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LG patriarch who built business empire dies

73-year-old Koo Bon-moo expected to be succeeded by his adopted son, Koo Kwang-mo

Under Mr Koo's 23-year leadership, the South Korean home-appliance maker became one of the world's top five phone brands and its LCD business is now neck-and-neck with Samsung Electronics.


KOO Bon-moo, the chairman of South Korea's fourth-largest conglomerate who transformed a local producer of cheap appliances into a global tech and chemical powerhouse over two decades, has died. He was 73.

Mr Koo died on Sunday at 9.52 am Seoul time as he did not seek extension of life after falling ill a year ago, according to LG Group in an emailed statement.

The patriarch is expected to be succeeded by his adopted son, Koo Kwang-mo, 40, who was nominated to the board of LG Corp on Thursday pending the approval of shareholders on June 29. Chairman Koo underwent multiple brain operations in recent years, Yonhap News Agency reported earlier.

In the 23 years since Mr Koo became chairman, total sales at LG Group increased more than five times to 160 trillion won (S$198 billion) in 2017 from 30 trillion won in late 1994. The company's overseas sales increased tenfold to 110 trillion won in the same period.

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"Chairman Koo is the one who built the foundation of LG's global businesses which span batteries to OLED panels and telecom," said Park Ju-gun, president at corporate research firm CEOScore.

Under Mr Koo's 23-year leadership, the South Korean home-appliance maker, which produced its first radio in 1959, became one of the world's top five phone brands and its LCD business is now neck-and-neck with Samsung Electronics. Mr Koo entered the telecom business in the late 1990s and also moved into businesses such as car batteries and energy in search of new revenue.

LG Chem Ltd has grown into a leading car-battery maker, providing its products to such carmakers as Ford Motor Co and Renault SA. In 2015, LG Electronics Inc struck a deal to co-develop General Motors Co's Bolt electric vehicle.

Mr Koo was the third generation of his family to run the conglomerate, known locally as the chaebol or "wealth clique", after taking over the helm from his father in 1995. Mr Koo adopted the holding company structure in 2003 and the group was later divided into four smaller parts, with Mr Koo keeping the electronics, chemical and telecommunications businesses under his helm.

Mr Koo was the oldest grandson of LG Group's co-founder Koo In-hwoi, who set up Lak Hui Chemical Industrial Corp and started making cosmetics before expanding into plastics and household products such as toothpaste.

He is survived by his wife, son Kwang-mo and two daughters. The son was adopted in 2004 from the older Koo's younger brother Koo Bon-neung, chairman of Heesung Group.

"There seems almost no risk in LG's succession plan as the group appointed a successor early and the Koo family has the largest stake in the holding company," said Mr Park. "LG's heir is likely to take the role of a board chairman and let professional management executives lead the businesses." As at March 31, Koo family members and LG's two charity foundations held 46.7 per cent of shares in LG Corp, the holding company of LG Group.

The younger Koo joined the group's LG Electronics unit in 2006 and is currently a vice-president at the information displays operations. He's been involved in multiple businesses such as appliances, home entertainment, and group strategy, according to LG.

LG ranks as the fourth-largest among the nation's family-run conglomerates with 123 trillion won of assets across 70 affiliates. Many of the nation's chaebol, including Samsung Group, are undergoing a once-in-a-generation transition of power as their leaders age. But those succession plans haven't always gone smoothly as they face increasing opposition from activist investors such as billionaire Paul Singer's Elliott Management Corp.

"The funeral will be quiet and simple, like he and his family had wanted, and we've decided that it will not be public," LG said in its statement. BLOOMBERG

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