About Chung Se Yung
Founder of Hyundai Motor Co., South Korea’s largest automaker, and brother of the late Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung. Chung Se-yung set up Hyundai Motor Co. in 1967 and helped it to develop into one of the world’s best-selling car brands. He died of pneumonia in Seoul, South Korea on May 21, 2005.
Born on August 6 1928 in what is now North Korea, Chung, like all Koreans of his generation, grew up under Japanese colonial rule, followed by the turmoil of the Korean war. Graduating in 1953 from the prestigious Korea University in Seoul, he went to Miami University, Ohio, to continue postgraduate studies in political science.
He joined the family business in 1957, helping two elder brothers at the then Hyundai Construction Company, and was made managing director in 1960. Seven years later, Chung Ju-yung and Chung Se-yung founded Hyundai Motor, with the latter as its first chief executive. From humble beginnings - assembling British Fords under licence, and buying technology from Mitsubishi of Japan - the new company produced Korea's first indigenous car, the Pony, in 1974. Bright green Pony taxis were ubiquitous on Korea's roads well into the 1980s, earning Chung Se-yung the nickname "Pony Chung".
Like other successful Korean brands, Hyundai never grew soft in a protected local market, but faced competition from other Korean carmakers, such as Kia and Daewoo. Also, while the chaebol enjoyed privileged access to loans, this was conditional on meeting export targets.
Though modestly successful in Europe from the 1980s, the company at first had problems, particularly in the US. But to Chung Se-yung's credit, it learned from adversity, working tirelessly to improve quality, especially in that vital US market. It also expanded its model range, while indigenising ever more of its own technology. Thus Hyundai was well-placed to weather the 1997 financial storm. It bought its bankrupt rival Kia, and emerged with 75% of the local market.
Besides Hyundai Motor, Chung Se-yung also served as chairman of the overall Hyundai group (1987-96), followed by three years (1996-99) as honorary chairman. In 1999, in a stark display of feudal strife, his elder brother brutally ousted him so that his own eldest son, Chung Mong-koo, could take over HMC. This, in turn, was to let the patriarch's favourite but younger son, Chung Mong-hun, defy Confucian precedence and inherit the main Hyundai group.
The latter proved a poisoned chalice, as Chung Ju-yung's efforts to invest in North Korea had bled Hyundai's already rickety balance sheet. On August 4 2003, Chung Mong-hun jumped to his death from his 12th-floor office, while facing embezzlement charges linked to secret payments to Pyongyang.
By contrast, now spun-off and no longer forced to prop up its parent group, Hyundai Motor has gone from strength to strength. As a consolation prize for losing his 8.3% stake in HMC, Chung Se-yung became honorary chairman and major shareholder (37.7%) of Hyundai Development, Korea's largest apartment builder.
Ironically, the day before he died, Hyundai Motor opened a new $1.1bn plant in Alabama, which will roll out 300,000 vehicles each year. While Ford and General Motors have seen their debt downgraded to junk status by Standard & Poor's, Hyundai's US sales have quadrupled since 1998, and are up 13% so far this year. Though he no longer had a direct stake in it, Chung Se-yung may have got some satisfaction at the Pony having the last laugh against Detroit's dinosaurs.
He leaves his wife, Park Young-ja, a son, Chung Mong-gyu, who chairs Hyundai Development, and two daughters.