It must have been in the late 1980s when I first met the late Chairman Chung of Hyundai.
Chung Se Yung was his name, but everyone called him Chairman Chung.
He had a great personality and introduced me to the Korean auto industry when it was still in its infancy.
In the 1970s, Hyundai had hired a British auto executive, George Turnbull, to go to Korea and build a modern plant.
Hyundai built the plant on the ocean in the south, next to the group’s shipbuilding operation. It’s a huge manufacturing complex.
Then Chairman Chung hired Giorgetto Giugiaro, who was well-known but not yet an icon of the design world, to design the Hyundai Pony, which was successful for many years.
Chairman Chung was an animated executive who was my host on several trips to Korea. On each trip, it was fascinating to see how much Hyundai had grown.
Chairman Chung’s family is one of the large, powerful, industrial families in Korea.
Chung’s older brother, Chung Ju Yung, was in charge of the large Hyundai industrial group and told his younger brother to build an auto industry, which he did with great dedication.
Sadly, Chairman Chung was forced out of the car company in 1999 as a result of family infighting.
But he knew how to build an automobile plant and a car industry, and he always had a smile for me whenever we met.
On one of my trips to Korea, I brought along a Big Bertha driver as a gift, since I knew of his passion for golf. What I didn’t know was that he was left-handed, a mistake I rectified later. But the gift made it necessary for me to play with him at his regular Sunday morning game. It was below freezing, but it didn’t deter Chairman Chung or his companions. The advantage was that all the water hazards were frozen.
Chairman Chung was the father of the Korean motor industry, and his efforts made Hyundai the powerhouse that it is today.
He knew how to get the job done and was a pioneer.
I only hope Hyundai will give him his rightful place in the company’s automotive history.