Until 2020, Korea’s richest man was Lee Kun-hee, the longtime chairman of the Korean conglomerate, Samsung Group. Samsung needs little introduction, suffice to say its reach encompasses everything from fashion and theme parks to IT services and smartphones. In October last year, Kun-hee, who has been in a coma since 2014 after suffering a heart attack, passed away, thus opening the door for a new person to take the number one position as Korea’s richest person. Find out who it is as we count down the 10 richest people in Korea.
10. Kim Taek-jin – Net Worth: $2.5 Billion
In 1997, Kim Taek-jin founded gaming company NCSoft. Its success was rapid. In addition to serving as the second-largest gaming company in Korea, it also provides services across more than 60 countries internationally. In 2012, Taek-jin sold the majority of his shares in the company but continued to serve as its CEO. Today, he owns a 12 percent stake and a very considerable fortune of $2.5 billion.
9. Suh Kyung-bae – Net Worth: $3 Billion
Suh Kyung-bae is the chairman and CEO of AmorePacific. Having capitalized on the growing interest in Korean culture across both Asia and the West, Kyung-bae has transformed AmorePacific into South Korea’s leading cosmetic and skincare brand. Its innovations, which include cushion compact technology, have been adopted by everyone from L’Oreal to Christian Dior. He’s currently worth an estimated $3 billion.
8. Chey Tae-won – Net Worth: $3.3 Billion
Chey Tae-won is the chairman of SK Group, the third-largest family-owned conglomerate in Korea and a major provider of oil, telecommunication services, chemicals, and semiconductors. Back in 2013, he was convicted of misappropriating company funds and forced to step down from his post. In 2016, the then-president Park Geun-hye issued a presidential pardon, paving the way for Tae-won’s return to SK. These days, he’s worth $3.3 billion, the majority of which comes from the holding company of SK Group, SK Holdings.
7. Euisun Chung – $3.8 Billon
Euisun Chung might still have some way to go before he catches up with his father’s fortune (which, as we’ll come to shortly, is a mammoth $6 billion), but he’s already well on his way. Last year, he was appointed chairman of Hyundai Motor following the retirement of his father, Mong-Koo Chung, from the board. Euisun had previously served as the president of Kia from 2005 to 2009, during which time he grew the Hyundai subsidiary faster than its parent company. Since taking over the role of chairman at Hyundai, Chung’s fortunes have skyrocketed, increasing from $1.95 billion in July 2020 to $3.8 billion today.
6. Kwon Hyuk-bin – Net Worth: $4 Billion
In 2002, Kwon Hyuk-Bin founded Smilegate. Over the last twenty years, he’s transformed it from a fledgling start-up into one of the biggest and most successful gaming companies in Korea. Its most famous title is CrossFire, which was created in 2008 in partnership with tech giant Tencent. A rising star in the philanthropy world, Hyuk-bin has established a charitable foundation, Smilegate Foundation, to develop tech-based schools across Asia. He’s currently worth $4 billion.
5. Kim Beom-su – Net Worth: $5.2 Billion
According to seoulz.com, over 90 percent of all smartphones in Korea now carry the Kakao messaging app. Whether they use it for chatting, shopping, or gaming, people use it in their droves, and whenever they do, Kakao’s founder and chairman Kim Beom-su’s net worth gets a nice little boost. He’s currently worth around $5.2 billion.
4. Mong-Koo Chung – Net Worth: $6 Billion
In 1967, a peasant farmer named Chung Ju-yung founded Hyundai Motor Company. In 1970, his son, Mong-Koo Chung, joined the family firm, eventually succeeding his father to the position of chairman and CEO. In Mach 2020, Chung retired from the role to be replaced by his own son, Euisun. In the years between, he’s developed a fortune that’s estimated to be worth in the region of $6 billion.
3. Jay Y. Lee Kun-Hee – Net Worth: $6.7 Billion
In October 2020, Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee died. His son, vice chairman and heir apparent of Samsung, Jay Y. Lee Kun-Hee, inherited the bulk of his fortune. Unfortunately, Kun-Hee would spend only a few months enjoying his newfound riches before being packed off to jail for 2 and a half years for bribing an associate of former President Park Geun-hye. As aljazeera.com writes, it’s not the first time Lee has served time. Back in 2017, he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for the same crime, only to be released one year into the sentence after an appeal. After the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Seoul High Court, he was re-sentenced, albeit for a shorter period. He’s currently worth $6.7 billion.
2. Kim Jung-ju – Net Worth: $9.6 Billion
As the founder of online- gaming company Nexon and the chairman of its holding company, NXC, Kim Jung-ju was never going to be short on cash. And indeed, he’s not. By current estimates, he’s worth the grand sum of $9.6 billion. As much a philanthropist as he is a businessman, Jung-ju has been involved in numerous good works over the years. Most recently, he pledged $93 million of his personal wealth to fund startups and develop children’s hospitals. He doesn’t, however, plan on using his money to give his own two kids a leg up in life, having already confirmed they won’t inherit his stake in Nexon.
1. Seo Jung-jin – Net Worth: $11.4 Billion
Just pipping Kim Jung-ju to the post as Korea’s richest individual is Seo Jung-jin. As the co-founder of biopharmaceutical giant Celltrion, Jung-jin has amassed a huge personal fortune that, according to Forbes, is currently in the region of $11.4 billion. Times weren’t always so good for the billionaire: according to India Times, he launched Celltrion by borrowing money from loan sharks, pledging his organs to gather the necessary funds for his startup. Thankfully, those days are long gone. With expectations for biosimilars running high in Korea, neither Celltrion nor Jung-jin’s future has ever looked so bright.