[EDITORIAL] Chung Ju-yung

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[EDITORIAL] Chung Ju-yung

The former honorary chairman of the Hyundai Group died Wednesday night at the age of 85. May he rest in peace. Chung Ju-yung was the man behind half a century of economic development in Korea and the person who made the "Miracle on the Han River" possible. His legendary life and work have enriched the country and compel us to look back on the significance of his accomplishments.

He built Hyundai on gritty drive and entrepreneurship, and played the focal role in taking the country into an industrialized economy. He raised a country of ruins to a world leader in construction and shipbuilding and to the fifth largest manufacturer of automobiles. His blood, sweat and tears are in the structures Hyundai built around the world from dams and highways to ports and plants. His "can-do spirit" and success story is the motivation for many in the country.

The 10 years he led the Federation of Korean Industries as its chairman was a critical period where the focus of industrial activities shifted to the private sector from planning-oriented government initiatives. Mr. Chung was also instrumental in bringing Korea to the world stage in athletics, as he dedicated himself to the efforts of the Korean delegation to win the 1988 Olympic games for Seoul.

We should never undervalue the role he played in opening the era of North-South reconciliation through economic cooperation projects with North Korea. The convoy of trucks with 501 head of cattle crossing into North Korea is an image that will be a lasting memory for all who saw it.

From the son of a poor farmer to one of the richest man on earth, the life of Mr. Chung was one of glory and triumph. What remains in the wake of Mr. Chung's passing is how the spirit and morale left behind by the man are put to bear fruit as Korea's economy and Hyundai struggle to break free from their crises. In the shadow of the countless contributions he has made to the economic development of the country are lessons that we should learn.

The Hyundai empire he has built is in dire straits. It is not an exaggeration to say the crisis started with his "affair" with politics and his obsession of mixing politics and business. The unfortunate endeavor and the equally disastrous consequences must not be repeated, and it is an issue left to the business community, politicians and bureaucrats alike to resolve.

The passing of Mr. Chung marks the end of an era of concentrated development at breakneck speed. It is also the end of an era for all Korean chaebol and the now-obsolete corporate governance and ownership structure they represent. The magic of the old school of "management of monarchy" is exhausted, and management now needs transparency and professional skills.

Hyundai must right itself so that the product of Mr. Chung will not be uprooted. Mr. Chung's sons now put their squabble behind them and commit in earnest to restructure the conglomerate. Hyundai must also transform itself into a sophisticated organization fit to survive in the age of information technology. Hyundai must do everything it can to vindicate itself and not go down in history as the culprit that stunted the country's economic development.

Mr. Chung said, "Businessmen long for the businesses they built to last even after they are gone." The man has passed on, and it is now in the hands of those who remain, especially at the companies he raised, to make Hyundai, once again, a driving force behind the country's economy and an enterprise respected by all.
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