On this day, November 25 in the year 1915, one of the foremost industrialists who built a world-class business empire was born in a village in North Korea. His name was Chung Ju-yung, the founder of Hyundai Group.
Chung Ju-yung was the eldest of seven children of a peasant couple. With limited formal education, he left his village to work as a construction worker in Seoul. In 1934, he found work as a clerk in a small rice trading company. After four years, he purchased the store. During the Second World War, the rice business went bankrupt because of the rationing policy of the Japanese who ruled the country. He changed career by learning how to repair automobiles. When the war was over, his auto repair business boomed due to the influx of American military trucks.
In 1947, Chung Ju-yung founded Hyundai Togun, a construction and engineering company. After winning big reconstruction projects, it became one of the largest construction companies in the world. It went on to build dams, bridges, ports, and expressways including those in Thailand and in the Middle East.
In 1967, Chung Ju-yung made his foray into automobile manufacturing through Hyundai Motors. Yet it was only in the 1970s with the help of the government that it began to design its own car. Export of its product began in the 1980s. Though it competed at first by offering lower price than competitors, quality craftsmanship soon became its selling proposition and sales abroad soared in the 1990s.
Hyundai’s move into shipbuilding started in 1972 with the establishment of Hyundai Heavy Industries. Then it diversified into electronics and elevators in the early 1980s. However, the group incurred large debt to finance its dizzying expansion. During the financial crisis in 1998, it was forced to restructure. Many subsidiaries were sold. At present, Hyundai group main businesses are in automotive, construction, shipbuilding, and insurance.
Chung made an unsuccessful run for president in 1992. Previously, he lobbied hard for South Korea’s hosting of the 1988 Olympics. He also exerted great effort at reunification or at least understanding of North and South Korea.
Chung Ju-yung died in 2001 at the age of 85. He had 11 children, some hold important positions within and outside the group’s affiliates. His own siblings founded their own business empires after they left Hyundai.