Interest-rate cuts; an emphasis on free and fair global trade; less government intervention; the privatization of state industries; support for small business; the liberalization of banking and financial institutions; an end to barriers on foreign investment; and an assault on government corruption.
Sounds like a CEO’s wish list. But in
Jong-Hyon Chey, the outspoken chairman of the Sunkyong Group, firmly believes otherwise. The leader of
“Big business has to cooperate with the government,” insists the 63-year-old businessman, who graduated from the
Tough talk inspired by uncertain times. In the optimistic 1980s, when
In two decades, Chey has built a single-minded textile manufacturer into a vertically integrated, global network of trading, energy, fibers, petrochemicals, engineering, and construction companies, with total sales last year of more than $14 billion. Sunkyong is the fifth largest Korean conglomerate, behind Hyundai, Samsung, Lucky-Goldstar, and Daewoo. Integrated chemical and energy operations-most of which are combined under the company’s Yukong Ltd. subsidiary-account for some 58 percent of group revenue, while import and export trading comprises another 24 percent. Sunkyong
Outspoken by Korean standards, Chey keeps his profile and his opinions public. He recently was named chairman of the powerful Federation of Korean Industries, whose members account for nearly two-thirds of the country’s corporate revenue. Though seemingly without political aspirations himself, Chey’s links to the Korean government are unusually close: In September 1988 his eldest son married the daughter of then-president Roh Tae-Woo. The family relationship caused a stir last year when the Roh government awarded Sunkyong a lucrative cellular communications contract. Charges of favoritism eventually forced Sunkyong to decline the pact.
Chey may appear acerbic, but like many executives, he also holds a visionary, surprisingly philosophic outlook that is rooted in pragmatism. The world, he believes, is becoming a single, unified market. Chey contends that conventional nation-states eventually will give way to broad economic alliances in which the movement of people, money, goods, and services will proceed uninterrupted, and he is positioning Sunkyong for such a time. Chey has fashioned a progressive corporate culture with its own vernacular: “Hardware” refers to Sunkyong’s products, while “software” describes the internal structures that enable employees to create and excel.
“If you have a soft layer of management,” he explains, “you’ll be out of business. In order to survive, and keep surviving, you have to be superior.”