While customs have changed so radically in Korea that it is now not uncommon to see men living with their in-laws instead of the other way around, sons-in-law are still considered “guests” and not members of the family.
This means they are treated with utmost respect, but it also means they could never hope to take over the family business.
In Japan, there are occasional cases where the son-in-law entered his wife’s family register as an adopted son to inherit the rights to a company, but such cases are extremely rare in Korea.
These days, there is an increasing trend of more sons-in-law beginning to participate in company management. Most of them remain in supporting roles, but exceptions are rising.
Samsung’s ‘modest’ sons-in-law
In the Samsung family, there are two well-known sons-in-law: Samsung Electro-Mechanics senior vice president Im Woo-jae, husband of Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee’s eldest daughter Boo-jin, and Samsung Engineering corporate planning president Kim Jae-youl, the husband of Lee’s second daughter Seo-hyun.
Although the two have built up quite the careers for themselves, they are rarely at the forefront of matters, upholding the Samsung family’s core philosophy of keeping a low profile.
Im is in charge of corporate planning at Samsung Electro-Mechanics, a leading parts maker and innovation provider for Samsung Electronics.
Born in 1968, he joined Samsung C&T in 1995 and met Lee Boo-jin in May of that year while performing extension work on chairman Lee’s home in Hannam-dong, Seoul. The two married in 1999.
Im is said to be an easygoing and sincere character devoted to his job.
Seo-hyun’s husband Kim is the second son of former Dong-A Ilbo honorary president Kim Byung-kwan. Soon after their marriage in 2000, Kim joined Cheil Worldwide. In 2011, he was promoted to president, just two months after being appointed vice president.
Kim, who studied international politics in the U.S. and worked for consulting firms there, is known as the most international figure in the Samsung family.
He has recently taken up roles in sports diplomacy and may one day succeed Lee Kun-hee on the International Olympics Committee, those close to him say.
For the time being, it appears that both Im and Kim are content playing second fiddle to their wives, rather than becoming more involved in management.
Hyundai’s distinctive sons-in-law
Hyundai Motor Group chairman Chung Mong-koo has three sons-in-law: Daejeon Sun Medical Center chairman Sun Doo-hoon, Hyundai Card chief executive Chung Tae-young and Hyundai Hysco CEO Shin Sung-jae.
Sun is the husband of Chung’s eldest daughter Sung-yi, who is an adviser for Innocean Worldwide, an ad agency under Hyundai.
Sun is not involved in any of Hyundai’s operations. Instead, he followed in the footsteps of his own father, the former chairman of Sun Medical Center. Sun also runs Corentec, an artificial-joint implant developer. He owns 17.2 billion won ($16.6 million) in stocks, but all in Corentec.
In contrast, Chung Tae-young, husband of Hyundai Commercial adviser Chung Myung-yi, is a celebrity CEO who is heavily involved in Hyundai’s business matters.
He is also well known in the industry for spearheading new trends and for his good communication skills. College students and younger employees are said to look up to him as the “it” business guru.
Chung heads not only Hyundai Card, but also Hyundai Commercial, Hyundai Capital and other Hyundai financial affiliates.
He is most noted for putting Hyundai Card into the black just two years after he became CEO in 2003.
He possesses roughly 18 billion won in stock assets of Hyundai Commercial.
Shin, chairman Chung’s third and last son-in-law, is the husband of Haevichi Hotel & Resort managing director Chung Yoon-yi.
He joined Hyundai Precision & Engineering in 1995. Then, after his marriage, he took up several posts at Hyundai Hysco before becoming CEO.
He is also a figure who most befits the Hyundai image. He holds shares in all of the group’s major subsidiaries, the only one in the family to do so other than the chairman’s son.
Unsuccessful executive sons-in-law
Tong Yang Group and its subsidiary Orion are among the rare cases in corporate Korea where the sons-in-law have gained management rights.
This is because the late founder Lee Yang-gu had two daughters, but no sons.
Group chairman Hyun Jae-hyun is married to group vice chairwoman Lee Hye-kyung, the eldest daughter, and Orion chairman Tam Chul-kon to Orion vice chairwoman Lee Hwa-kyung.
Due to recent scandals surrounding the group, however, they have stepped down from their respective positions.
Hyun met Lee Hye-kyung through an arranged marriage in 1976 before joining Tong Yang Cement & Energy in 1977.
He led the cement company in 1983 after the founder died of health issues, and became group chairman by 1988.
Tam joined Tong Yang Cement & Energy in 1980 and built his career in the group’s confectionery sector before becoming chief executive of Orion in 1989 and vice chairman of the group in 1993.
Although he led Orion to tremendous success in China, he resigned after being mired in embezzlement charges last year.
Sons-in-law at other companies
Moon Sung-wook, vice chairman of E-Mart, Shinsegae’s discount retail arm, married Chung Yoo-kyung, vice president of Shinsegae and also the group chairwoman Lee Myung-hee’s daughter, in 2001.
After a stint at SoftBank Korea, Moon joined Shinsegae in 2004, which is when he officially assumed the role of a chaebol son-in-law.
Within the group, Moon is depicted as the quiet assistant or hands-on staff member, unlike the group’s vice chairman Chung Yong-jin or his wife, who deal with much larger management tasks.
By The Korea Herald Special Report Team