He lived a quiet life and taught humility

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He lived a quiet life and taught humility


The late LG Group Chairman Koo Cha-kyung wears his trademark suspenders, with pants that always had dirt on them. After retirement, Koo enjoyed his life at a farm at Cheonan Yonam College in South Chungcheong. [YONHAP]

The site of the funeral was kept secret. The burial site was not disclosed. A modest ceremony was held. Those were the wishes of LG Group Chairman Koo Cha-kyung, who died at the age of 94 on Saturday.

“The funeral followed the late chairman’s character, pursuing practicality rather than luxury,” said industry sources.

Heesung Electronics Chairman Koo Bon-neung and other family members made a phone call to Asan Medical Center in Seoul on the day the late chairman passed away. Unlike the funeral of the late chairman’s wife and the funeral of Koo Bon-moo - the late chairman’s eldest son and LG’s third chairman who passed away last year - Koo Cha-kyung’s funeral wasn’t conducted at Seoul National University Hospital in Yeongeon-dong, central Seoul.

Asan Medical Center, which was revealed as the funeral site after the ceremony, was chosen because of the late chairman’s special friendship with the late Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung, who founded the Asan Medical Center.

In 1988, after 10 years as the chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), the late Hyundai Group founder passed the torch to the late LG chairman Koo Cha-kyung, who was then-chairman of Lucky Goldstar Group.

At the time, heated debate was ongoing over the next chairman of the FKI after Chairman Chung served five consecutive times, but Chung already had plans. In February 1985, at the start of his fourth term, Chung already had Koo in mind.

Born in 1925, the late chairman Koo was a decade younger than late Chairman Chung, but the friendship between the two business leaders was unique. Outgoing Chung and practical Koo had different personalities, but they had a few things in common - down-to-earth honesty and a warmheartedness.


From left: The late chairman receives a medal from the German government in 1976; the late chairman waves a flag with the newly designed LG corporate identity design just before handing his position to the eldest son Koo Bon-moo; the funeral procession of the late chairman departs on Tuesday. The funeral ceremony was held in secret over four days to follow the will of the late chairman, who lived a modest life. [YONHAP, LG]

“The late Chairman Koo was very close to my father. I delivered the photo of the late Chairman Koo visiting Hyundai’s reclamation construction site in Seosan, South Chungcheong, to LG Chairman Koo Kwang-mo,” said Chung Mong-joon, the sixth son of the late Chairman Chung and the chairman of the Asan Foundation after paying tribute to the late Chairman Koo last Sunday.

Late Chairman Koo lived by a code, which was “a businessman stands up straight.” Black horn-rimmed glasses and a thick Gyeongsang accent reflected his folksy nature. On the wall of his office in Yeouido, western Seoul, hangs a slogan in Chinese characters that means “a man should watch his actions even when he is alone.” This became the foundation of LG’s key principle, which is “right path management.”

After the June 29 Declaration in 1987, which was a monumental moment of Korea’s democratic development, the nation was in chaos with the ruling party losing the majority in the National Assembly while people were in the streets.

With the attitude toward large companies hostile, Koo stood by his conviction that the market economy must remain intact regardless of political democratization.

“Political contributions will be made only to political parties that safeguard the system of free economy,” said the late chairman.

His folksy character comes through in his memoir. In “There Is No Other Way,” Koo said his clothes were handed down from his uncle Koo Tai-hwoi.

He said his grandfather would make him use a school utensil until it was worn out. “He taught me the spirit of frugality,” said Koo in his memoir.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon was one of the many to pay tribute.

“I watched the late chairman Koo eating bibimbap alone at a shabby restaurant near the government complex in the 1980s several times,” said the prime minster.

Unlike other chairmen, Koo was strict with his children. The late Koo Bon-moo, the eldest son and LG’s third chairman; the second son and Heesung Electronics Chairman Koo Bon-neung; the third son and LG adviser Koo Bon-joon; and fourth son and LT Group Chairman Koo Bon-sik all fulfilled their military service. This is why the LG Group family has never been embroiled in military service issues.

The late chairman was humble to his customers and the public. Even when the business was going well, he never tried to teach the public. In his memoir, he said: “Ideas for new products all come from customers. Customers are our teachers.” According to an LG official, this is why the fourth-generation leader of LG Group mentioned the word “customer” about 30 times in his New Year’s speech, to carry on the late chairman’s spirit.

LG’s sales, which stood at 26 billion won ($22.3 million) by the time the late chairman took the helm of the group in 1970, grew 1,150 times to 30 trillion won when Koo stepped down in 1995. Establishing Korea’s first corporate research facility, Koo launched around 70 research facilities during his term.

After changing the company name to LG from Lucky Goldstar, the late chairman stepped down in February the following year, handing it off to the eldest son Koo Bon-moo. LG’s handover is still remembered as the first case of a smooth change of control at a large company.

BY KIM YOUNG-MIN [kim.byungwook@joongang.co.kr]
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