Entitled heirs must alter course

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Entitled heirs must alter course

The second and third generations of family conglomerates are coming under mounting public scorn. Daughters and sons of what can be regarded in Korea as corporate royalty began competing in such areas as imported cars and luxury products, but are now entering new fields including bakeries, coffee shops, even street snacks - thus eating into the livelihoods of traditional mom-and-pop businesses.

Backed by the generous support of their parents’ corporate dynasties, the owners of these new ventures have even caused President Lee Myung-bak to remark that they are violating business ethics.

In their defense, most of the young chaebol scions are under enormous pressure to sustain the corporate empires built by their forefathers, and many claim they are simply making safe investments with their father’s money by venturing into smaller business areas.

Meanwhile, public interest in the actions and movements of the heirs of large business groups remains high. Studies show that they join their family businesses at an average age of 28 and undergo rigorous field training, after having previously been schooled and trained overseas. In their early 30s, most advance to an executive position.

But if they choose to skip this career trajectory, and avoid increasingly stiff global competition by looking for easy ways out in the domestic market, Korea may suffer economically in the future given the clout that the chaebol wield.

Lee Kun-hee of Samsung Group, Chung Mong-koo of Hyundai Group and Koo Bon-moo of LG Group all turned their fathers’ businesses into global empires. They demonstrated strong leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Despite their accomplishments, however, their business groups have generated much public resentment. If their offspring continue to eat into the domestic market at the expense of smaller businesses, this resentment will inevitably snowball.

If they want to overcome the stigma of being part of the “silver spoon generation,” the younger generations must get their collective act together. To stifle criticism that they lack the ability and will to keep par with their forefathers, they must be more aggressive and innovative than their predecessors in entering overseas markets.

Large companies helped make Korea the country it is today with their aggressive investment and hiring programs, which ultimately won over the public. But society is less tolerant these days of their huge wealth and influence. To keep the public on their side, the heirs must continue their legacy of innovation.

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