The Korea Herald


Born rich, promoted young: chaebol scions become president just after 40

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Dec. 6, 2023 - 17:07

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Members of major conglomerate owner families generally become executives in their mid-30s, and assume leadership roles sometime in their early 40s, a report released Wednesday by a local corporate tracker showed.

Leaders Index analyzed the careers of 199 members of owner families running South Korea's 100 leading conglomerates, who are either the chairman or vice chairman of their group, or a president of an affiliate company. In total, there are 827 members of owner families currently working at those conglomerates.

Family-controlled conglomerates in South Korea are called chaebol, and make up a majority of the leading firms in the country. For example, the largest chaebol in the country currently is Samsung Group, owned and led by the Lee family.

The report found that those in leadership roles of president or above at chaebol joined the company at an average age of 28.9; became executives at 34.3; and president at 42.1. Forty of them became an executive immediately after joining the company, 19 of whom had no prior work experience.

The report also found that the third or fourth generation members of chaebol families generally got promoted slightly faster than the second generation. The second generation became executives some 4.7 years after joining the company at the average age of 34.7, but third or fourth generation chaebol scions became executives slightly faster at 4.1 years and an average age of 32.8.

The amount of time it takes to become a president, however, was shorter for the second generation than the third or fourth, with the former becoming presidents in 7.8 years compared to 8.4 years for the latter. But it took a shorter time for third and fourth generation heirs to jump from president to vice chairman -- 4.8 years compared to 6.5 years for the second generation.

The youngest president on the list was Kim Dong-won, the chief of Hanwha Life Insurance Co Ltd. and the second son of Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn.