Late LG chief noted for foresight and perseverance

By Bae Hyun-jung

Third-generation chaebol successor also praised for humble character and pragmatic lifestyle

  • Published : May 20, 2018 - 16:09
  • Updated : May 20, 2018 - 17:50

The late LG Group Chairman Koo Bon-moo was widely recognized for his business insights and perseverance, which created momentum that drove local home appliance manufacturer Lucky-Goldstar Group to become an innovative global tech giant in less than three decades.

The 73-year-old businessman was also a rare figure among chaebol owners here -- especially in the wake of recent ethical and legal breaches by owner family members -- to be praised for his mild temper and humble character.

News of his death on Sunday were followed by numerous condolences online, many of them expressing sorrow over the death of an honorable businessman.

“He was a rare chaebol chief who deserved respect,” was a common comment, reflecting the late Koo’s reputation.
The late LG Group Chairman Koo Bon-moo (center) speaks with company employees back in May 2002. (LG Group)

According to a survey released earlier this month by the Korea CSR Research Center, LG Group took first place among local conglomerates -- both for credibility concerning the business itself and the integrity of the owner family. Hanjin Group, which controls the nation’s flagship air carrier Korean Air, scored lowest amid the power abuse controversies involving owner Cho Yang-ho’s family members.

“Let us earn respect from the people and society. Even with an advanced business structure and innovative management system, we could not be sustained without trust from the public,” the late chief said in his New Year’s address last year, reiterating his emphasis on integrity.

“Accompanied growth should be judged not by the amount (of money and efforts) we have spent, but by the actual improvement made in the competitiveness of our business partners,” he also said at an executive seminar in 2011.

Unlike many third-generation conglomerate successors here who tend to climb directly to high-profile positions in their early years, Koo went by standard procedure, practicing business as a junior official for years before joining the directorate. It took him 15 years to become vice chairman of the group and then another five years to rise to chairmanship.

Based on his human-centered management philosophy, Koo had always been keen on attracting talent and investing in long-term research and development. This led him to input over 4 trillion won ($3.7 billion) into building a mega-sized science park in Seoul’s Magok -- a complex to incorporate some 22,000 researchers of the group’s innovative affiliates.

LG Science Park was also a result of Koo’s unyielding vision for and resilient investment into the battery business, which now serves as the group’s core growth engine.
The late LG Group Chairman Koo Bon-moo (center) and LG Group Vice Chairman Ha Hyun-hoi (right) look around the construction site of the LG Science Park in Magok, Seoul, in December 2015. (LG Group)

Under the chairman’s leadership, LG group’s sales soared from some 30 trillion won in 1994 to 160 trillion won at the end of last year. Its overseas sales also jumped from 10 trillion won to 110 trillion won during the same period.

The chief was noted for compensating officials, regardless of their backgrounds and educational prestige, in an effort to establish a fair corporate culture. An example of such personnel policies was LG Electronics Vice President Cho Sung-jin, who was the first high school graduate among the group’s top executives.

But when it came to personal affairs, Koo mostly remained modest and humble, insisting on small wedding ceremonies for his children. This marked a contrast to his generous spending on social contributions. Last year, he offered compensation to a firearm accident victim at his own expense, on the sidelines of the group’s yearly awards for righteous acts, according to officials.

By Bae Hyun-jung (