[News in focus] Corporate jerks named, shamed

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[News in focus] Corporate jerks named, shamed

A slew of government departments from the Transportation Ministry, the National Tax Service, the Korea Customs Service and even the police and prosecutors are taking close looks at the nation’s No. 1 air carrier company after the anger management problems of the family that controls it made headlines.

In 2014, the oldest daughter of Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho, Cho Hyun-ah, gained worldwide notoriety for making a plane return to its gate to expel a crew member who served her macadamia nuts in a bag rather than in a bowl. This month, the spotlight shifted to the chairman’s younger daughter Cho Hyun-min, who threw water at an advertising agency employee. And this week, the chairman’s wife was exposed on a video throwing a temper tantrum among employees.

But the Chos are not the only clan who have come under harsh public scrutiny for personal misbehavior.

Last November, the youngest son of Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn was reported to have assaulted a lawyer in a bar. The same son, Kim Dong-seon, was charged for assaulting a bar employee a year ago and was given two years of probation.

One big change is how technology has allowed such attitudes and behavior to be captured and quickly disseminated.

In the Cho clan’s case, both the so-called nut rage and water rage incidents were first reported not through conventional news reports but through an anonymous message board app called Blind, which was founded in 2013.

On Blind, employees of various companies have been spilling the beans on the companies they work for and their senior management. Civil servants have started doing it, too.

Because Blind protects the identity of the person uploading posts, Koreans have taken to it.

The smartphone is playing a crucial role in exposing the insalubrious behavior of the Chos, including the mother.

Previously exposures relied heavily on statements made by witnesses during authorities’ investigations or video images caught on surveillance camera.

But the Chos were embarrassed when several audio recording of Cho Hyun-min lashing out at employees and a video of her mother Lee Myung-hee going ballistic on the job went viral as well.

Smartphones and apps like Blind are technologies fueling social change, empowering employees to not accept bad behavior that their parents had no choice but to put up with.

Experts say the generation that worked in the ’80s and ’90s overlooked misbehavior by chaebol founding families as there was a collective focus on raising the Korean economy.

Office workers today are more socially aware, less loyal to a company or its founding family, especially since their jobs are not guaranteed for 20 to 30 years as their parents’ were. The technology puts them in a position in which they no longer have to tolerate socially unacceptable behaviors.

“Thanks to new media like social networks, controversies that weren’t major issues in the past have started to be exposed,” said Lee Myoung-jin, a Korea University social studies professor. “The media and the public have to continuously show interest in such controversies in order to plant awareness in third generation conglomerate children.”

Some experts noted that the more intense public response against the Korean Air clan also shows the public’s frustration with conglomerate brats being given high-ranking management roles without any obvious qualifications.

Cho Hyun-min, who started her career by working for LG Ad for less than two years, joined her father’s company as a middle-ranked manager in 2007. In less than three years, she became a team leader and got her executive title in 2011.

In 2012 she was made an executive at the company’s budget airline Jin Air and became vice president of Jin Air’s marketing department in 2016. Until she was forced to relinquish all her titles in her father’s company, Cho Hyun-min was chief executive of Hanjin Travel Service and KAL Hotel Network.

Such speedy promotions aren’t unique to Korean Air’s royal family.

A study by CEO Score found that, on average, it took only 4.2 years for children of big companies’ founding families to get executive positions. On average, they are given such positions at the age of 33.7 years. Ordinary employees reach executive positions at the average age of 51.4.

Once again, some point to the need for changes in the governance structure of Korea’s big conglomerates.

“A company suffers a negative impact when the actions committed by the owner family is unacceptable in society,” said Sung Tae-yoon, an economics professor at Yonsei University.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]
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