Woori acts to expedite search for new chairman

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Woori acts to expedite search for new chairman

Woori Financial Group is expected to speed up the process of appointing its new head after Chairman Lee Pal-seung offered to step down earlier this month.

Yesterday, the financial group held a board of directors meeting and formed a seven-member committee that will identify potential candidates to lead Woori Financial. Among the members are three outside directors, three outside experts and one official from the Korea Deposit Insurance Corporation (KDIC), the largest shareholder of the group. The members’ names and posts were not disclosed yesterday.

In 2001, the government invested 12.8 trillion won ($11.5 billion) to keep the financial group from going bankrupt during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. The KDIC owns a 56.97 percent stake in Woori Financial Group.

The forming of the committee comes after Lee, who was appointed during the Lee Myung-bak administration, tendered his resignation earlier this month amid pressure to make room for someone in line with the Park Geun-hye administration.

Lee made his move after Kang Man-soo, former chairman of Korea Development Bank Financial Group and a close associate of former President Lee, stepped down. Several days later, Hong Ky-tack, an economics professor at Chung-Ang University, was nominated and appointed chairman of KDB Financial Group. Hong was a member of the first economy subcommittee under President Park’s transition team.

The committee will give a public notice next week to receive nominations of chairman candidates, which will take as long as two weeks, according to Woori Financial. The committee will also screen applications and hold interviews to pick as many as three finalists and present them to the full board of directors. Three weeks after the board makes its choice, Woori Financial Group’s shareholders will meet to decide whether to approve the nominee as the new chairman.

Industry insiders say potential nominees to head Woori Financial Group are Lee Duk-hoon, Lee Chong-hwi and Lee Soon-woo, all former presidents of Woori Bank. Others mentioned as potential nominees are Chin Dong-soo, former chairman of the Financial Services Commission, and Jun Kwang-woo, former chairman of the National Pension Service.

One of the main tasks for the new chairman of Woori Financial Group will be to take part in the government’s move to privatize the financial institution, which has been a lingering issue since the previous government. There were three attempts to sell Woori to a private owner to recoup the state investment but all failed to attract bidders. The last attempt was in July.

“Woori Financial should be led by someone with a philosophy thinking that the institution should be sold in the market quickly,” said Financial Services Commission Chairman Shin Je-yoon recently.

“The government’s previous attempts to sell Woori were made in the latter half of the Lee administration,” said a financial industry official. “It was too late to accelerate the project.”

Chairman Shin showed determination and told reporters recently “the sale of Woori should be pushed through in the early phase of the Park administration or else it will lose steam.”

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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