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Generational shift speeds up in chaebol leadership

Scions taking fathers’ baton are mostly eldest sons; no heiress seen at helm

Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun (left) and LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo pose after a business meeting on EV partnerships back in 2020. (Yonhap)
Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun (left) and LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo pose after a business meeting on EV partnerships back in 2020. (Yonhap)
Chaebol scions in their 40s and 50s are increasingly taking over their fathers’ sprawling business empires recently, speeding up a generational shift at South Korea’s family-run conglomerates.

According to a report by chaebol tracker Korea CXO Institute on Tuesday, there were a total of 270 executives at the nation’s 200 largest companies who are scions of the ownership families born in 1970 or later.

Of them, the number of those with the chairman title was 21, including two leaders among the top four chaebol groups of Samsung, Hyundai Motor, SK and LG.

Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun, 52, was promoted to the chairman post in October 2020, a first generational change in 20 years at the nation’s No. 2 conglomerate and world’s fifth largest carmaker.

LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo, 44, took office as chairman in June 2018, a month after his father’s death, becoming the youngest leader of one of the big four chaebol.

Other leaders in their 40s or 50s include: Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Won-tae, 46, Hyundai Department Group Chairman Chung Ji-sun, 50, and DB Group Chairman Kim Nam-ho, 46.

There were 29 executives with the title of vice chairman. Many of them are either the only son or eldest son of the chairman, and are likely to take over their respective business in the long run.

With no heiress at the helm, there were three female scions who assumed the vice chairmanship: Chung Hye-seung of automotive parts maker Inzi Controls, Im Se-ryung of food giant Daesang Group and Cho Yeon-joo of Hansol Chemical.

Presidents and CEOs made up the largest 54.4 percent of the new generation of chaebol scions.

About 1 in 4 of them are millennials, born after 1980, including Hanwha Solution CEO Kim Dong-kwan, 39, Hyundai Heavy Industries CEO Chung Ki-sun, 40, and Hanjin Group President Cho Hyun-min, 39.

Among the young CEOs and presidents, there were several women, like Hotel Shilla President Lee Boo-jin, 52, Shinsegae President Chung Yoo-kyung, 50, and Hanmi Pharmaceutical President Im Joo-hyun, 48.

But there was a glass ceiling for heiresses of the nation’s richest families. Of the total scions working as executives, women made up only 15.9 percent.

“Many of the young scions are global talents who graduated from elite schools abroad. They are tasked with incorporating success stories of global companies into the unique Korean corporate culture and upgrading their fathers’ business empires,” said Oh Il-sun, director of the research firm.

“With chaebol scions in their 40s and 50s increasingly taking the helm, promotions of younger executives are also expected to become more prevalent."

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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