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[Dynasty Korea’s corporate roots] Principles of brothers live on at Samyang Group

Founding family’s story intertwined with the nation’s development
June 11,2015
Kim Seong-su (Inchon), left, and brother Kim Yeon-su (Sudang) during their student years while studying in Japan. Provided by the company
Lee Chul-seung Seoul Peace Prize Cultural Foundation president
Samyang Group Chairman Kim Yoon. By Lee Soo-wan
Kim Seong-su, whose nickname was Inchon, and Kim Yeon-su, nicknamed Sudang, were brothers who nurtured education, media and business during the dismal time under the oppression of Japanese rule.

ChoongAng Middle School and High School, Korea University, Dong-A Ilbo, Gyeongseong Textile Manufacturing Corporation and Samyang are just a few of the brothers’ achievements.

A descendent of the Kim clan in Ulsan, the older Seong-su was born Oct. 11, 1891, in Inchon village, which today is Bongamri, Gochang County, North Jeolla. Yeon-su was born Oct. 1, 1896.

Their ancestor was Kim In-hoo, nicked named Ha Seo, who was the teacher when King Injong of the Joseon Dynasty was the crown prince.

Their father, Kim Gyeong-joong, who was the governor of Jinsan County, was skilled in business. In fact, he was able to expand the property lot he inherited so it was 75 times larger.

But Samyang Group Chairman Kim Yoon, who is the grandson of Yeon-su, remembers his great-grandfather more as a person who was academic and scholastic than as one of the richest men in Jeolla province.

Chairman Kim said his great-grandfather realized the desperate need for history education after the Japanese forced the signing of a document known as the Eulsa Treaty or Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty at gunpoint. The treaty started the colonization by severing any diplomatic rights and increased meddling by Japan in Korea’s domestic affairs.

Chairman Kim said his great-grandfather worked on the Joseon history published in 1907 and provided it to schools and educational institutions for free, while evading the surveillance of Japanese authorities for nearly 20 years.

Growing up under his father’s influence, Seong-su in 1906 enrolled in the Yeonghaksook school that was established by his father-in-law, Koh Jeong-ju, in Changpyeong, South Jeolla. The school was created to let Koh’s son and Seong-su to receive a modern education, including English.

It was there Seong-su met Song Jin-woo, who become his lifelong friend. The two later left for Japan to pursue their studies.

Seong-su enrolled at Waseda University in 1910, where he met other students who later became influential figures in Korean history, including Choi Nam-seom, who published various magazines and newspapers and later become an editorial writer for the Dong-A Ilbo.

In the May 1934 edition of a magazine published during the Japanese colonial period, Seong-su recalled he was an extremely active young man at Waseda University.

The younger brother also took off to Japan on his older brother’s advice. But Yeon-su decided to become a businessman. On his first trip to Tokyo, he witnessed numerous factories lined up on each side of railway tracks in many Japanese cities, including Osaka.

He realized the best way to secure Korea’s sovereignty was to make the country wealthy through the establishment and development of industries.

While in Japan, Yeon-su was praised for his character as he helped other Korean students there, but he wasn’t wealthy. Among the students Yeon-su helped was Suh Choon, the student of novelist and poet Lee Gwang-soo. Suh was an independence fighter and journalist who died before Korea was liberated. He was one of the 11 Korean students studying in Japan who announced the independence of Korea on Feb. 8, 1919, in the middle of Tokyo.

In 1914, Seong-su returned to Seoul and started to promote the independence of Korea through modern education.

The first move he made on his return was to acquire ChoongAng Middle School. In 1917, he bought Gyeongseong Weaving Company, and in October 1919 he established Gyeongseong Textile Manufacturing Corporation.

At the time, Gyeongseong was the only exclusively Korean company with capital of more than 100,000 won. The business it had with banks represented nearly half of all transactions by exclusive Korean companies.

In April 1920, Seong-su launched the Dong-A Ilbo as a newspaper that would represent the Korean people. And in 1932, he bought Bosung University, which later became Korea University.

The school continued its traditional roles as the nation’s representative academic institution, which even applies today.

Seong-su’s Korea rehabilitation business maximized its potential within legal boundaries, even during the Japanese colonial period.

