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Year of Monkey CEOs seek fresh start

Business leaders, born in 1968, to play key role across industries

According to Chinese zodiac, 2016 is supposed to be the Year of the Monkey. Moreover, people born in the monkey years (1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004 and 2016) are said to be smart, lively and quick-witted like forever-playful simians.

With the Lunar New Year starting on Feb. 8, business leaders born in these years are also gaining fresh attention. In particular, several CEOs were born in the year 1968 and are called “Earth Monkeys.”

The 48-year-old Earth Monkeys are said to be honest, dependable, staid and stable. They are more academic and scholarly minded among the Monkey Year people. They prefer to be in the background rather than the limelight. But they still yearn for acknowledgment of achievements and abilities. 
Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae-yong, born in 1968, seems to share several such traits. The heir apparent of Samsung Group has long maintained a low profile over the years.

Since his father, chairman Lee Kun-hee was hospitalized in May 2014, he has served as the de facto leader of the group, stepping into the limelight.

Over the past few years, he has streamlined the group’s flagship manufacturing businesses carried out under his father’s leadership. He sold off less profitable chemicals and defense businesses and other business restructuring is still ongoing.

He is also pouring resources into nurturing his own businesses such as futuristic automotive technologies and biotech that would drive up the group’s future growth. 

His close ally, Samsung Electronics CEO Shin Jong-kyun, who served as mobile chief and recently stepped back from daily operations to focus more on new growth businesses, was also born in the Monkey Year of 1956.

Lee and his friend Shinsegae Group vice chairman Chung Yong-jin are of the same age. Since attending the same schools in their childhood, they have maintained a close friendship. 

Compared to Lee, Chung seems more willing to reveal himself to the public. He never hesitates to share his daily life via Twitter, which is rare among the secretive chaebol scions.

Last year, Shinsegae, the operator of the nation’s largest discount store chain E-Mart, succeeded in launching several new shopping malls while the nascent food business continued to soar.

He recently unveiled “Vision 2023,” which aims to invest 31 trillion won ($25.6 billion) to become a global top retailer with annual sales of 88 trillion won.

The nation’s top two game companies were founded by Year of the Monkey CEOs -- Nexon founder Kim Jung-ju and Netmarble Games founder Bang Jun-hyuk.

Since founding Nexon in 1994, Kim has nurtured the company into the top player through several acquisitions. He now chairs the holding company NXC that controls Nexon’s affiliates in Korea and Japan.

Nexon and Netmarble are expected to beef up more mobile-based games in the coming years.

Internet giant Kakao’s CEO Rim Ji-yoon is another Monkey Year CEO born in 1980. He may be younger than his peers but his ambition seems high enough.

Those born in 1980 are called the Metal Monkey being fiercely independent, ambitious and risk-averse. Among other Monkeys, the Metal Monkey is most likely to make a successful entrepreneur.

Rim, 36, took the helm of Kakao, which is best known for the immensely popular mobile messenger app KakaoTalk, last year, signaling a generational shift in the nation’s tech scene.

The former venture capitalist announced Monday the company would acquire Leon Entertainment, the operator of the nation’s most used music-streaming service MelOn for 1.87 trillion won. 

By Lee Ji-yoon (