Former Daewoo Group chairman Kim Woo-choong, once a symbol of global expansion of Korean conglomerates, died on Dec. 9 at the age of 82.
The iconic business tycoon died of a chronic disease at 11:50 p.m. on Dec. 9, said the Daewoosky Institute, a group of former Daewoo Group employees, on Dec. 10. “Kim has passed away with his family at his side at Ajou University hospital in Suwon,” it said.
Kim has been under medical treatment for a year or so since last year as his chronic illness aggravated. He has reportedly refused life-sustaining treatment. He had long stayed in Vietnam since the collapse of his business empire in 1999. He came back to Korea due to his worsening health condition late last year.
Kim had lived a turbulent life. Born in Daegu in 1936, he came to Seoul after his father was abducted to North Korea during the Korean War. After graduating from Yonsei University with a degree in economics, he worked for Hansung Industrial, a textile company, until 1966 and then founded Daewoo Industrial at the age of 31 with a starting capital of 5 million won (US$4,200) and five employees.
He became the chairman of Daewoo Group at age 45 in 1981 and rapidly expanded it under the banner of “global management.” His group became the second-largest conglomerate in Korea in terms of assets, following Hyundai Group, just before it was disbanded in 1999. Kim concentrated his efforts on opening up new overseas markets in the 1990s, making Daewoo Group “the largest multinational corporation from an emerging country.”
Daewoo’s exports in 1998, just before its disintegration, amounted to US$18.6 billion, which accounted for 14 percent of Korea’s total exports (US$132.3 billion). Kim published a collection of essays titled “It’s a Big World and There’s Lots to be Done” in 1989, which soon became a must-read for the youth as a million copies were sold within six months.
Following the wish of the deceased, only family members attended the funeral.