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SK chief opens Icheon Forum, SK Univ. to speed up ‘deep change’

Seeking changes in the way a conglomerate operates, SK Group kicked off an annual in-house forum Monday in search of a new path to transform its wide range of businesses.

Hosted by Chairman Chey Tae-won, the Icheon Forum invited CEOs of affiliates, executives and rank-and-file employees to discuss the future of the nation’s third-largest conglomerate, which faces growing geopolitical risks, technological competition and fast-changing consumer markets, officials said.

During the third edition of the forum, SK will look at issues affecting its business operations and discuss ways of maximizing corporate activities to create social value through the use of artificial intelligence and digital transformation, they added.

“Energy solutions, digital transformation and AI are essential tools not only to enhance financial value but also to create social value,” said the group in a statement. “By utilizing (such tools), plans will be discussed to nurture the individual capabilities of members of (SK Group) and to have ideas on what customers want in pursuit of value.”

SK Chairman Chey Tae-won (right) attends the annual Icheon Forum, which kicked off Monday for a four-day run at Walkerhill Hotel in Seoul. (Yonhap)
SK Chairman Chey Tae-won (right) attends the annual Icheon Forum, which kicked off Monday for a four-day run at Walkerhill Hotel in Seoul. (Yonhap)

In an apparent move to examine ongoing trade disputes between the US and China as well as South Korea and Japan, the energy-to-chip giant invited David Dollar, senior fellow at the John L. Thorton China Center at the Brookings Institution, and Peter Petri, an international finance professor at Brandeis International Business School.

Speakers for the opening session included Jeremy Rifkin, US economic and social theorist and the author of “Third Industrial Revolution,” Marshall Van Alstyne, a professor at Boston University and the author of “Platform Revolution,” and Victor Cha, senior adviser and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Calling for a change in individual efforts to create new corporate value, the group announced a plan to establish an internal training unit to instruct employees on the business culture and future direction of the conglomerate -- which appears similar to what Apple did with Apple University in 2008.

Named SK University, the new training facility incorporates the SK Institute for Management and Economy and SK Academy.

“We need to continuously develop the individual capability of (SK) members along with efforts to seek innovation through AI and digital transformation, but realistically, we lack infrastructure to implement such a job,” said Cho Dae-sik, chairman of SK Supex Council, a decision-making body that oversees operations of SK affiliates. “To nurture future talent, we are going to launch SK University.”

Under the plan, the group will have its executives and employees invest up to 10 percent of their work hours per year at SK University, which will be launched in January.

The plan is a part of Chairman Chey’s corporate direction set to bring about deep change, the group said.

“We are at the critical point when drastic investment in human capital is needed to cope with the rapidly changing business environment,” Chey was quoted as saying by officials.

The chairman is likely to renew his corporate vision on the final day of the Icheon Forum, which wraps up Thursday.

By Cho Chung-un (