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How do Korean CEOs cope with stress?

Top businessmen seek extreme sports, photography and paintings to relieve tension


When talking about the country’s top businessmen, stress may seem to come with the job. While a great motivator, stress can cripple not only physical and emotional health but also concentration and creative thinking.

To tackle such risks, CEOs adopt various strategies. It can be extra work in some cases, or extreme sports in others. Whatever it is, all say they seek ways to help release pressure from their busy minds.

Hyundai Motor Group chairman Chung Mong-koo is a well-known workaholic, who is said to dedicate much of his “free time” to work.

“He is known to play golf on occasion, but in terms of hobbies or non-professional interests, little is known. Some say that his hobby is work,” said an industry source, who declined to be named.

Such reports are backed by group officials who say Chung makes frequent visits to production facilities and divides his time outside the office between those requiring particular attention.

In contrast, Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee is known for having a number of hobbies and interests.

As the head of the country’s top company, Lee’s hobbies have been highlighted in sporadic media reports.

His interests are as diverse as Samsung Group’s business portfolio ranging from keeping dogs and horse riding to movies and collecting cars. His love of automobiles, both old and new, is particularly well-known. Lee’s car collection reportedly includes around 200 supercars including Ferraris and Lamborghinis as well as rare classic cars.

Lee is not alone in indulging in supercars, an option open to the select few among the country’s ultra-rich.

CJ Group chairman and Lee’s nephew Lee Jae-hyun is also said to be a supercar enthusiast.

However, the interests of the nation’s super-rich are not limited to such exclusive pastimes with a number of business heavyweights dedicating their free time to some unlikely activities.

The somewhat striking hobbies indulged in by the country’s business leaders range from extreme sports to bird-watching to semi-professional photography.

Going extreme

While more common sports such as golf and skiing are popular in general, some of the country’s business elites dedicate much of their spare time to more unusual options.

Among them is Eugene Group chairman and chief executive Yu Kyung-sun, who challenged himself to run in ironman triathlon races, which have gained fame for their grueling length, strict rules and harsh game conditions.

In 2002, he recorded two hours and 28 minutes to finish a course with a 1.5-kilometer sea swim, a 40-kilometer bike and a 10-kilometer marathon in turn with no break.

Yu has also headed the Asia Triathlon Confederation since 2003 and the Korea Triathlon Federation between 2000 and 2009, according to Eugene.

LS Cable and System chairman and chief executive Koo Cha-yol is a bicycle enthusiast and serves as the head of the Korea Cycling Federation. 
LS Cable and System chairman and chief executive Koo Cha-yol (front) rides with the company’s cycling club members in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province in 2008. (LS Cable and System)
LS Cable and System chairman and chief executive Koo Cha-yol (front) rides with the company’s cycling club members in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province in 2008. (LS Cable and System)

His interest in the sport goes beyond holding the post. According to LS officials, Koo cycles to work from his home in Seoul to the office in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province two or three times a week.

However, his real interest lies in mountain biking.

“The chairman participated in the trans-Alps cycling competition in 2002 for the first time as an East Asian,” an LS official said. The competition requires participants to cycle 650 kilometers in eight days.

“He still frequently goes mountain biking in Korea when he has the chance.”

Koo says the experiences gained from cycling are also reflected in his life.

“I reflect on myself and grow patience as I cycle,” Koo was quoted as saying in a statement from the company’s public relations department.

“By completing the trans Alps race, I learned never to give up.”

He is not alone in being an sport enthusiast.

Koo Cha-joon of LIG Insurance Co. is a keen mountaineer who took part in an expedition opening a new route on Mt. Everest, while LSIS Co. vice chairman and chief executive Koo Ja-kyun is a scuba-diving expert who has dived more than 2,000 times.

For Hyundai Heavy Industries chairman Min Keh-sik, marathon means more than just a hobby to blow off stress. 
Hyundai Heavy Industries Chairman Min Keh-sik (fourth from left) runs a mountain marathon race with other company employees on May 1 in Ulsan. (Hyundai Heavy Industries)
Hyundai Heavy Industries Chairman Min Keh-sik (fourth from left) runs a mountain marathon race with other company employees on May 1 in Ulsan. (Hyundai Heavy Industries)

His devotion started in the 1950s, when he was a high school student. Being an exceptional runner, Min was offered to join the national team but had to stop off because of his parents’ opposition.

But the 69-year-old has kept alive his youth dream to become a marathoner, by having completed more than 200 full courses, three of which this year.

“Anyone can face a crisis in their life, but for me patience that I learned from marathon became the source to overcome crises,” Min told his employees.

“Life and operating a company are no different from running a marathon. I achieved patience and a dauntless mindset from the experiences, which I’m utilizing in managing the company.”

Art management

Some corporate chiefs sublimate their stress in finding beauty in nature.

