South Korea’s exports fell 5.4% year-on-year last year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Korean economy fared relatively well compared to other major exporters such as Germany and Japan, it is worrisome that Korea’s export volumes dipped for two consecutive years after suffering a 10.4% drop from the trade disputes between Washington and Beijing. The good news is that some of the major businesses from South Korea are fast adapting to the rapidly changing trade environment.
At the center of the Korean economy last year was BBIG (battery, bio, Internet, and game). Venturing into the realm of “fabless manufacturing,” Samsung Electronics convincingly established itself as a powerhouse of semi-conductor business. Hyundai Motor is fast morphing into an “eco-friendly, comprehensive mobility company,” tapping into its hydrogen-powered vehicle technologies accumulated over a long period of time while local battery producers such as LG Chem, SK Innovation, and Samsung SDI are developing a competitive edge on global market.
Furthermore, the year of 2020 saw a shift of generations among the CEOs of major Korean businesses, with digitally savvy leaders taking up the bulk. The so-called “First PC Generation” boasts more sophisticated international business acumen and global networks, frequently communicating on socials compared to the founders of Korean conglomerates and their successors.
Hyundai Motor’s recent surprise acquisition of Boston Dynamics or LG Electronics’ joint venture with Magna International must have taken a bold call from their bosses, Chung Eui-sun and Koo Kwang-mo.
Hiring young and female executives and recruiting talented personnel from outside, the younger leaders are injecting vitality into their industries. But Korean society expects them to play a bigger role than this. Creating descent job opportunities for the youth, who have never been given a proper chance to join the labor market owing to the coronavirus, should be one of the most important social responsibilities those corporate leaders need to shoulder.