By on July 12, 2010

According to the Korea Times, Automotive News has named its “Auto Executives Of The Year,” bestowing its North American honors upon Ford CEO Alan Mulally, its European award to VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, and its Asian award to Hyundai CEO Chung Mong-Koo. Mulally is credited with improving Ford’s US-market position during a sales downturn, while Winterkorn was honored for his bold plan to move most of VW’s vehicles to only three modular platforms. But perhaps the most controversial award went to Chung, who has improved Hyundai’s standing in the global industry, but has suffered more than his fair share of legal problems in the process.

While most write-ups of the award focus on Hyundai’s sales growth, and critical acclaim for such new products as the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, Chung Mong-Koo has spent the last several years fighting accusations of embezzlement and political fraud. Convicted of raising a $100m slush fund back in 2007, Chung was sentenced to three years in prison, only to receive a presidential pardon for his “contributions to the Korean economy.” In short, because his bribe checks cleared.

And though Chung was able to evade a number of attempts to put him behind bars (no head of a chaebol, or Korean family-owned conglomerate has ever served a full prison sentence), his malfeasance has still hurt his company. Only this year, Mong-Koo was found guilty of “managerial malfeasance” for selling shares in Hyundai Group subsidiaries despite the fact that the share sales damaged the company’s standing. According to the ruling in that case, brought by 14 Hyundai shareholders,

The court has recognised the fact that Chung made Hyundai Motor participate in the share sales to head off any threat to the Hyundai Group’s managerial rights, even though it could inflict damage on his company. This is a case that reveals the problem of family-run management that focuses on the interests of major stockholders and the executives of Hyundai Motor

In short, Chung Mong-Koo, who once refused a request by his father, former Hyundai Group boss Chung Ju-yung, to step down from his position at the top of Hyundai/Kia Motors, has hurt his company on numerous occasions by acting with little regard to the rule of law and fair competition. Sure, Hyundai is showing many signs of improvement, but naming its CEO as the top Asian auto executive only months after he was fined $60m for managerial malfeasance sends a problematic message. Surely Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda was  disqualified for AN’s award due to its CEO’s challenges with a global recall scandal… so why wasn’t Chung disqualified for being charged with managerial malfeasance after being sued by his shareholders?

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5 Comments on “Chung Mong-Koo, Alan Mulally And Martin Winterkorn Named “Auto Executives Of The Year”...”

  • avatar

    Say what you want about his embezzlement conviction. The fact of the matter is that Hyundai was a total joke when Chung took over as CEO and now they are a major global player that all the major automakers publicly reconigized as their biggest threat. Enough said.

  • avatar

    Our man should be bestowed the Weasel or Also ran award, none the less he did what he had done, if it weren’t him ve may have seen the last of the ass hanged glorified Veedub disappeared back in the 90s.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “why wasn’t Chung disqualified for being charged with managerial malfeasance after being sued by his shareholders?”

    There is an aphorism attributed to Carlos Ghosn that goes something along the lines of ‘There is no such thing as good management with bad results.’ Is there such a thing as bad management with good results?

    Reading between the lines in various reports of the embezzlement issue, there was more than a bit of Korean politics involved in the trial and jail time for Chung, instead of the more typical “donation” to some charity to satisfy the government.

  • avatar

    A *lot* of this is sheer politics. S. Korea is on a roll with their manufacturing base, those monster corps becoming more dominating as they keep doing so well on the world scene.

    If these sorts of charges keep happening look to a change in the politcal structure in Seoul. Hyundai will lose patience rather quickly. As we’ve seen with VW and Porsche, golden geese have a tendency to get pandered to and even with boardroom schenanigans getting things to stick is remote.

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