Hyundai Secures New Chairman: Nepotism or Sagacity?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
hyundai secures new chairman nepotism or sagacity

It’s often difficult to keep track of who is heading which automotive conglomerate. Topps never issued a trading card line devoted to industry professionals and there’s no show we’re aware of that catalogs the corporate history of car manufacturing focused entirely on management. Whenever someone is named in a car documentary, it’s only because they were incredibly important to the program or instrumental in seeing the company through a difficult period. That, or they happened to be one of those people’s damned children.

Nepotism is a problem in most industries but the automotive sector seems to be among the worst offenders. While some amount falls within the acceptable parameters rooted in the familial ties of yesteryear, when these businesses were much smaller entities, plenty of placements seem designed to keep wealthy offspring occupied through adulthood. It’s probably a sweet gig if you can get it but the phenomenon itself makes it difficult to determine which blood-related hires are placeholder people and who’s the genuine article.

For example, Hyundai Motor Group has just appointed Eui-Sun Chung (49) as its new chairman. He will be succeeding his father, Mong-Koo Chung (81), and comes from the automaker’s founding family. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest Chung may actually be the ideal man for the job.

Serving as the auto group’s executive vice chairman until Tuesday’s promotion, the younger Chung joined the carmaker as a director of procurement in 1999. While that may have been the direct result of nepotism, he has climbed through the ranks at a decent pace by becoming the president of Kia Motors in 2005 and vice chairman of Hyundai in 2009. By 2018, he had become vice chairman of the entire Hyundai Motor Group and secured his position as the likely successor to his father.

While that may be indicative of Chung having an elevator key that takes one far beyond the glass ceiling, the South Korean automotive conglomerate has also been killing it during his ascension. Hyundai’s U.S. market share has been moving in the right direction ever since Chung signed on with only a couple of years representing any negative growth. Sales in China were also healthy, with the company seeing explosive growth between 2008 and 2014 as Hyundai nearly doubled its market share in Europe.

Can we automatically assume Eui-Sun Chung was the deciding factor in that? Of course not. But we do know he was instrumental in pushing the budget-focused brand toward a more premium experience. While this may ultimately result in Korean products abandoning price-conscious shoppers, their existing lineup is loaded with winners that won’t break the bank. Chung is also said to have insisted upon the implementation of the Genesis brand, which seems to exist specifically to undercut German luxury vehicles in an effort to destroy them.

But that’s our assessment. Hyundai’s official announcement framed Chung as pioneering alternative energy strategies and deified him as a man of the people. While corporate releases are often frosted with important-sounding emptiness, this one overplayed its hand by spending too much time on mobility. Hyundai even made mention that the company was actively working on flying cars, forcing an involuntary eye roll.

From Hyundai Motor Group:

Over the years, Chung has stressed the customer-centric approach and customer satisfaction, and applied the concept more broadly to all of humanity.

“For the free movement and prosperity of humanity, we will develop the world’s most innovative and reliable autonomous driving technology, offering entirely new mobility experiences,” said the Chairman. Chung is spearheading the Group’s transformation from an automaker into a future mobility solution provider.

The Group will offer mobility solutions tailored to customer lifestyles and continue to grow its market leadership in various fields, including autonomous driving, electrification, hydrogen fuel cell, robotics and Urban Air Mobility (UAM).

Like most automotive firms, Hyundai has committed itself to electrification by promising to sell 1 million electric vehicles (globally) in 2025. This effectively forces it to make mention of its green dreams and the associated mobility crap informed shoppers couldn’t care less about. Bothersome but unlikely to be indicative of anything more than the company not wanting to issue any messaging that strays from the now beaten trail blazed by the likes of disposed Ford CEO Mark Fields years earlier. At the very least, Chung’s emphasis on tech should make sure Hyundai/Kia products remain competitive for the foreseeable future and won’t be left in the dust if EVs take over the planet.

The younger Chung begins his journey as group chairman today, with Mong-Koo Chung assuming an honorary chairman position that foreshadows his official retirement.

[Image: Hyundai Motor Group]

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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Oct 14, 2020

    Best of luck to him. Taking over a healthy company may be more scary than taking over a sick one. At the end of the day, I assume the board of directors still has a say in the company's leadership and direction. As for the mobility thing, I've yet to hear how any company plans to monetize it - whatever "it" is. That boards of directors lap this stuff up amazes me, but perhaps it shouldn't. I suspect it's the most profitable companies that feel they can afford to throw away billions of dollars on potential loser initiatives.

  • Schmitt trigger Schmitt trigger on Oct 16, 2020

    SCE to AUX: I hear you, loud and clear, and fully agree with you. But you have to remember that if nowadays an automotive company does not include the words “mobility” and “EV” in its business plan, its stock is doomed.

  • MKizzy The Mazda 6 wagon needs to be brought here pronto. Sexy looks aside, it would look less out of place in Mazda's CUV lineup vs the sedan, and since Mazda wants to go "premium," wagon customers tend to be the most affluent (if Daimer-Benz is to be believed). My second choice is the attractive Hyundai i40 wagon, which would replace the defunct VW Sportwagon in the small/mid size wagon niche.
  • Carlson Fan GM needs new leadership. A 9000lb off-road vehicle???? Don't get that thing stuck in a remote area.Imagine if they had brought back the iconic K5 Blazer name and built something to compete with the Wrangler like Ford did with the Bronco. They could have offered that with an electric power train in addition to the gas models. Ford may have some quality issues right now but whoever is steering that ship knows what they are doing. The Bronco & Maverick where both brilliant ideas.
  • Carlson Fan "But it does give General Motors an opportunity to dangle a diesel in front of the faces of consumers and presumably one that yields better gas mileage than the 6.2-liter V8 they’d otherwise be buying."I'll take the 6.2 thank you. The diesel offers some advantages over gas if you use the truck for towing, lower total cost of ownership isn't one of them. I'll add in the gas engine offers better long term reliability & cold weather performance if you live where it snows like me.
  • Carrera The diesels built during the last 10-15 years, if kept stock, don't really stink at all.
  • MaintenanceCosts I keep finding myself drawn to the Fox PLCs, both the Thunderbird and the Mark VII. They really got the design right by 1980s standards. The cars were reasonably sized but didn't look dinky like the 1986 Eldorado, they were comfortable and drove pretty well, and they were available with a 302 (that even got non-asthmatic in the late years).When I bought my first car - a 1987 Taurus - I also thought about Aerobirds, but I decided (probably correctly, given the number of carpools I was part of) that I wanted four doors.