Snapshot of Korean CEOs

Here is something that corporate CEO hopefuls here should remember ㅡ if they want to be successful, they need to be male, Seoul-born, have graduated from Kyunggi High School and Seoul National University (SNU) with a major in engineering.

They are also required to spend 27.7 years working for the same company and turn 59 this year. Then, at least statistically, they are more likely to assume the top job at a Korean company.

New Management came up with a survey Friday of 152 CEOs at the nation’s 10 largest corporations to breakdown the common characteristics. The magazine excluded financial, insurance and state-run firms from the research for some reason.

By alma mater, SNU graduates account for 38.2 percent, or 58 CEOs, followed by Korea University with 23, Yonsei University with 21, Hanyang University with 13, Sungkyunkwan University and Hankook University of Foreign Studies each with four.

The number of Korea University graduates taking the helm of private firms has notably increased in recent years, which some analysts point out that this has something to do with the educational background of President Lee Myung-bak.

Of the researched CEOs, 18 were Kyunggi High School graduates, the largest group, followed by 15 from Kyungbock High School, nine from Seoul High School and eight from Kyeongbuk High School.

Those private schools were viewed as magnets for elite students until the 1980s and admission to these schools was regarded as a surefire ticket into one of the country’s top-notch universities, such as SNU.

Although the nation’s egalitarian education system, adopted in the late 1980s, has dealt a blow to their once invincible glory, their graduates still hold key posts in business, government and politics.

Nearly half of the CEOs, or 70, have an engineering-related diploma, reflecting the Korean economy’s increasing reliance on engineering industries, such as electronics and information technology.

In the past, those with business-related degrees occupied most decision-making seats at Korean entities, while there was a glass ceiling for engineers. Such discrimination has prompted talented engineers to turn their career path to other sectors, particularly the medical industry, where relatively handsome pay is guaranteed.

Fifty-seven CEOs majored in business or economics, followed by 13 with a social science-related degree. Only 11 majored in humanities.

The magazine said this was the first time that the number of engineering-savvy CEOs is on par with the combined number of CEOs majoring in business or social science.

Birthplace is also a decisive factor for success in Korea where a sense of regional rivalry ㅡ despite the government’s struggle for balanced development ㅡ still runs deep.

Nearly 38 percent of the CEOs, or 57, were born in Seoul, marking the largest group with the same regional roots, followed by North Gyeongsang Province with 17, South Gyeongsang Province with 16, Busan with 13, Gyeonggi Province with nine, and South Jeolla Province with eight.

They reached the top of their corporate empire on average 21.1 years after they started their career and have now been working for 27.7 years.

Lee Seung-han, chairman and CEO of retail chain Home plus, came first in this segment with 42 years career experience, followed by Kim Young-chul, president and CEO of Dongkuk Steel, with 41, and Lee In-won, vice chairman of Lotte Shopping, with 39 years.

The average age of the 152 CEOs was 59.3. Recently the trend for older CEOs remains which analysts say reflects the pursuit of stable management by domestic firms amid continuing economic uncertainty at home and abroad.

Twenty CEOs were born in the same year, 1952. The oldest is Shin Kyuk-ho, the founder and chairman of Lotte Group, who turned 90 this year. <Korea Times/Park Si-soo>

2 Responses to Snapshot of Korean CEOs

  1. Julio Deras 23 May , 2012 at 2:47 am

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