Chey Min-jeong, the second daughter of Chey Tae-won, CEO of the SK Group, has been selected as a military cadet in the Navy. This is the first time for a woman from a “chaebol family” to become a military officer. The term “chaebol family” refers to a family that owns a large conglomerate, or chaebol, in Korea, of which there are several.
The Korean Navy announced on Aug. 29, “Chey passed the last assessment of the officer recruiting process,” and added, “She is expected to enter the Republic of Korea Naval Academy Cadet Training School on Sept. 15.”
In Korean society, it is a common practice that the third-generation chaebol family members enter their father’s or grandfather’s company as executives in their late twenties or thirties. Also, many make incomprehensible excuses to exempt themselves from the mandatory military service that is still required in Korea, or at least seek non-combat posts that require less strenuous physical training.
Even though South Korea's war with the North is mostly just a formality in the current political climate, South Korean soldiers are sometimes still in danger from each other. For instance, last June, one soldier threw grenades and fired his weapon at random, killing five and injuring eight in an army base. Last month, one soldier died after being physically abused by four of his colleagues. So, in times like this, Chey volunteering for military service is a pleasant surprise.
Majoring in navigation, Cadet Chey will go through a one-week introductory session, a ten-week training session, and then on Dec. 1 she will be officially commissioned as a second lieutenant. After completing the elementary military and duty assignment training for three months, she will be assigned to a vessel. Out of 120 cadets that passed this recruit session, 18 were female. The competition ratio for women is 1:10.
Chey said that she decided to join the navy because she was influenced by the 19-century explorer Ernest Henry Skackleton. According to the Korean Navy, Chey stated, “I was touched by the spirit of Skackleton that led him to explore the Antarctic, and thought that I needed to develop leadership as well.”
In 1915, Skackleton explored Antarctica with 22 crew members, and his ship was trapped in ice for nine months. The crew finally escaped without any casualties by making three boats out of the wrecked ship, and returned after two years.
Sources in the business industry said Chey is a very independent and academically superb student. While she attended Beijing University, she received almost no financial help from her parents. She supported herself via part-time jobs teaching students at a college entrance exam preparation school, waitressing at restaurants, and working at a convenience store, and also received a scholarship.
After she made the decision to apply for the military, she persuaded her family, whom at first opposed the decision. The business sector is stunned by her courage.
Sources said, “It is the first case where a chaebol heiress joined the military instead of inheriting their parents’ business,” and added, “As one of society's leaders, she showed an exemplary act of Noblesse Oblige.”
Her paternal grandfather, the late Chey Jong-hyeon, built the foundation of SK, which is now one of Korea’s top three business groups. In 25 years under his supervision, SK acquired the public enterprise Yugong in 1980 and purchased Korea Mobile Telecommunication Company (Currently SK Telecom), thus focusing on petrochemical and telecommunications as its main businesses. SK group is now pursuing global management, along with serving the public with social responsibility, scholarships, and the forestry business.
Her maternal grandfather is former president Roh Tae-woo. A graduate from Korea Military Academy, he retired as an army general in 1981. He then entered the world of politics, serving as the secretary of the organizing committee for the Seoul Olympics and Asian Games.
In 1987, he became the governor of the ruling party, and in June of the same year he announced a direct presidential election, known as the 6.29 declaration. That year, he was elected the president of South Korea, and was inaugurated in 1988. During his presidency, he was recognized for building diplomatic relations with northern countries, by recovering the country's relationships with Russia and China.