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[Newsmaker]After warm-up, SK chief may return to board

SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won is reportedly considering rejoining the board of three affiliates including the group’s parent company SK Corp., amid mounting pressure on him to hold more legal and ethical responsibilities as the owner of the nation’s third-largest conglomerate.

According to industry sources and reports Monday, Chey is likely to join the board of directors of the three firms at the shareholders meeting scheduled in February and March. 

SK chairman Chey Tae-won (SK)
SK chairman Chey Tae-won (SK)


If shareholders approve, Chey will be returning to the BOD of SK hynix, SK Innovation and SK Corp. for first time in three years after he resigned during his imprisonment. After being jailed since 2013 for embezzlement, the chairman was pardoned by President Park Geun-hye in August.

Calling it “a symbolic move,” some industry watchers say that Chey will officially flex his muscles and start to take the lead in the group which has been struggling to find new growth engines amid deepening saturation in the telecom market, SK’s core business.

“Things are different now. Aside from the group’s semiconductor unit SK hynix, other affiliates such as SK Telecom are facing heated competition in the saturated telecom market,” said Jeong Seon-seob, head of Chaebul.com, a local business tracker. “(The telecom industry) is struggling to generate high profits unlike in the past. Being on the BOD of these companies will push him to explore fresher business opportunities.”

This news immediately drew interest in and out of the business circles on Monday as it is a rare case.

The children of chaebol founders generally remain reluctant to hold such formal positions due to the legal responsibilities that they entail. Board members at firms are obliged to take responsibility in both civil and criminal cases.

The board members are also required to reveal their salary and bonuses -- something they usually are reluctant to do.

Despite the media frenzy, SK Group reiterated that the matter has not yet been finalized.

“Nothing has been confirmed yet,” said an official who requested not to be named, adding that it is a matter for Chey to decide first.

The chairman has been under mounting pressure to take more formal responsibility in the group, the official said, referring to the public’s changing perceptions of chaebols. The nation’s family-owned conglomerates have been facing escalating demands by Koreans to open up their shady governance structure and expand shareholders’ opportunities to participate more in the decision-making processes.

“As the owner of the group, the chairman may be destined to face such a demand,” he said.

“But if he returns to the boards, it would help the companies build more trust with their partners.”

The official also added that there won’t be a massive shakeup this week in the first personnel changes after Chey’s return four months ago.

The group and its affiliates underwent massive replacement of senior management last year.

The scale of reshuffle this year, is likely to be minimal as the group usually offers three years of grace period for its affiliate CEOs, the official said.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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