The chairman, in a gray double-breasted suit, stood up from his wheelchair to plant a commemorative tree for a research and development center for food and biochemistry businesses in Gwanggyo, a commuter town south of Seoul on Wednesday.
Standing in front of CJ staff and executives, Lee said he would invest 36 trillion won ($32 billion) by 2020 to expand the conglomerate’s logistics, bio chemistry and entertainment contents businesses through M&As and R&Ds. CJ plans to spend 5 trillion won this year alone.
“From today, I will devote myself to managing (the group) again,” he said. “I will secure growth engine for the future, which is an urgent matter for the group, and get unfinished businesses back on track.”
Lee also promised to complete CJ’s goal of generating 100 trillion won in sales by 2020. He also declared another one of CJ’s visions of becoming a world-class company in more than three business segments by 2030, calling it a way of contributing to the nation’s economic growth and making the company a point of pride for Koreans.
It was widely known in the business circle that CJ’s Lee would return to the management within the first half this year. The timing of his comeback, however, was often put into question, with many citing his health.
Lee’s comeback also came a week after the nation greeted a liberal politician, Moon Jae-in, as the new president. Separately from Lee’s trials, CJ was embroiled in the influence-peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of the former President Park Geun-hye. Park, via her senior presidential secretary, had allegedly pressured the chairman’s only sister, Vice Chairwoman Lee Mi-kyung to step down from her post, the sibling‘s uncle, CJ co-Chairman Sohn Kyung-sik claimed during a parliamentary hearing late last year.
Rumors have been circulating that the ex-president was attempting to punish CJ Group for investing in films such as “The Lawyer” that portrayed the life of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, and airing a political satire program via its cable channel tvN.
Lee suffers from Charcot Marie Tooth Disease, an inherited neurological disorder that causes deformity of the body parts. Though sentenced two and a half years in jail over charges of embezzlement and tax evasion, Lee had requested the court to delay his imprisonment several times, citing difficulties of continuing treatments in jail, and his fragile status due to extreme depression. In August, he was pardoned by the then President Park Geun-hye.
Currently, the chairman is not in a condition to work every day, a CJ official said. “But his mental health has improved a lot and he is handling his inherited disorder well. He has no problem in making management decisions,” she said, adding that he had medical treatment in the US recently.
Meanwhile, CJ’s theater operating arm, CGV has reportedly decided to air another movie that pays tribute to the late President Roh, Moon’s former boss and political mentor, a day after he was elected.
The decision was made entirely by CGV, the CJ Group official said.
“The chairman’s comeback was made with CJ members pinning high hopes to the chairman to resume the group’s growth strategy. Chairman Lee also left the office for four years, longer than any other tycoon ever did.”
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)