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Kim Dong-kwan reinvents Hanwha’s identity as renewable energy leader

Hanwha Solutions President Kim Dong-kwan (Hanwha)
Hanwha Solutions President Kim Dong-kwan (Hanwha)

From a wartime gunpowder supplier to a retail-to-finance conglomerate, Hanwha Group has made quite a transformation in its near seven-decade history.

Yet, its change from now on may be even more dramatic, as the group with 86 affiliates and total assets of 71 trillion won redefines its core to future-leading technologies such as solar power and hydrogen.

At the very center of this ongoing shift in Hanwha’s identity stands Kim Dong-kwan, the eldest son of Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn and president and head of strategy at Hanwha Solutions.


Proven leadership 


The 38-year-old Harvard graduate built his career mostly at Hanwha’s solar power business. A year after joining the group in 2010, he moved to the group’s now-defunct solar business unit Hanwha SolarOne

In 2014, Kim led the group’s acquisition of German solar firm Q-Cells and its merger with Hanwha SolarOne.

One year after the deal, Kim took the position of the chief commercial officer of the Hanwha Q Cells created by the merger. At that time, the company was struggling, failing to get in to the black even once between 2011 and the first quarter of 2015.

In April 2015, however, Hanwha Q Cells signed a solar module supply contract worth 1.5 gigawatts with a US-based energy company NextEra Energy Resources and finally managed to turn profit in the second quarter. In recognition of his effort, Kim was promoted to the senior managing director of Hanwha Q Cells in December.

Under Kim’s leadership, Hanwha Q Cells reported revenue of $2.42 billion in 2016, a 34.8 percent spike from $1.88 billion from a year prior. Operating profit improved to $275 million from $77.9 million in the same period. Also, module shipment surged 55 percent to 4.5 gigawatts from 2.9 gigawatts.

In 2019, Kim ascended to the vice president of Hanwha Q Cells, for solidifying the company as the No.1 solar module maker in major markets including the US, Germany and Japan. Last year, he was promoted again to the president of Hanwha Solutions, created by the three-way merger of Hanwha Q Cells, Hanwha General Chemical and Hanwha Advanced Materials in the same year.


The heir apparent 

From left: Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn’s eldest son Kim Dong-kwan, second-oldest Dong-wan and the youngest Kim Dong-seon (Hanwha)
From left: Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn’s eldest son Kim Dong-kwan, second-oldest Dong-wan and the youngest Kim Dong-seon (Hanwha)


With the rise of Hanwha Solutions, Kim is expected to cement his position as the heir.

In a key signal of his growing influence, department store chain Hanwha Galleria and Hanwha City Development are to be merged into Hanwha Solutions in April. The reorganization would expand Kim’s reach to the conglomerate’s retail and urban development businesses.

As for the purpose of binding the three seemingly unrelated companies, a Hanwha Group official said the company believed there were synergies to be had.

“Hanwha Solutions, with a strength in renewable energy, such as solar and hydrogen, could branch out to retail and urban development field to create new business opportunities, for example new eco-friendly smart town developments,” the official said.

Officially taking charge from chairman Kim Seung-youn, however, would take time and a series of meticulously planned equity transactions, as the eldest son holds a miniscule stake – 4.44 percent -- in the group’s de-facto holdings firm Hanwha Corp and no shares in Hanwha Solutions.

Sitting atop of the group’s equity ownership structure, Hanwha Corp. is the largest shareholder of Hanwha Solutions, holding 37.25 percent of the shares.

An unlisted company called H-Solution will likely be a key vehicle for the heir in the succession process, as it is 50 percent-owned by him and the rest by his two younger brothers Dong-won and Dong-seon. The IT solutions provider has a 4.2 percent stake in Hanwha Corp.


Brothers compete


Two other sons of chairman Kim Seung-youn are also honing their management skills in different fields.

The second son, Dong-won, is growing his presence as a senior managing director at Hanwha Life, the group’s key financial unit. The Yale graduate will spearhead Hanwha Life’s strategy division launched this month to excavate the unit’s future business opportunities.

The youngest Dong-seon, after leaving Hanwha Engineering & Construction in 2017, made a comeback as a managing director at Hanwha Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of H-Solutions, last month. Before joining Hanwha Energy, the Dartmouth graduate gained field experience by working several months at SkyLake Investment, a domestic private equity firm led by former Minister of Information and Communication Chin Dae-je.

Recently, Hanwha Energy has landed massive energy storage systems supply deals in the US. Last month, Hanwha Energy won Astoria Project in the state of New York. Under the terms of the contract with Con Edison, one of America’s largest energy companies, Hanwha Energy will design and construct a 400-MWh ESS and operate it for seven years.

By Kim Byung-wook (kbw@heraldcorp.com)
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