[FOUNTAIN]The guts one needs to be a chairwoman“According to the wishes of the late president, we have decided on Mount Kumgang as his burial ground.” So said Hyundai Asan president Kim Yoon-kyu, who was put in charge of the funeral service for the company’s late chairman, Chung Mong-hun, who died in early August 2003. The bereaved family had put him in charge. No objection was made since this decision was made by Mr. Kim who was called “the most sincere child to the late Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung,” in a note written by Mr. Chung.
Then Mr. Chung’s wife, Hyun Jeong-eun, stepped in. “The purpose is good but I cannot leave my husband in North Korea,” she said in a quiet but in a firm tone. “Place him in a nearby place.” Mr. Kim could not argue anymore. Changwu-dong in Hanam was chosen to be the burial ground. Some in the group said they noticed during this incident that Ms. Hyun could be quite a tough person. On Nov. 17 that year, Ms. Hyun had just finished her 100-day mourning period and confronted her late husband’s uncle, Chung Sang-yung, honorary chairman of Kumkang Korea Chemical, who was threatening to take over the conglomerate.
Mr. Chung announced that he had become the largest shareholder of Hyundai Elevator, a holding company of Hyundai Asan. Ms. Hyun, who was inaugurated as the new chairwoman a month earlier, responded by announcing that the group would float its shares in the market. It was an action to protect the group with the help of the people. The plan was a success. The battle that seemed to be in favor of the uncle-in-law was now in favor of the nephew’s wife thanks to the wave of sympathy toward Ms. Hyun. The financial institutions were also in favor of Ms. Hyun and ordered Mr. Chung to resell the shares that had been bought before the listing of the group’s shares. Last year Ms. Hyun, recalling the incident, said, “I realized that I had the guts.”
This time it is North Korea that is battling Ms. Hyun. The chairwoman fired Kim Yoon-kyu, Hyundai Asan’s vice chairman and a man North Korean leader Kim Jong-il trusted. North Korea retaliated by reducing the number of tourists allowed to visit Mount Kumgang. The North had requested that Mr. Kim be reinstated, but Ms. Hyun said it would be impossible since suspicions of corruption were raised about Mr. Kim. She said, “I would rather choose my conscience than take profits subserviently.”
She could never have said something like this if she didn’t have guts. Her motto is, “We should not start things that are wrong in the first place.” The power to stand firm against North Korea’s attempt to tame her probably stems from her strong beliefs. Her late husband would feel proud to see her now.
by Lee Sang-il
The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.