Questions arise over next FKI chairman pick

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Questions arise over next FKI chairman pick

As the term of the Federation of Korean Industries Chairman Huh Chang-soo ends next month, questions are arising about who will be chosen as the next leader of the business group that represents Korean conglomerates.

The FKI, one of the top four economic organizations in Korea, will have a general meeting on Feb. 10 at which a new leader will be elected for a two-year term.

The FKI’s advisory and honorary members will nominate candidates at the meeting, and the finalist will be elected in a unanimous vote from the organization’s general members.

“The absence of ballot-taking might seem undemocratic, but through measures taken in the nomination process, whereby various opinions are reflected, a unanimous vote has been the desirable method,” the FKI said in a statement.

But for the FKI, which has 585 companies listed as its members, the problem is that no business heavyweights are putting themselves forward as nominees for the position. And as the situation lingers, the local business community wonders whether Huh will serve another term.

If Huh extends his chairmanship, he will be the fourth leader to serve three consecutive terms. Late Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung was the longest-serving FKI chairman with five consecutive terms from 1977 to 1987.

Huh, who is also chief of the nation’s eighth-largest conglomerate, GS Group, was first elected as FKI chairman in 2011 after Hyosung Group Chairman Cho Suck-rae, and was reappointed in 2013.

The 66-year-old has not given any definite answers about his next move. In a New Year’s meeting hosted by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) at Coex in southern Seoul on Monday, Huh told reporters that serving another term is “something I can’t do [anything] about even if I wanted to.” In the FKI’s ceremony to welcome the new year on Jan. 2, he said: “I’ve cleared my mind. There are many people who want me to do it,” referring to the FKI chairman position.

Industry insiders are split in opinion over Huh’s comment. But what seems to be certain is that if he decides not to run for another term, there are no clear candidates available to accept his baton.

“In a difficult business environment like these days, chairmen should be busy just managing their own companies,” said a high-ranking executive from a local conglomerate, who asked not to be named. “At this point, I think no one will step up to become FKI chairman.”

Previously, Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho was mentioned as Huh’s possible successor. But after the Korean Air Lines’ “nut rage” incident involving his eldest daughter - and because he is head of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Organizing Committee - industry insiders say it will be almost impossible for him to take the role.

Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn was rumored as a candidate, too, but the five-year probation he is currently under after being released from jail in February clouds the possibility that he will be picked.

It is also being speculated that Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin will reject any offer he is given in order to focus on the successful management of Lotte World Tower, a problematic new shopping and entertainment complex in Jamsil-dong, southeastern Seoul.

Other possible candidates include Samyang Group Chairman Kim Yoon, Eagon Industrial Chairman Park Young-ju, Daelim Group Honorary Chairman Lee Joon-yong and Dongkuk Steel Group Chang Sae-joo. But so far no one has expressed a plan to run for the position.

Meanwhile, another business group experiencing a headache over finding a new skipper is the Korea Employers Federation. Since its former chief Lee Hee-beom resigned last February, Vice Chairman Kim Young-vae has been acting as the chairman.

Industry insiders say that since the KEF mostly deals with labor issues, business leaders are afraid of taking the role as it could make them a target for labor unions nationwide. The KEF will have a general meeting late next month.

Unlike these groups, the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry is relaxed as it is almost certain that current chief Park Yong-maan, who also leads Doosan Group, will serve another term.

Park filled the void after his predecessor, Sohn Kyung-shik, left for CJ Group in August 2013. The term for a KCCI chairman is three years, with a possible extension of just one consecutive term.

Meanwhile, the term for Korea International Trade Association Chairman Han Duck-soo also ends in March. Its next leader will be decided next month at the organization’s general meeting.

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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