The Top 5 Richest People in South Korea

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South Korea has seen an incredible boom, making it a record year for the rising country. According to Forbes, their economy experienced a 6.1 percent increase last year, a 23 percent jump in their stock market, and their national currency, the won, continued to rise against the dollar. The consequent massive increase in wealth has made waves on Forbes’ annual list of the country’s 40 richest with a record 21 billionaires – a huge leap from last year’s eleven and 2009’s five – for a collective wealth of $65.6 billion. Here’s our breakdown of South Korea’s top five richest.

1. Lee Kun-Hee – $9.3 billion: This Chairman of Samsung Electronics has had his ups and downs. After resigning in April 2008 due to a Samsung Slush funds scandal, he returned in March 2010 with fervor, focusing on solar energy, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals, committing $21 billion to invest over the decade. In the early 1990s, he took a bold move and shifted Samsung’s focus on creating products of more competitive quality. He was famously quoted as saying, “Change everything except your wife and kids.” The move was considered wildly successful, as Samsung Electronics is currently one of the world’s leading developers and producers of semiconductors. He also serves on the International Olympic Committee, upping Korea’s ante as they bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

2. Chung Mong-Koo – $7.4 billion: Although not at #1, this head of Hyundai Kia Automotive Group, the largest carmaker in South Korea, has seen the biggest dollar gain. His fortune took a huge leap from $3.4 billion to $7.4 billion in response to an 86% increase in Hyundai Motor’s stock price as their auto sales experienced a big boom, credited in part to the Hyundai Genesis winning the coveted title of North American Car of the Year Award in 2009. He has been largely appreciated with improving the reputation, perception, and sales of Hyundai’s vehicles by placing the brand’s emphasis on quality rather than production.

3. Chung Mong-Joon – $4.1 billion: This vice president of FIFA saw his wealth more than double last year as the controlling shareholder of Hyundai Heavy Industries, one of the world’s largest corporations. He is a graduate of Seoul International University and MIT, and boasts a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. Although he withdrew from his run for the presidency, he is currently in his fifth term in office in the National Assembly of South Korea.

4. Jay Y. Lee – $3.3 billion: The only son of Lee Kun-Hee, Korea’s No. 1 richest, Jay Y. Lee was promoted to president of Samsung Electronics, resulting in a tightening of the founding family’s control over the company. (In addition to his father being the head of the Samsung Group, his grandfather founded the company in the 1930s.) He undertook an important role as chief customer officer of Samsung Electronics and as an executive for S-LCD, a flat-screen joint venture with Japan’s Sony Corp. Lately, in efforts to expand his business circle, he has been meeting with many of the country’s major players, including LG’s chairman Koo Bon-Moo.

5. Chung Eui-Sun – $2.4 billion: As No. 2 Chung Mong-koo’s only son, Chung Eui-sun is the vice chairman of the Hyundai Motor Company. From 2005 to 2009, he was president of Kia Motors Corp., the subsidiary of Hyundai that owns 34% of Kia, and is credited with the success of the Kia Cee’d, a small family car model, in Europe, in addition to other models such as the Soul and Forte. He holds a Bachelor of Business Management Administration from Korea University and an MBA from the University of San Francisco Business School.

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