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Maintaining the legacy

May 17,2019
The Fair Trade Commission released an updated list of local conglomerates with assets of over 10 trillion won ($8.4 billion) falling under stricter rules for cross-affiliate business transactions and antitrust issues. Their business heads are also subject to accountability of any wrongdoings in business affairs.

Joining the list were 41-year-old Koo Kwang-mo of LG Group, 44-year-old Cho Won-tae of Hanjin Group and 57-year-old Park Jeong-won of Doosan Group. All of them succeeded to the helm of their family-run businesses after their fathers passed away over the past year. As the young captains of major business groups face tougher challenges both at home and abroad, they must prove they are worthy of their newfound positions.

We have mixed feelings about the new corporate leaders’ abilities to run their businesses. Though they are expected to breathe new life into their companies, they must also fight with the stigma of being born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Anti-chaebol sentiment has also been growing under the liberal Moon Jae-in administration. Some of them came under fire for their domineering ways and abuse of employees. Scions of chaebol families has also been implicated in drug abuses recently.

The pioneering generation was different. The first-generation built Korea Inc. from war ashes and poverty, and boldly explored unchartered waters. They placed the Korean people and the country first. Koo In-hwoi, the founder of LG Group, said a company must seek profit, but should always think of social benefit and country’s future because “a fish cannot live outside water.”

Cho Choong-hoon, founder of Hanjin Group whose grandchildren have had scandals with their abusive ways, was also remembered for his unparalleled modesty and warm character. He also said money was not his goal because otherwise he would not pursue risky businesses. Park Doo-byung, who built the Doosan empire, also pledged to devote himself to his company and to the nation’s industrial development even in his hospital bed in 1973. Most early entrepreneurs are remembered for their risk-taking, patriotism and devotion.

The business environment is significantly different from then. Yet social responsibility has not changed. The new chaebol heads must keep up the legacy of their forefathers.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 16, Page 34