LG Group chairman Koo Bon-moo has died after leading South Korea’s fourth-largest conglomerate for over two decades and transforming it into a global brand, but his legacy will live on as many remember him as a humble and far-sighted entrepreneur.
The death of the businessman who passed away on the morning of May 20 has garnered a significant amount of media coverage both at home and abroad, with most reactions being positive.
How Chairman Koo Bon-moo Transformed LG Into a Global Brand
Previously called Lucky Goldstar, LG used to be a much smaller business group in size than now. It earned around 30 trillion won in annual sales until 1995, when Koo took over the role as chairman from his father Koo Cha-kyung.
During his tenure, LG Group’s total sales jumped more than fivefold, from 30 trillion won to 160 trillion won, while overseas sales also drastically increased, from 10 trillion won to nearly 110 trillion won over the last 23 years.
After studying business administration in the US, Koo first joined the group in 1975 as an assistant manager in the inspection department at Lucky Chemical Industrial, what is now LG Chem.
Since then, he worked his way to the top and managed to achieve impressive sales figures by investing in the sectors of electronics, chemicals and communications services, despite the spin-off of multiple companies, including GS Group, LS Group, LIG and LF.
He also managed to lead the company through difficult times like the 1997 Asian financial crisis, by making a series of bold and decisive moves.
Koo revamped the group’s brand image by changing its name from Luck Goldstar to LG. There was strong opposition to rebranding, but Koo pushed it through in a bid to overhaul the group and infuse a new spirit into the minds of group employees.
Koo had been decisive in making investment in strategic businesses, such as rechargeable batteries and liquid crystal displays. Thanks to his determined push, LG could become a global powerhouse in these areas.
He also launched LG Telecom in 1996, which later became LG Uplus, one of the largest mobile carriers in South Korea.
But Koo suffered a setback in semiconductors. He sought to make LG Semicon a world-class chip manufacturer, but the company was dealt with a fatal blow by the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. Koo was forced to hand over the chip company to Hyundai Group for merger with its chip unit.
In April this year, the group opened LG Science Park in Seoul, nearly 24 times the size of a football stadium and instantly becoming the largest corporate R&D center in the country, a move that reflects Koo’s emphasis on technological convergence.
Koo had also been a champion of “jeongdo (right path in English) management,” a management philosophy emphasizing integrity and fairness in doing business. He also emphasized ethical management and exhorted group officials to stay away from corruption.
Thanks to Koo’s stress on the right path and harmony, the company has remained largely scandal-free, with no feud taking place among owner family members, a rare phenomemon among South Korean family-owned conglomerates.
Koo’s Personal Life and Pursuing Charitable Causes
Koo lost his only biological son in an accident in 1994 and adopted his nephew Koo Kwang-moo, a son of his younger brother. Although Koo has two daughters, the adopted son is slated to become the next leader of the group as the owner family sticks to the principle of succession of leadership to firstborn sons.
As the head of the company, Koo emphasized ‘unity’ as one of the key elements of success, and his ideas garnered praise for running a humane environment at the company and pursuing social causes.
In his 2007 New Year’s address, Koo said it is important to nurture a great level of energy and talent to yield consistent results even through hard times, and that at the heart of their management always lies respect for people.
He also urged employees not to fire or stop recruiting staff even in tough situations during a consensus meeting in 2008.
In 2015, Koo took on the role as CEO of LG Welfare Foundation and began giving awards and cash prizes to people for acts of kindness and courage.
Over 70 recipients have been given the award including policemen, soldiers, firefighters and private citizens who helped save people in danger.
High-profile figures including Samsung Group heir Lee Jae-yong and former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have paid a visit to the funeral in Seoul, which is being held in private as Koo wished.