Ottogi’s good deeds earn a Blue House invitation

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Ottogi’s good deeds earn a Blue House invitation

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Ham Young-joon, left, chairman of food company Ottogi and his late father, Ham Tae-ho, the founder and honorary chairman of the company, are known to manage the company transparently, leading to an invitation to the Blue House as a special guest. [YONHAP]

Ottogi, a midsize local food company, came into the limelight this week after President Moon Jae-in inviting its CEO Ham Young-joon to a Blue House event alongside leaders of the nation’s biggest businesses including Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor and SK Group.

In fact, of the 15 companies represented at the event on Thursday and Friday, Ottogi was the only one not listed in the top 100 companies in Korea.

Ottogi, founded in 1969, is best known for its powdered curry. The company offer a diverse range of food products including ramyeon, the Korean version of instant noodles, condiments and powder mix for hot cakes, cream soups and more. Last year its assets reached 1.59 trillion won ($1.43 billion), nearly one-tenth of industry leader CJ CheilJedang.

Despite Ottogi’s relatively small size and market share, the company was able to catch the eye of the Blue House to gain its invitation to the event.

The surprise call was a result of the care the company takes for its employees and the exemplary actions of Honorary Chairman Ham Tae-ho and current Chairman Ham Young-joon, Ham Tae-ho’s son.

Despite its good reputation, Ottogi tries to avoid the spotlight.

“We don’t want to be highlighted as a good company. We really don’t,” Kang Guman, head of the public relations division at Ottogi told the Korea JoongAng Daily on Wednesday, a day before the scheduled talk with the president. “We just want to focus on our real business which is providing good food products to the consumers,” he added.

Upon the news of Ottogi’s special invitation the food company’s shares jumped 7.25 percent on Monday and internet users began to call the company “God-ttogi,” a compound using god and Ottogi.

Ottogi’s positive image first emerged last year when current CEO Ham Young-joon’s transparent inheritance tax payment was spotlighted by several media outlets.

After founder Ham Tae-ho passed away last September, Ham Young-joon inherited 465,543 Ottogi shares or 13 percent of the company - totaling more than 300 billion won at the time. In Korea, the inheritor has to pay 50 percent of the inherited wealth if the amount exceeds 3 billion won.

Ham Young-joon reported that he had received shares and agreed to pay half of what he received - 150 billion won - as inheritance tax. Among Korea’s powerful conglomerates, wholly paying inheritance tax is practically nonexistent.

Ottogi is well known for the fair treatment of its employees. Its practices are in line with the goals of the Moon administration, although Ottogi has been treating its workers fairly since it started business.

According to a report posted on the Financial Supervisory Service, a total of 3,099 employees worked for Ottogi as of March this year, of which only 1.16 percent of them - 36 people - were irregular workers.

Industry insiders say that it is hard to keep the portion of irregular workers low since the retail industry typically requires a large merchandising workforce. Guaranteeing employees a permanent job is incredibly admirable, one industry insider said.

Last year, Ottogi went viral when some media outlets reported that 0 percent of the company’s employees were irregular workers. Although this has since been found to have been exaggerated, the media attention helped shine a spotlight on the many good deeds going on behind the scenes.

Kang explained Ottogi’s attitude is inherited from its founder, who designated May 5 as the company’s foundation date. Most food companies conventionally designate the foundation date as when the factory started rolling, but what Ham Tae-ho cared about was when products were first delivered to customers, May 5.

Ottogi has been providing funding for children with heart disease since 1992 in partnership with the Korea Heart Foundation. The late Ham Tae-ho was also with his own money, donating 30 billion won in 2015 to the Miral Welfare Foundation which helps underprivileged people.

“Our current chairman Ham Young-joon has been receiving training for company management from his own father since he was young,” Kang says. “He inherits his father’s belief in running a company so the current culture of the company will not change sooner or later.”


BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]

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