in, and always find, though it can some days be a struggle to get started, once you get going and your time is up, you wish you could keep going. This might get an 8 rating.

Say you’re a handyman and find, though you enjoy the trade, each job is torture and you can’t wait to finish for the day, you might rate this a 4.

You might play the piano as a hobby and find that you feel your soul has come to life and you could play forever. This would get a 10.

Part 2. Now, within this list, rank each type of work by career potential. Use a 1-10 scale, 10 being most relevant. If you imagined ditching everything else you’re doing and doubling down on this one work focus, how strongly do you see a career that could catapult you to success in the long term?

Regardless of what time you have available, work with high immersion and high career potential will drive you to make progress every week, and who knows, you might be on your way to being the next billionaire.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll be heading southwest, to India.


Recommended reading

Entrepreneurship in China

New York Times, on the 996 work week


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