The Korea Herald


Businesses look beyond pandemic to a year of market upheavals

Conglomerate leaders underline revolutionary changes this year

By Bae Hyunjung

Published : Jan. 4, 2021 - 17:18

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LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo (L) (LG Group), Shinsegae Group Vice Chairman Chung Yong-jin (Shinsegae Group) (C), Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun (R) (Hyundai Motor Group) LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo (L) (LG Group), Shinsegae Group Vice Chairman Chung Yong-jin (Shinsegae Group) (C), Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun (R) (Hyundai Motor Group)
After a year of unprecedented crisis brought on by the pandemic, South Korean businesspeople were realigning themselves for the new year, tense over continuing market disturbances.

In their respective New Year’s addresses, conglomerate chiefs all predicted that the market will face an accelerated transformation this year in response to post-coronavirus new norms.

The most hopeful was the electronics industry, including the country’s No. 1 tech giant, Samsung Electronics, which has led the contactless industrial transition amid extended social distancing.

“COVID-19 has accelerated changes across society and the economy. New technology and new businesses are rising, companies are facing more drastic fluctuations, and the transition to data intelligence is gathering momentum,” Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Kim Ki-nam said Monday at the company’s New Year’s kickoff meeting held online.

Describing 2021 as a turning point, Kim urged the company to systematically foster new growth sectors and prioritize safety management, looking ahead to the next decade.

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman and group heir Lee Jae-yong was not present at the event. Lee is currently awaiting a court ruling in a bribery case involving former President Park Geun-hye, after prosecutors demanded a nine-year prison term for Lee at his final hearing in late December.

LG Group, the nation’s fourth-largest conglomerate in terms of assets and home to runner-up tech giant LG Electronics, placed customer value at the top of its list of priorities, reinforcing the management philosophy of its relatively young chief.

“As people’s lifestyles become more personalized and their spending patterns change rapidly, it has become more important than ever to figure out the customers’ underlying intentions,” said Chairman Koo Kwang-mo in a video New Year’s address to employees.

“Now is the time to understand our customers in further detail, find out their hidden desires and make them come true to (ultimately) move their hearts.”

Backing the group chairman’s remarks, LG Electronics CEO Kwon Bong-seok said in a separate address that the purpose of digital transition should be to resonate with customers and to build a solid “fan base” for LG’s brand value.

In the automobile sector, Hyundai Motor Group vowed to take a big step this year toward eco-friendly vehicles and the future mobility business.

“Year 2021 should be the pivotal knee point to determine future growth, and we should be fully prepared to position ourselves as the first mover in this new era,” said group Chairman Chung Euisun in an email to employees.

The latest address marked the first New Year’s message since Chung was officially promoted from vice chairman in October.

While pointing to the auto group’s continued efforts to develop eco-friendly mobility technologies, Chung underlined that product quality and safety should at all times be the nonnegotiable priority.

As the electric vehicle market is set to face a watershed moment this year, Korea’s top automaker is placing its focus on its upcoming electric vehicle models that will accommodate an exclusive platform for electric vehicles called E-GMP, for electric-global modular platform.

Retail operators, which were hit hard by the pandemic and the lifestyle changes that accompanied social distancing, renewed their pledges for fundamental reform, looking to another tough year ahead.

“The pandemic made us realize that we do not yet have the structural competitiveness to overcome external shocks,” said CJ Group Chairman Sohn Kyung-shik, adding that management situations will continue to be challenging.

The keyword for the retail group is “paradigm shift,” which involves destructive innovation and high-end human resources.

“The history of CJ Group has always been about challenges for what seemed to be the impossible,” the chief said.

“I firmly believe that we may leap into a global top-tier company, should we continue the radical reform efforts.”

Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin urged employees and executives to respond promptly and actively to risks.

“We shall make best efforts to create an autonomous business environment in which talented people may fully display their capacities in crisis situations,” he said.

The retail giant also underlined social value with customers and startup partners, seeking to build a mutually beneficial business ecosystem.

Shinsegae Group Vice Chairman Chung Yong-jin, while acknowledging the epidemic-caused market hurdles this year, said the ongoing market turbulence may eventually serve as an unprecedented opportunity for retailers.

“After the Plague swept through Europe (in the 14th century) came the Renaissance,” he said.

“As the COVID-19 fallout triggered a drastic change in the market competition environment, this year could possibly be the best opportunity ever for innovative, sustainable growth.”

Chung said the pandemic crisis has advanced the digital transition of the retail market by at least three years, adding to the growing need for information technology professionals who can bridge the conventional retail sales sector and online platforms.

Steelmaker Posco, which has reeled under growing competition from overseas rivals and the struggling manufacturing sector, vowed to keep its focus on its long-term goals -- including its Smart Factory program to build a comprehensive value chain.

By Bae Hyun-jung (