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Hyundai firms mark founder’s memorial

Hyundai family groups Thursday began 11 days of commemoration for the 10th anniversary of the death of founder Chung Ju-yung.

The former Hyundai Group chairman is widely respected for his contribution to Korea’s emergence from a war-torn basket case to an industrial powerhouse.

He died from complications brought on by pneumonia on March 21, 2001 at the age of 85 leaving behind a colossal business empire encompassing automobiles, shipbuilding, semiconductors, construction, trading and other sectors.
Chung Ju-yung
Chung Ju-yung

The event was declared open by his children including Chung Mong-koo, Hyundai Motor Group chairman, and Rep. Chung Mong-joon of the Grand National Party, who is the largest shareholder of Hyundai Heavy Industries.

As part of the event, a photo exhibition celebrating Chung’s life is being held at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. Similar exhibitions will also be held at the offices of Hyundai companies.

Along with the photo exhibition, an official memorial service and concert will be held at the center on March 14.

The Asan Foundation, a social contribution organization founded by Chung Ju-yung, will also hold a memorial event in London on March 12.

Born to a poor farmer in Gangwon Province in 1915, Chung is often described as having accomplished the impossible, having begun the process of establishing the Hyundai Group with less than modest means.

The process of becoming the chief of Hyundai Group, which was Korea’s largest conglomerate before being divided among his sons, is said to have begun when he ran away from home at the age of 19 and began working as a dockworker in Incheon.

Soon after he began working for a rice shop, which he took over three years later. His time as a rice shop owner ended in 1939, and he took over an automobile maintenance shop in Seoul.

In the following seven years Chung suffered a number of setbacks including a fire that burnt down his shop, but in 1946 he established the first business bearing the name Hyundai in central Seoul ― another automobile maintenance shop.

He then established Hyundai Civil Works Co., which formed the foundations for the country’s largest construction firm Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co.

In the early 1970s, Chung branched out into shipbuilding, laying the foundations for the world’s largest shipyard Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., now held by his fifth son Chung Mong-joon.

Chung’s ambitions did not stop at having founded a vast business empire. In 1992, he founded his own political party and he ran for presidency, but was beaten by Kim Young-sam.

Having failed in rising to the top of the country’s political arena, Chung turned his attention to North Korea.

With his economics-based theory for reunification and late former President Kim Dae-jung’s sunshine policy striking a cord, Chung led a 500-head herd of cattle across the border, marking the start of Hyundai Group’s businesses with North Korea.

However, related businesses proved to be a huge drain on the conglomerate’s resources, destabilizing the group’s financial foundations, and Chung’s failing health sparked what is known as the “princes’ war” among his sons that resulted in the three-way division of the group.

By Choi He-suk  (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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