The Korea Herald


Generational shift looms in SK leadership

Chairman Chey Tae-won reportedly ordered “complete reform” ahead of this week’s executive reshuffle

By Jo He-rim

Published : Dec. 4, 2023 - 15:16

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SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won speaks at an executive seminar held in Seoul on Feb. 3. (Yonhap) SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won speaks at an executive seminar held in Seoul on Feb. 3. (Yonhap)

SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won is expected to carry out a complete reform of the conglomerate’s top leadership this week, seeking a generational shift to handle uncertainties in the fast-changing market.

According to industry sources on Monday, Chey asked four chief executives of the group's major affiliates -- SK Supex Council Chairman Cho Dae-sik, SK Innovation Vice Chairman Kim Jun, SK Corp. Vice Chairman Jang Dong-hyun and SK hynix Inc. Vice Chairman Park Jung-ho -- to step down, holding separate meetings in Japan last week.

The four incumbent heads of the SK Group affiliates have been leading their respective companies for the past seven years since their promotions in 2016.

As Chey has emphasized the need for a "complete change" to adapt to the rapid transformation of business conditions in and outside of the country, younger leaders in their 50s are expected to replace the current leadership in the executive reshuffle slated for Thursday.

SK Discovery Vice Chairman Chey Chang-won is a potential candidate to succeed Cho to lead the SK Supex Council -- the conglomerate's top decision-making body and the No. 2 position in the nation's second-largest conglomerate. Chey, aged 59, is a younger cousin of the SK chairman.

Born in Seoul in 1964, Chey Chang-won is the third son of Choi Jong-kun, the founder of the Sunkyoung Group, now SK Group. Chey studied psychology at Seoul National University before earning an MBA at the University of Michigan.

He is said to be in full confidence of Chey Tae-won and is a "workaholic" who has demonstrated great performance.

SK Discovery Vice Chairman Chey Chang-won (SK Discovery) SK Discovery Vice Chairman Chey Chang-won (SK Discovery)

For the new leaders of SK Corp. and SK Innovation, SK Siltron CEO Jang Yong-ho, 59, and SK Enmove Park Sang-kyu, 59, have been brought up as potential candidates.

As for SK hynix, the incumbent President and CEO Kwak Noh-jung will likely become the sole chief of the world's second-largest memory chip maker if co-CEO Park resigns.

The wind of change comes amid rising uncertainties in the global market and geopolitics affecting the earnings and demands for businesses around the world.

"The current leadership has worked to expand the conglomerate's business portfolio, tapping into new sectors of battery, biopharmaceuticals and semiconductors and raised the group's status to No. 2 in Korea," an SK official said under the condition of anonymity.

"The group, however, has been experiencing deteriorating earnings and financial burdens amid increasing market complexities, giving rise to the idea for a generational shift and to take agile response measures."

In a company seminar bringing together executives of SK affiliates in October, Chey Tae-won said, "We cannot survive if we do not change completely, as the (business) environment is changing radically in and outside the country."

Last Thursday, SK Group Chairman Chey reportedly met with the four incumbent chiefs Cho, Jang, Kim and Park in Japan, where he was attending the Tokyo Forum 2023.

There, Chey hosted a banquet with the four top executives and also held individual meetings to ask for their resignation, according to local media.

After returning to Seoul on Friday, Chey took off to the US on Monday to participate in the Trans-Pacific Dialogue, hosted by the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies from Monday to Wednesday.