Kim Woo Choong

▪ 1999

      In March 1998 Kim Woo Choong, founder and chairman of the Daewoo Group, among the four largest conglomerates in South Korea, took over as chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI). The FKI, which represented the interests of 418 companies, was considered South Korea's most powerful business organization. Kim used his new position to help combat South Korea's worst economic slump since the end of the Korean War; he spearheaded nationwide campaigns to boost exports and increase foreign currency reserves.

      It was not Kim's first brush with economic woes. Born on Dec. 19, 1936, in Taegu, Korea, he came of age during the Korean War and at age 14 found himself responsible for supporting his family. He sold newspapers to make ends meet and managed to graduate from the prestigious Kyunggi High School in Seoul. In 1960 he graduated from Yonsei University with a B.A. in economics.

      Kim's business career began in 1961 at Hansung Industrial Co., Ltd., a company owned by one of his relatives. Six years later he borrowed $10,000 to establish Daewoo Industrial Co., Ltd., a textiles trading business. The firm received a boost in 1976 when the South Korean government introduced state-led economic policies. Kim was asked to take over a debt-ridden heavy industry company. Within a year that company was making a profit, and Daewoo had a firm foundation in heavy industry as well as textiles. Kim went on to take over a shipyard company in 1978 and a home appliance business in 1983.

      In the 1980s South Korea's economic growth hit a snag owing to maturing markets and rising wages, and so Kim made daring investments in such far-flung countries as Libya, Poland, Pakistan, and The Sudan. As a result, the Daewoo Group emerged as a global corporation. During this time Kim became a noted philanthropist, using his personal holdings in Daewoo to establish the Daewoo Foundation, a nonprofit organization that operated rural hospitals throughout South Korea and funded research in various fields.

      By 1998 the Daewoo Group, with 320,000 employees worldwide and $44 billion in assets, ranked 18th on Fortune magazine's Global 500 List of the world's largest corporations. The widely diversified conglomerate was involved in construction, shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing, telecommunications, electronics, textiles, and heavy industry. Kim was also a successful writer. His autobiography, Every Street is Paved with Gold (1989), which he wrote primarily for young people, was a runaway best-seller and was listed in the Korean edition of the Guinness Book of Records for having sold one million copies in five months.

JOOHEE CHO

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Universalium. 2010.

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