The Korea Herald


Korea sees more self-made superrich

Emergence of new businesses fueled by the pandemic appears to have contributed in generational shift in superrich club

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : Sept. 13, 2021 - 16:01

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South Korea, which has long relied on a few family-controlled businesses for its growth, has recently seen an increase in the number of people entering the league of the nation’s wealthiest, data showed Monday. The average age of entrepreneurs among the 50 richest also has come down during the pandemic, accelerating a generational shift in the corporate world, according to Leaders Index, a local corporate tracker.

Leaders Index analyzed the 50 richest stockholders in each of the US, Korea and Japan.

From 2018 to 2021, Asia’s fourth-largest economy saw its number of the self-made among the richest top 50 grow from 19 to 25 people. Meanwhile, the US was up by one at 35 people and Japan was down by one to 38, the company said in its joint analysis with US business magazine Forbes.

In 2018, four out of five of the nation’s richest people had inherited their wealth -- since-deceased Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, Amorepacific Group Chairman Suh Kyung-bae and Hyundai Motor Group’s honorary chairman, Chung Mong-koo. The Celltrion founder and honorary chairman, Seo Jung-jin, was the only entrepreneur.

The list of the top five richest stockholders in Korea this year included Lee Jae-yong and his mother as well as the widow of late Samsung Chairman Lee, Hong Ra-hee. The three others were NXC Chairman Kim Jung-ju, Kakao Chairman Kim Beom-su and Smilegate Holdings Chairman Kwon Hyuk-bin.

“South Koreans who are rich by inheritance are usually heirs to traditional manufacturing-focused businesses while most of the self-made men here are people engaged in new businesses such as bio, gaming, platform and K-pop businesses, which all have been affected by the pandemic,” said Park Ju-gun, CEO of Leaders Index.

Among the 50 richest stockholders in each of the three countries, 98 of them, or 65.3 percent, were self-made as of Sept. 3, up four percentage points from three years ago.

On the contrary, the number of the top stock rich by inheritance came down to 34.7 percent. The data shines a light on the importance of establishing a business in generating wealth, it suggested.

The situation also pushed down the average age of the 50 wealthiest people in Korea from 61.5 to 56.3 years old. They were much younger than those in the US and Japan at 66.1 and 66.7 on average, which previously logged 67.9 and 68.7, respectively.

The combined wealth of the group of 150 superrich surged by 68.1 percent to $2.51 trillion amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Of the total, the properties of self-created rich stood at $1.86 trillion, up 78.3 percent from three years ago. Those with inherited wealth saw an expansion in their assets by 44.5 percent to some $664 billion.

The total assets held by the top 50 richest people in Korea logged the smallest increase among the three nations. Their assets rose by 5.1 percent to $132 billion due to the wealth reduction of people who inherited fortunes by 10.9 percent to $68 billion.