[SUPER RICH] Female billionaires on the rise in Korea

By Korea Herald

But most rich women inherit their fortunes from parent or husband

  • Published : Mar 17, 2014 - 21:01
  • Updated : Mar 31, 2014 - 14:11
More and more women are becoming rich, but they still remain a minority in the world of the superrich despite their improving status and active participation in society.

According to the 2014 World’s Billionaires list recently unveiled by Forbes, in which the 1,645 super-wealthy were ranked, a total of 172 women made the list, up 25 percent from a year earlier but constituting a mere 10 percent of the world’s mega-rich.

Yet, most of the women inherited their fortune from a parent or husband. Only 32 female billionaires, or 1.9 percent of the total, built their own fortune, U.K. daily the Guardian reported. It might take another generation for self-made superrich women to rise to the top.

The situation in Korea does not look to be very different. Women of various ages from their early 20s to their 70s took the top slots on the ranking of the richest women, but all of them were born into a wealthy family or had an affluent husband. About half of them were involved in managing a company.

Chairwomen born to be rich

Lee Myung-hee, chairwoman of Korean retail powerhouse Shinsegae Group and sister of Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee, was the richest woman in Korea as of March 7.

Chairwoman Lee holds stocks worth 1.57 trillion won ($1.5 billion), with 380 billion won of Shinsegae Group. She also owns 17.3 percent of Emart, the country’s biggest discount store chain, a stake valued at around 1.18 trillion won.

The youngest daughter of the late founder of Samsung Group, Lee Byung-chull, is not involved in managing Shinsegae Group, leaving her billionaire son Chung Yong-jin in charge. Chung’s stake in Shinsegae, however, stands at 880 billion won, far lower than his mother’s.

Lee Hwa-kyung, vice chairwoman of Orion Confectionary, the nation’s No. 1 snack maker, is another female billionaire; she owns a stake estimated at 786 billion won in the company.

Lee, the second daughter of the late founder of DongYang Group, resigned from her post as vice chairwoman after her husband and chairman of the confectionary manufacturer was sentenced to three years in prison for embezzlement last November.

Hyun Jeong-eun, chairwoman of Hyundai Group, has a 116 billion won mainly stake in Korea’s second-largest shipping company, Hyundai Merchant Marine, and affiliates Hyundai Global and Hyundai Logistics, at 30 billion won each.

Hyun made a dramatic turn, going from a housewife to head of Hyundai Group after the suicide of her husband Chung Mong-hun, a son of late Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung. Hyun’s mother and elder sister of ruling Saenuri Party Rep. Kim Moo-sung, Kim Moon-hee, who heads Yongmoon educational institution, owns a stake in Hyundai Group worth 46 billion won.

Chairmen’s wives hidden behind the veil

Hong Ra-hee, Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee’s wife and director of the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, retains a stake worth over 1.45 trillion won in the global tech giant. Hong’s wealth soared along with the value of Samsung Electronics, which increased tenfold. Hong does not participate in running the company, but she plays a crucial role in boosting Samsung’s soft power by briskly carrying out a variety of projects in the fields of culture, art and philanthropy, unlike other chairmen’s somewhat “quiet wives.”

Kim Young-shik, wife of LG Group chairman Koo Bon-moo, holds stocks valued at over 414 billion won, mostly in the LG holding company. Her fortune is noticeable, considering that she maintains a low profile out of the public eye.

The relatively young Yoo Jung-hyun, in her 40s, is married to Kim Jung-ju, chairman of Korea’s top online gaming company Nexon, and owns stocks worth 370 billion won, making her the second-biggest stakeholder in NXC, the de-facto holding company of Nexon.

Superrich daughters

Among a slew of female chaebol scions, Samsung Group owner Lee Kun-hee’s two daughters ― Lee Boo-jin, head of Samsung-affiliated Hotel Shilla, and Lee Seo-hyun, head of the fashion division of Samsung Everland ― hold the highest value of stocks compared with other business tycoons’ daughters.

The daughters own equal stakes in IT services provider Samsung SDS and theme park Samsung Everland, Samsung Group’s de-facto holding company, which is valued at 538 billion won. However, their stakes may be undervalued as the stock is unlisted. The actual value of their stakes is likely to have increased since the two companies merged related affiliates as part of Samsung’s large-scale restructuring.

Two daughters ― the elder Cho Hee-kyung and the younger Cho Hee-won ― of Cho Yang-rai, chairman of Hankook Tire, the nation’s largest tire maker, own stocks worth 230 billion won and 270 billion won, respectively. The elder has a stake in Hankook Tire, and the younger in Hankook Tire Worldwide, valued at more than 200 billion won.

The youngest superrich female is Suh Min-jung, daughter of leading cosmetic company AmorePacific’s chairman Suh Kyung-bae. Her stocks are estimated at over 96 billion won, a whopping amount for someone in her early 20s.

Other wealthy billionaires include Cho Hyun-ah, an executive vice president of Korean Air, and Cho Hyun-min, a senior vice president of Korean Air, the daughters of Cho Yang-ho, chairman of Hanjin Group, Korea’s largest shipping conglomerate. The two Chos, who are training to manage their father’s companies and emerge as “new icons” of the group, are known to each hold stocks worth about 30 billion won.

Sisters expanding clout in business

It is not only wives and daughters of a handful of chairmen who can amass a fortune and become billionaires. Chairmen’s sisters are also broadening their presence in the business world.

One of them is Chey Ki-won, the youngest sister of SK Group chairman Chey-Tae won. She heads SK’s corporate philanthropy foundation, SK Happiness, and owns stocks worth 800 billion won, mostly in computer services provider SK C&C, one of the SK Group’s holding companies. Chey Ki-won is drawing a great deal of attention as the future of the nation’s third-largest conglomerate remains uncertain with the chairman Chey and vice chairman Chey Jae-won of SK Group recently sentenced to four-year and three-year-and-six-month jail terms, respectively, on charges of embezzlement.

Shin Young-ja, the elder sister of Lotte Group’s chairman Shin Dong-bin and head of Lotte Welfare Foundation, retains a stake worth 270 billion won. Unlike other superrich women, Shin holds a considerable amount in flagship operations of the country’s fifth-largest conglomerate, including Lotte Shopping, Lotte Confectionery and Lotte Chilsung Beverage.

By Special Report Team (

(Intern reporter Ock Hyun-ju contributed to this article)

Lee Myung-hee
Lee Myung-hee (Rank 1)
1.57 trillion won ($1.46 billion)
Chairwoman of Shinsegae Group
Emart 1.18 trillion won ($1.1 billion)
Shinsegae 381 billion won ($355 million)

Hong Ra-hee
Hong Ra-hee (Rank 2)
1.45 trillion won ($1.35 billion)
Director of the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee’s wife
Samsung Electronics 1.45 trillion won ($1.35 billion)

Lee Boo-jin
Lee Boo-jin (Rank 5)
537.5 billion won ($500.8 million)
Head of Hotel Shilla
The eldest daughter of Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee
Samsung Everland 450 billion won ($419.3 million)
Samsung SDS 83 billion won ($77.3 million)

Lee Seo-hyun

Lee Seo-hyun (Rank 5)
537.5 billion won ($500.8 million)
Head of fashion division in Samsung Everland
Second daughter of Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee
Samsung Everland 450 billion won ($419.3 million)
Samsung SDS 83 billion won ($77.3 million)