Founder of S. Korea’s Lotte business dynasty dies at 97

  • Business
  • Monday, 20 Jan 2020

SEOUL: Shin Kyuk-ho (pic), a wartime migrant to Japan who returned home to build a little-known chewing-gum maker into Lotte Group, South Korea’s biggest retailer, has died. He was 97.

Shin had been hospitalised in Seoul to get medical treatment for various age-related symptoms and passed away yesterday at 4:29 pm, Lotte Group said in a statement.

Shin was among the last of a generation of entrepreneurs who teamed up with the government in the 1960s to rebuild war-torn South Korea, leading to the rapid industrialization of an economy dubbed the “Miracle on the Han River”.

The growth set the stage for Lotte along with global juggernauts such as Samsung and Hyundai, while entrenching a business landscape dominated by family-run industrial groups known as the chaebol.

Shin built Lotte into the nation’s fifth-largest chaebol by assets, a group of 95 companies in businesses from department stores to petrochemicals and the Lotte Giants baseball team in the south-eastern city of Busan. As his health declined, Shin was assigned a ceremonial role in the company after a push by his youngest son, Shin Dong-bin, who eventually took control of the group amid a family feud that captivated the nation.

The drama at Lotte escalated when, in 2016, Korean prosecutors began an investigation that led to indictments of Shin family members. The founder’s first daughter was arrested on embezzlement charges. Current Lotte chairman Shin Dong-bin was later imprisoned over a bribery case related to a scandal that resulted in the departure from office of former President Park Geun-hye.

Kyuk-ho was born Oct 4,1922, in the city of Ulsan on the south-east coast of the Korean peninsula, which was then under Japanese occupation. The eldest of 10 children, he left Korea virtually empty-handed in 1942 in search of opportunities in Japan, according to Lotte company history.

Shin stayed on in Tokyo after World War II ended, and with the Japanese rule in Korea. In 1946, after studying chemistry and scraping savings together by delivering milk and newspapers, he started a business in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district producing soaps and pomade.

A year later he turned to making Lotte chewing gum, which gained popularity with the US soldiers stationed in Japan. By 1963, Shin had built the company into a confectionery manufacturer that employed 3,000 people. From there, he branched into advertising, baseball and trade.

In Japan, he was known as Takeo Shigemitsu, following the practice of some Koreans immigrants of taking a Japanese name. He returned to Korea in 1967, when relations between the two nations were normalized, and he opened a candy company in Seoul that would then grow to become the Lotte Group.

Shin named Lotte after the character Charlotte in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” — Bloomberg

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