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SK chief named to lead country’s top commerce chamber


Chey Tae-won (SK Group)
Chey Tae-won (SK Group)

SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, 60, was chosen Monday as the new chief of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry and will succeed incumbent Chairman Park Yong-maan.

For the first time, the KCCI is to be led by a figure at the helm of one of the so-called Big Four chaebol -- Samsung, Hyundai Motor, SK and LG. SK Group is South Korea’s third-largest conglomerate in terms of assets, as of 2020.

Chey’s appointment was also seen as a signal that the country’s industries are ready to step up their ESG initiatives -- referring to a focus on environmental, social and governance factors -- amid the post-coronavirus new normal.

“The Seoul Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s leadership council has made its unanimous decision to name Chairman Chey as the sole candidate (for the chairman post),” the SCCI and KCCI’s incumbent chief Park Yong-maan told reporters after the council meeting held in the morning.

“I shall now request Chey to accept his candidacy, after which he will be officially appointed to the given post.”

Attending the leadership meeting were Park, KCCI Vice Chairman Woo Tae-hee, Hyundai Motor President Gong Young-woon, LG Corp. Vice Chairman Kwon Young-soo, Lotte Corp. CEO Lee Dong-woo, Samsung Electronics CEO Lee In-yong and others.

“I appreciate the nomination. I shall contemplate on what I may do for the sake of the chamber and for the nation’s economy,” said Chey, accepting the post.

To qualify for the chair post, Chey first joined the 24-member KCCI leadership, replacing SK Holdings CEO Jang Dong-hyun.

According to the KCCI’s long-standing custom, the SCCI chief concurrently holds the KCCI post. The top official is to serve an initial three-year term and may be reelected once.

Chey’s appointment as SCCI chief is to be confirmed at the SCCI’s general meeting Feb. 23 and his position as KCCI chief at a separate KCCI general meeting the following day.

“(Chey) is the best-suited person (to take the KCCI chief post) at this point in time, when we are facing the knee point of the fourth industrial revolution,” Park said.

“He not only represents one of the country’s top five business groups but has also proven himself to be a leading figure in terms of sustainable growth, environment and social values.”

As incumbent Chairman Park is to step down in March after serving for more than seven years, the leadership meeting was originally slated for late January but postponed due to uncertainty about who would be chosen.

While the initial list of potential candidates had included LS Group Chairman Koo Ja-yeol and Celltrion Chairman Seo Jung-jin, Chey was largely deemed the most plausible choice -- in terms of market influence and in light of the growing calls for sustainability agendas. 

Under Chey’s leadership, SK Group has expanded its assets to more than 200 trillion won ($179.08 billion) from 32 trillion won in 2016. Its ranking among conglomerates has climbed from fifth to third, almost catching up with No. 2 Hyundai Motor Group in 2019.

On the back of its chipmaking affiliate SK hynix, the group is also expected to make strides amid the growing contactless business trend and IT boom. The country’s No. 2 chipmaker announced earlier in the day that it had completed the construction of a new domestic chip production line in line with its continued efforts to expand its presence in the memory sector.

Also, the conglomerate has drawn praise for its efforts to promote renewable energy, recycled materials and environmental sustainability, partly offsetting the losses suffered in the dwindling petrochemicals sectors.

The group stood out among peer business units by adding the highest number of environment-friendly affiliates, according to data by the antitrust watchdog the Fair Trade Commission.

While conglomerates with assets worth 5 trillion won or more added 44 new affiliates over the past three months, SK Group was observed to have added 22 green-related ones during the same period -- either adding new ones by foundation or stake acquisition or reducing some through mergers and sales.

The group’s recent decision to sell its professional baseball club SK Wyverns, according to SK Telecom, came “in line with the group’s ESG management pillar.” Acquiring the Incheon-based baseball team was Shinsegae’s hypermarket brand Emart, who is likely to change the team’s name to the Electros.

Upon confirming the deal, SK Telecom added that it will continue to support amateur sports, alluding that the group will grow apart from commercial sports marketing and focus more on social value initiatives.

Reflecting his dedication to the sports world, Chey was named vice president of the Olympic Council of Asia last year. He also serves as the vice president of the Asian Handball Federation and president of the Korea Handball Federation.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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