Chung Ju-yung and the industrial saga of Hyundai

(Photo: Handout from Hyundai Motor Company)
Korea is considered today a world economic power. The country’s remarkable success story comes from the unparalleled desire of its founding fathers of Korean business and industry to achieve the impossible. The story of the Chung family and how they turned Hyundai Group from a small construction company into a world leader in automotive business is worth looking at.اضافة اعلان

Hyundai Group Founder Chung Ju-yung, who was born November 1915, and passed away in March 2001, was truly a legend. He rose from poverty to build Hyundai, Korea's largest business conglomerate, Chung is one if the founding fathers of Korea's industrialization and economic miracle.

Chung was born in the village of Asan, located about 48km north of the current demilitarized zone (DMZ) that now separates North and South Koreas. He was born to a poor farming family and witnessed Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945). As a teenager he had the responsibility of providing for his family and 6 younger siblings. He decided to move out of his village and traveled south working various jobs.

Chung wanted to challenge his situation and fled his home three times. He was 16 years old the first time, and he and a friend reached the town of Kowon and took up jobs as construction workers, where Chung realized his passion for civil engineering. It went well for two months until his father learned of Chung’s whereabouts and took him back.

The second time, Chung and his friend were betrayed by a stranger who promised them jobs, but took all of their money instead. The third time was the charm. When he was 18, he ran away and found work in construction and finally found success.

He would go on to found his first company in 1947: the Hyundai Engineering and Construction Company. The name “Hyundai” means “modern times.” Chung was always proud of his original business and very much liked to be called a "construction man".

A success story 

Chung’s passion for the automobile business started later in 1967. He founded the Hyundai Motor Group, which is one of the largest car manufacturers in the world today.

The company’s first factory was founded in 1968 in Ulsan. The assembly plant is considered to be one the world’s largest integrated automobile manufacturing facilities today, producing 1.6 million cars and vehicles annually.

Chung, being a "construction man", made sure that Hyundai set a record for the quickest time between breaking ground and starting full-scale operations for any assembly plant in the world — just under six months.

Chung’s son, Mong-koo, who was born in 1938, quickly learned from his father and eventually became chairman of the board and chief executive of the Hyundai Motor Group in March 1999. Hyundai helped make South Korea the world’s fifth largest vehicle producing country. Chung also became the first Korean indicted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2020. In October 2020, after a 20-year reign, Chung decided to hand over chairmanship to his son,

To understand Hyundai Motor Group’s success, let’s look at the numbers. In 2000, the group had 10 affiliated companies with assets worth 34.4 trillion won ($31.14 billion). In 2020, it became Korea’s second largest conglomerate, with 54 affiliated companies and 234.71 trillion won in assets.

The Hyundai car making story is as exciting as its founding father’s tale. The very first car that Hyundai made was the Cortina in 1968. It was successfully assembled by Hyundai at its Ulsan plant, in cooperation with Ford Motor Company, as Hyundai didn’t yet have any R&D capabilities.

Following the Cortina’s initial success, Hyundai was determined to develop its first car. The company hired George Turnbull, the former managing director of Austin Morris at British Leyland, along with a team of engineers from established European automakers.

Together, they designed and built the Pony, the first mass-produced South Korean car, which was introduced to the market in December 1975.

The 1980s was a time of rapid expansion for Hyundai as the company became an international player and started competing with traditional automakers. The first-generation Hyundai Sonata was introduced in 1985 and in 1986, the Pony Excel became the first Hyundai model sold in the United States.

The 1990s saw Hyundai experiment with a number of electric and hybrid vehicles. The company’s first pure electric car was the Sonata Electric Vehicle prototype built in 1991. After conducting its first experiments with hybrid propulsion systems in 1994, the hybrid-electric FGV-1 was unveiled at the 1995 Seoul Motor Show. This car featured full-time electric drive technology.

Modern Hyundai

Today, Hyundai has six research and development centers, located in South Korea, Germany, Japan, and India. Additionally, a center in California develops designs for the United States. Currently, the company owns 33.88 percent of Kia Corporation, and also fully owns two marques: Genesis Motor and electric vehicle sub-brand Ioniq. Those three brands altogether comprise the Hyundai Motor Group.

Hyundai operates the world's largest integrated automobile manufacturing facility in Ulsan, South Korea, which has an annual production capacity of 1.6 million units.

The company employs about 75,000 people worldwide and Hyundai vehicles are sold in 193 countries through 5,000 dealerships and showrooms
"Cars are like national flags with wheels," Chung once said. "If we make good cars and export them, they drive around the world, spreading Korea's technology and level of industrialization.

To mark his miraculous journey, Chung Ju-yung’s achievements were recorded in Korean Journalist and author Park Jung-woong’s book "Hey, Have You Tried It? Chung Ju Yung — the Great Challenger and Master of Crisis.”

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