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Entrepreneur takes on new role as first lady

Kim says she will assist Yoon quietly in the background

Kim Keon-hee, wife of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol (People Power Party)
Kim Keon-hee, wife of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol (People Power Party)
As South Korea chose its next president in a tightly contested election Wednesday, the spotlight also turned to Kim Keon-hee, the spouse of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who has actively pursued her career running an exhibition planning firm.

Kim, a chief executive officer and founder of the company, has kept a low-key presence on the campaign trail since being bombarded by a series of allegations and rumors.

And while she had little room to show off her personality in public during the campaign period, she revealed she would “quietly” assist the president-elect in the background.

“I believe it is the most important job (for the wife) to create an environment where (Yoon) can do his best to manage state affairs,” Kim said, in response to The Korea Herald’s question.

“For the president-elect to concentrate on the people, I will assist him quietly.”

Born in 1972, Kim majored in painting at Kyonggi University and carried on with her master’s degree in art education, eventually earning a doctorate in digital content design.

Building her way up in the arts and design industry, Kim worked as an instructor at schools and universities and also founded the cultural content company Covana Contents in 2007.

“From an early age, I was interested in art. (From my academic background) I naturally came to desire to start a business that can spread the value of art,” Kim said in an interview with DongA Business Review in 2015, talking about her company’s foundation.

“I wanted to go beyond planning art exhibitions to create a positive influence in the culture sector overall.”

Her company has hosted art exhibitions including those of big names such as Alberto Giacometti, Marc Chagall and Mark Rothko.

Kim tied the knot with Yoon in March 2012. There is no particularly heart-touching love story or meet-cute known about their relationship, but the history between Yoon and Kim goes back years, according to Kim.

In an interview in 2018, Kim revealed she had known Yoon “for a long time.” After a shared acquaintance suggested they would be a good match, they got married in 2012. Kim was 40, and Yoon was 52.

“He had no money, and I thought he wouldn’t be able to marry anyone if it wasn’t for me,” Kim said in the interview.

The couple has no children. They live with four dogs and three cats.

While she has been active in pursuing her career, she is now likely to take a role as a strategic surrogate for Yoon, as she said she would “work alongside the president-elect to raise his awareness on areas in society where the government could not reach.”

While it is likely that she takes a break from her business, as the company has not carried out any projects in the past year, Kim could embark on her own activities independently, as evidenced by the first lady’s active personality and in past remarks.

In an interview in 2018, Kim said, “I don’t want to give up on my career and become a housewife just because my husband is a high-ranking official.” At the time, Yoon was serving as the chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

The role of the Office of the First Lady may also be reduced, as Yoon had said he would “get rid” of the office in the midst of the election campaign.

The new first lady, however, faces a series of allegations -- obstacles she would likely want to clear as soon as possible.

During the campaign, she took flak after the opposing party accused her of falsifying parts of her resume when she applied for teaching jobs at universities in 2007 and 2013.

Making her first official public appearance after Yoon’s bid for presidency, Kim held a press conference to apologize, and said she had “exaggerated” her career history to look good.

She is also accused of having illegally gained outsized profits from her involvement in a stock manipulation case with Deutsch Motors. The case, which is currently being investigated by the prosecution, is also a problem that the new first lady will have to resolve.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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