Monday, August 1, 2011

Hyundai's maverick founder: Chung Ju-Young


Chung and sons Mong-Ku and Mong-Hun
Stepping down: Chung and sons Mong-Koo and Mong-Hun

The resignation of the head of South Korea's biggest company, the Hyundai Group, has sent shockwaves throughout the country.

Chung Ju-Yung's creation of the vast Hyundai business empire came to be synonymous with the astonishing industrial success of South Korea itself.


Chung Ju-Yung and cattle
Mr Chung sent 1,000 cattle to the North
Much of the country's post-war landscape, its bridges and roads, factories and cars, was shaped by Hyundai, and the efforts of self-confessed workaholic Chung.

It's a rags to riches story: Chung was born 85 years ago to a poor farming family in what is now North Korea.

He began his career at the age of 19 as a rice-store deliveryman in the western port city of Inchon. By 24 he was running his own car repair business.

Unstoppable

His big break came after the Korean War, when he gained a lucrative construction project to build lodgings for American GIs.


Chung Ju-Yung
Mr Chung: Known as King Chairman
From then on, the company's growth seemed unstoppable.

With the nod from South Korea's military government, desperate to drag the country into the industrial age, he transformed its shipbuilding industry into the biggest in the world,

He then diversified into the car and electronics industries, and in the 1980s jumped into semi-conductors.

Hyundai is now the world's biggest memory chip producer.

Roots

But Mr Chung never forgot his North Korean roots, and he has become something of a one-man goodwill ambassador.

His efforts - including the bizarre gift of 1,000 head of cattle to the impoverished North - have led, amongst other things, to Mr Chung gaining the right to run tourist ships to the North's beautiful mountain region.

But Mr Chung's business style has not been without its critics.

Debts

Dubbed "King Chairman" by his employees, he represents the old school of Korean businessman, running the company along the lines of strict Confucian hierarchy.

The huge, diversified corporation, run on massive debts, exemplifies what many see as being wrong with Korean industry.

The passing of this towering figure on Korea's business scene has already pleased the markets, and marks a further step along the road of Korea's painful process of restructuring.


Source: news.bbc.co.uk

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