The younger brother graduated from Kyoto University as an economics major and dreamed of expanding into mainland China by participating in a business inspection team to Manchuria organized by the Pyongyang government in 1921.

The following year, he was promoted to be an executive at Gyeongsang Textile Manufacturing, where he released two brands of cotton clothing. In 1935, he followed in his brother’s footsteps and became the company’s CEO.

In 1923, in hopes of bringing prosperity to struggling farm villages, he started to modernize agricultural land in southern Jangseong County, South Jeolla. He adopted a modernized agriculture system in the form of a cooperative.

He strove to create a model farming village by starting a campaign that encouraged self-driven rehabilitation with the philosophy of frugality and aggressive effort that would later lead to prosperity.

This is the same concept as the Samaeul campaign that was championed by President Park Chung Hee in the 1960s and 70s.

In 1924, Samsu Company was founded. Its name was changed to Samyang in 1931.

Yeon-su believed that when a person knows his place, fortune and health comes along. This became the motto and belief of Samyang Group.

The brothers faced their biggest challenges and struggles after Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule.

Seong-su entered the political world after his closest friend, Song Jin-woo, was assassinated. He took over the Korea Democratic Party.

In the process of rebuilding the country after liberation, Seong-su supported President Syngman Rhee. But he opened the country to a semi-dictatorship after he resigned as vice president in May 1952.

While on his sick bed in 1954 when there was a growing movement against the dictatorship led by the ruling Liberal Party, which was solidified by forcing through a manipulated amendment to the Constitution, Seong-su urged opposition parties to unify to increase their power.

He died on Feb. 19, 1955, and was buried at his most beloved Korea University after a huge national funeral.

Today the house he lived in until his death in Gyedong in Jongno District, Seoul, has been turned into a museum with his nickname, Inchon, that displays various artifacts.

After the Republic of Korea government was established, his younger brother was arrested by a special investigative committee formed to crack down on government opposition.

He didn’t make any excuses for the charges against him. But the court during the trial cleared his name after it was proven that while running Gyeongseong Textile, he aggressively fought against Japanese investment, and took on the role passively after Japanese occupiers forced him into honorary positions.

In addition, the charges against him were dropped as he was active in improving Korean talent. The court said that considering his actions, including the honorary titles given to him by the Japanese occupants, it was hard to simply label Yeon-su as a Japanese sympathizer who acted against the Korean people.

Unlike his older brother, who jumped into the political world, Yeon-su grew to be a powerful influence on the Korean business community.

When the government pushed agricultural industry reform in 1950, he handed over all of his farms.

The only land that wasn’t turned over to the government was his salt farm.

In later years, he expanded into food in hopes of rebuilding Samyang Group, which was on the verge of collapse after the Korean War. He built a sugar plant and an artificial agar production plant in Ulsan.

After the Liberal Party and President Rhee were ousted by the April 19 Revolution of 1960 and he was no longer under the persecution of the government, Yeon-su became the leader of the business community in 1961 when he was appointed chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries, the country’s largest business lobby organization.

He died at his house in Banghak-dong, northern Seoul, on Dec. 6, 1979.

The descendents of the brothers became some of the most influential forces in Korean politics and businesses. Seong-su had 13 children. The oldest, Sang-man, served as chairman of Dong-A Ilbo.

Sang-man had two children of his own - Byung-kwan, who also served as the chairman of the Dong-A Ilbo, and Byung-kun (71), CEO of Dong-A Dream Tree’s Foundation, a scholarship institution.

The eldest son of Byung-kwan, Jae-ho, 50, is the chairman of Dong-A Ilbo’s broadcast station, Channel A. He also is the son-in-law of former Prime Minister Lee Han-dong. The younger son, Jae-youl, 47, is president of sports at Cheil Worldwide, the media and advertising affiliate of Samsung Group. He is married to the second daughter of Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee.

Seung-su’s second son, Sang-kee, was the president of Dong-A Ilbo. The son of Sang-kee, Byung-kook, 55, served as senior secretary of diplomacy and security at the Blue House.

