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[Newsmaker] Park confidante named Red Cross chief

The Korean Red Cross on Wednesday elected Sungjoo Group chairwoman Kim Sung-joo as its next president, triggering criticism that the election of a confidante of President Park Geun-hye’s is yet another parachute appointment.

The organization, which mainly deals with inter-Korean humanitarian issues, held a session of its decision-making Central Committee to select its 28th president for a three-year term to begin from Oct. 8. After Park’s approval, Kim will take office as the youngest Korean Red Cross chief.

The main opposition party the New Politics Alliance for Democracy called the election “disheartening and bewildering,” urging Kim not to take the post. 
Kim Sung-joo. (Yonhap)
Kim Sung-joo. (Yonhap)

Better known as the chief visionary officer of the luxury fashion brand MCM, Kim was a core campaigner for Park during the 2012 presidential election. With her image of aggressive entrepreneurialism, Kim sought to improve the old image of the ruling conservative party throughout the campaign.

The Korean Red Cross said that Kim was elected for her involvment in a variety of charitable activities to help North Korean refugees, single mothers, children from poor families, victims of sex crimes and other needy people.

But critics argue that with little expertise in handling cross-border issues, the businesswoman would not be the right figure to lead the organization, which has an annual budget of 740 billion won ($712 million).

So far, former prime ministers and ministers have served as head of the Korean Red Cross. This is the first time that the organization has picked an entrepreneur as its leader.

In the business sector, Kim, the youngest daughter of Kim Su-keun, the late founder of Daeseong Group, has been touted as one of Korea’s most successful businesswomen.

Kim established the fashion company Sungjoo International in 1980, acquired German luxury bag brand MCM in 2005 and strengthened MCM’s foothold on the global stage through aggressive marketing efforts.

On the back of her successful business career, she was selected as one of the world’s most notable 50 businesswomen by the Wall Street Journal in 2004. Beyond her business activities, she has also engaged in charitable activities at global organizations such as Save the Children and World Vision.

She received her bachelor’s degree in theology and sociology from Yonsei University in 1979. She also studied sociology, economics and international politics at the graduate schools of Harvard University and the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has an honorary doctorate in the humanities from Amherst College in the U.S.

Emperor Gojong established the Red Cross in Korea in 1905 after the Daehan Empire signed the Geneva Conventions I and II in 1903. The current organizational structure went into effect after a law governing Red Cross’ operations was promulgated in 1949.

Since its inception, the Red Cross has established itself as the nation’s top humanitarian entity for dealing with disaster relief, the nationwide blood donation campaign and humanitarian assistance to North Korea.

By Song Sang-ho (