From Chewing Gum to Conglomerate: How Shin Kyuk-ho became super-rich

On this day, November 22 in the year 1922, the man who built a fortune by selling chewing gum was born in Ulsan, South Korea. His name is Shin Kyuk-ho, the founder of Lotte Group, one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates.

Shin Kyuk-ho
Shin Kyuk-ho (Credit: The Korea Times)

Shin Kyuk-ho came from a family of modest means. He was sent to study at the Waseda Jitsugyo High School in Tokyo, Japan before the outbreak of World War II. In 1948, he founded Lotte Group, initially selling chewing gum to Japanese children.

In 1967, Shin Kyuk-ho established Lotte Confectionary in South Korea, his first investment in the country of his birth. The following year, he built an aluminum factory. In the next decade, he expanded into other food products such as milk, beverages, and meat products and Lotte one of the largest food companies in Korea. He also invested in hotel, petrochemicals, machinery, construction and department store. In the 1980s, he put up joint venture with Fuji Film and Canon in addition to the establishment of Lotte Central Research Institute. More hotels and department stores were built. In the following years, the company acquired the Seven Eleven franchise in South Korea and diversified into finance and cinemas. The onset of the 21st century saw the company go into chemicals and telecommunications as well as overseas expansion. At present, the Lotte Group is the fifth largest Chaebol (business group) in South Korea.

In June, 2017, Shin Kyuk-ho was forced to retire as board member of Lotte Group. He remained honorary president however. He was succeeded by his second son Shin Dongbin who maneuvered to ease out his elder brother Shin Dongjoo. In December, 2017, he was sentenced to four years in prison after he was convicted of embezzling 119 million USD from Lotte. However, Shin was allowed to remain free given his poor health.

Shin Kyuk-ho passed away on January 12, 2020 at the age of 98. He married three times and had four children.


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