Hanjin Group chairman Cho Yang-ho has been presenting his acquaintances such as other executives and foreign envoys with a calendar featuring photographs he has taken on his trips. 
Hanjin Group chairman Cho Yang-ho takes a photograph. (Korean Air)
Hanjin Group chairman Cho Yang-ho takes a photograph. (Korean Air)

Throughout his time with Korean Air since 1973, he has flown all around the world, capturing dramatic scenes on camera.

“I travel a lot. But I used to travel, finish the work, catch the next plane back,” Cho was quoted as saying. “Now I find some time to relax, take my camera with me, take one day off and enjoy the sights and take nice photographs.”

This year’s calendar showcases snapshots from Jeju Island, South Jeolla Province, Norway, Tahiti, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and other places.

“I am learning the way to live my life again through my grandsons. As my father did with my son, I am looking forward to looking around the world one day with my grandsons. Then I would realize in earnest that the world seen through my viewfinder has various meanings,” Cho wrote in the foreword of the 2011 calendar.

As the pictures are taken by Cho himself, the gift has special value so that it helps solidify his business network, Hanjin officials say.

Self-proclaimed “management artist,” Homeplus chief executive Lee Seung-han believes management is like art.

“People think art is a state of perfection. But artists think art is a state of imperfection ― that’s why they devote all their passion and energy to attain the state of perfection,” Lee said in his blog. “Likewise, we can elevate management quality to the state of art by striving for perfection with our heart and energy.”

Lee’s passion for art had a “significant impact” on Homeplus discount stores, company officials say.

“The CEO designed stores’ unique exterior with a shape of the Big Ben clock tower in London,” a Homeplus spokesperson said.

“He also likes paintings so much that there are more than 10 works on the floor in his office because there is no more room to hang them.”

Lee also installed “Homeplus Open Gallery” at nine branches in western Seoul, Suwon, Gwangyang and others, in which local artists, students and residents can display their works and view the exhibition free of charge. The fourth floor of Homeplus’ Jamsil store in southeastern Seoul was made to be used as a gallery.

“The Open Gallery was aimed at appeasing the residents’ cultural thirst,” the official said. “We’ve been receiving very positive responses from customers as the galleries were designed to embrace all generations from children to housewives.” 

By Choi He-suk and Shin Hyon-hee
(cheesuk@heraldcorp.com) (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)

<한글 요약> 

CEO들의 스트레스 대처 방법

CEO의 업무에는 항상 스트레스가 따른다. 스트레스는 동기부여의 원천이 되기도 하지만 스트레스는 신체적, 심리적인 건강을 해칠 수 있고, 집중 및 창의적인 생각을 방해하기도 한다. 

이러한 스트레스에 따른 위험을 대처하기 위해 CEO들은 다양한 방법을 사용하여 스트레스를 풀고 있다. 

현대 자동차 정몽구 회장

정몽구 회장은 일중독자로 잘 알려져 있다. 정 회장은 자유 시간을 거의 일 하는데 사용하고 있다고 한다. 익명의 제보자에 따르면 정 회장은 가끔씩 골프는 치나 취미에 있어서는 알려진 바가 없다고 한다. 몇몇 사람은 정 회장의 취미는 일하는 것이라고 말하기도 한다 라고 말했다.

 삼성전자 이건희 회장

이건희 회장은 여러 개의 취미를 가진 것으로 알려졌다. 삼성 그룹의 다양한 계열사처럼 이 회장의 취미도 다양하다. 애완견 기르기부터 승마, 영화 감상, 차 수집까지 다양하다. 그의 차에 대한 사랑은 널리 알려졌다. 이 회장은 페라리, 람보르기니 및 흔치 않은 차 등 약 200대의 차량을 보유하고 있는 것으로 알려졌다. 

유진그룹 유경선 회장

유경선 회장은 철인 3종 경기에 나가는 걸로 유명하다. 2002년 그는 철인 3종 경기에서 2시간 28분의 기록을 세웠다. 유 회장은 또한 아시아트라이애슬론연맹 회장을 맡고 있다. 

LS전선 구자열 회장 

구자열 회장은 자전거 매니아로 알려져있고, 현재 한국 자전거 연맹의 회장도 맡고 있다, 구 회장은 서울 자택에서 안양에 있는 사무실까지 자전거로 출퇴근하기로 유명하다. 구 회장은 또한 등산도 자주한다. 그는 2002년 동양인으로는 해발 3,000 미터가 넘는 알프스 산맥을 넘는 ‘트랜스 알프스’ 대회에 도전했다. LIG 생명의 구자준 회장도 등산을 좋아한다고 한다. 

현대 중공업 민계식 회장

민 회장에게 마라톤은 스트레스를 퇴치하기 위한 취미 그 이상이다. 그의 마라톤 사랑은 그가 고등학생일 때 1950년대에 시작되었다. 민 회장은 탁월한 실력을 보여주며 국가대표 제안도 받았으나 부모님의 반대로 고사해야 했다. 그러나 현재 69세인 민 회장은 여전히 그의 젊음의 꿈을 간직하고 200번의 마라톤을 완주했다.
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