Yeon-su also had 13 children. The eldest, Sang-joon, was chairman of Samyang Salt Industry. Sang-joon had five children, including son Kim Byung-hwee, 69, an honorary professor at Hanyang University. The second son of Yeon-su, Sang-hyup, was not only culture minister and president of Korea University, he was also prime minister. Sang-hyup’s son, Han, is president of Jeonbuk, or JB, Bank.

The third son, Kim Sang-hon, was chairman of Samyang Group. His son Yoon, 61, is the chairman of Samyang Group. The second son, Ryang, 55, is the vice chairman.

Current Samyang Group Chairman Yoon remembers his grandfather Yeon-su.

“When we lived with our grandfather in Seongbuk-dong, my mother would struggle in preparing [grandfather’s] meal,” said Kim. “He wouldn’t let her place more than two or three side dishes, so she always had to think what she had to put out. We still live by his management guide of never being arrogant and never jumping into things without a second thought by checking every little thing, even when they seem solid.”

Yoon said Samyang Group has designated IT, chemicals, medicine and biotechnology as its new core businesses.

“The aim is to become a company that contributes to an affluent and convenient life,” he said. “We are working hard to leap into becoming a innovative company with global R&D.”

Recollections of Kim Seong-su and Kim Yeon-su

I always saw the brothers Seong-su and Yeon-su as father and grandfather figures, as they were close family friends. When I was attending Korea University, Seong-su would always call on me and ask my opinions about student movements and problems within the university.

As an adult who was easygoing and not at all hypocritical, he didn’t push any political stance. Throughout his life, Seong-su didn’t want to participate in politics.

His focus was always looking after the schools, the media and the family business.

During the Syngman Rhee administration, the National Assembly named Seong-su as vice president. Although he didn’t want to participate in politics, he decided to accept the role as he could no longer just ignore the corruption, violations of law and human rights, and incompetence. He decided to take the role with his motto of attending to the public work first and personal work later.

When our people or the country is faced with major struggles and challenges, I always think about the wise and compassionate Seong-su’s life and him being an eternal leader of the Korean people by always putting the greater good and being patriotic first.

Yeon-su, who helped bolster Gyeongseong Textile and founded Samyang Group, was a true upright scholastic entrepreneur who realized his faith in a strong industrial country even when experiencing the Japanese colonial rule and the social and political turbulence that reached into the industrial modernization era.

He set a milestone for our country’s modern industrialization through the management of Gyeongseong Textile and establishment of Samyang Group.

Even with the harsh conditions of being under the Japanese oppression, he created a massive farm and textile plant in Manchuria.

He will be remembered as a pioneer in modern Korea’s history of business expansion into overseas markets.


Kim Seong-su (Inchon)

Oct. 11 1891: Born in Buan-myeon, Gochang County, North Jeolla.

1914: Graduates from Waseda University, Japan, in political science and


1915: Buys ChoongAng School.

1917: Buys Gyeongseong Weaving Company.

1919: Establishes Gyeongseong Textile Manufacturing Corp.

1920: Establishes Dong-A Ilbo.

1932: Buys Bosung College.

1946: Leads Korea Democratic Party.

1951: Becomes nation’s second vice president.

1955: Dies at age 65 on Feb. 18, 1955. A national funeral is held, with burial at Korea University in Seongbuk District, Seoul

Kim Yeon-su (Sudang)

Oct. 1 1896: Born in Buan-myeon, Gochang County, North Jeolla.

1921: Graduates from Kyoto University, Japan, majoring in economics.

1924: Establishes Samsu Company (today’s Samyang Group).

1935: Promoted to president of Gyeongseong Textile Manufacturing Corp.

1939: Establishes the nation’s first child welfare foundation.

1949: Arrested by the Committee for Prosecution of Anti-National Defenders. Court clears him of charges.

1955: Opens Samyang Group’s sugar plant in Ulsan.

1961: Becomes first chairman of Korean Businessmen’s Association (today’s Federation of Korean Industries).

1969: Opens polyester production plant in Jeonju, North Jeolla.

1971: Wins award for excellence in export business.

1979: Dies at home in Banghak-dong, Seoul, at age 84.

BY KIM DUCK-HYUNG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]