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Young heirs come to fore in food conglomerates

By Park Jae-hyuk
Lee Kyeong-hoo
Lim Sang-min
Hur Hee-soo

Leading food conglomerates in Korea, such as CJ, SPC and Daesang groups, have recently begun to bring young heirs in their 30s and 40s to the fore, as the chairmen of these groups enter their 60s and 70s.

CJ Group announced this week that Lee Kyeong-hoo, 32, the oldest daughter of Chairman Lee Jay-hyun, was promoted to deputy president of the group’s office in Los Angeles, six years after she joined the conglomerate.

She is a great-granddaughter of the late Lee Byung-chul, the Samsung Group founder. Lee Kyeong-hoo has been working for CJ’s global marketing businesses, along with her husband Jung Jhong-hwan, 37, who was also promoted to an executive position in the latest reshuffle.

SPC Group, another top-tier food firm famous for its Paris Baguette bakery brand, made Hur Jin-soo, 40, and Hur Hee-soo, 39, vice presidents in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The older son of CEO Hur Young-in is in charge of the group’s global businesses and research and development, while the younger works for the group’s domestic restaurant businesses and marketing.

The brothers are grandsons of the late Hur Chang-sung, who established a small confectionery outfit named Sangmidang in 1945. Both of them have been working for the group for more than 10 years.

Daesang Group, one of the nation’s top 10 food conglomerates, advanced both Lim Se-ryung, 40, and Lim Sang-min, 37, from managing directors to senior managing directors last November. The sisters are granddaughters of the late Lim Dae-hong, who launched a seasoning manufacturer, Donga Hwaseong Industrial, in 1956.

The older daughter of honorary chairman Lim Chang-wook is in charge of marketing, while her younger sister works for business strategies.

The rapid advancement of the heirs has been regarded as a move by conglomerates to speed up their long-awaited generational successions. Industry officials expected the young executives will help their old companies keep up with the trend-conscious business environment.

However, the conglomerates denied the possibility of earlier successions, saying that the recent promotions were just planned procedures to teach management of the companies to their heirs.

“CEO Hur Young-in, who was born in 1949, is still young enough to lead our company,” an SPC spokesman said.

A CJ spokeswoman said, “It is too soon to talk about the succession, considering Lee Kyeong-hoo holds less than a 1 percent share in the group’s listed companies. Also, the chairman is expected to return to his position within the first half of this year.”

Game of thrones

Although generational succession in family businesses has been widely seen among Korean chaebol, the oldest heir was not always the one who became the chief.

For example, Daesang chairman’s second daughter Lim Sang-min attended a parliamentary audit last year as a representative of the company. Playing more important roles than her older sister, she is expected to become the next leader of the company. Currently, Lim Sang-min’s share in the group is 16 percent points larger than that of Lim Se-ryung.

SPC, as another example, has recognized the chairman’s second son Hur Hee-soo for his efforts to bring Shake Shack to Korea. The New York-based hamburger chain’s founder Danny Meyer also praised him for successfully stabilizing its stores here.

Industry officials expect SPC CEO’s two sons will inherit each of their specialized business units. But some analysts say that one of them may lead the group, noting that CEO Hur Young-in had acquired his older brother’s bankrupted Samlip before.

Unlike the other two groups, CJ has yet to grant much power to its young heirs, ostensibly. Lee Kyeong-hoo holds less than a 1 percent share in the group’s listed companies and her younger brother Lee Sun-ho, 27, holds no shares in those firms.

However, the two are expected to acquire the holding company’s shares in the future, using their large number of shares in CJ Olive Networks. Analysts say the group’s online retail unit will be listed or merged with the holding company, so that the young heirs can strengthen their power.


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