Park Tae-joon, Father of Steel Dies at 84

Park Tae-joon, the creator of Posco, one of the world’s largest steel companies that helped to lay the foundations for South Korea’s rise from a devastated postwar society into an industrial powerhouse, died on Tuesday in Seoul at the age of 84. According to Lee Sung-man, a spokesman for Severance Hospital where he had been admitted, the major cause was complications of lung disease.  

Mr Park started Posco in 1968 by order of President Park Chung-hee. He was a trusted confidant of the president as the two had served together in the army and joined in a military coup in which President Park, then a general, seized power in 1961. He led the company until 1993 when he was forced to step down under pressure from President Kim Young-sam.

 Mr Park was running a state-owned tungsten factory when President Park gave the order to start Posco. It seemed to be an impossible mission since Korea was then an agrarian economy. For the first time ever in Korean history, a site on the coast of Pohang, a port in southeastern South Korea was selected in order to build a complex of factories.

Today, Korea is a highly industrialised country with global brands such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai. Korean cars, smartphones, refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions, washing machines, hairdryers and many more are found everywhere of the world. This all comes from the steel industry that Mr Park had started.

According to the World Steel Association, Posco was ranked third last year behind ArcelorMittal and Baosteel with 35.4 million metric tons. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said, “He played an enormous role in Korea’s industrialisation process. I am deeply saddened.” The Federation of Korean Industries said in a statement issued on Tuesday, “Our $1 trillion trade today owes a lot to Mr Park.

Mr Park was born on 29 September 1927 in Jangan, now part of Pusan, the second largest city in South Korea. He entered politics in 1980 serving four terms in Parliament but accused of embezzlement by members of the Kim Young-sam administration and fled to Japan. Cleared of the allegations, he later returned and served as Prime Minister for President Kim Dae-jung, for a brief period of 4 months in 2000.

Posco was later privatized but he did not receive stock options. He sold up his home and possessions and contributed 1 billion won to the Beautiful Store. He told reporters he lived by a simple motto, “I dedicate my short life to my eternal country.”

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