Mong-Koo Chung, former Chairman & CEO of Hyundai Motor Co. & Kia Motors Corp, is the Chairman of both Hyundai Motor Company and Hyundai Motor Group. Although his father Chung Juyung was the original founder of the Hyundai Group, it is Mong-Koo Chung that is credited with the success of Hyundai Motor.
Chung JY was born into agricultural poverty during Japanese occupation of Korea. Chung JY, the eldest son of 7 children, spent his early years trying to escape poverty marked by attempts to leave his home and being brought back by his father. During his attempts to earn money independently, JY worked construction, studied bookkeeping, discovered a passion for civil engineering, and learned sales and customer service. He launched a service garage business in 1940, which met with success until the Japanese Occupational Government forced it to merge with a steel plant as part of the war effort, effectively ending that business. 1945 marked the end of Japanese control and Chung JY’s launch of Hyundai and Hyundai Civil Industries in anticipation of reconstruction efforts from the war. Chung JY was awarded major government contracts and eventually grew Hyundai into a vast conglomerate. In 1967 he entered the automobile business with the formation of the Hyundai Motor Company. Even though there were aspirations to develop its own line of vehicles, its initial efforts were directed at assembling cars built under license from Ford Motor Company. Chung JY appointed his brother as head of the car company. With the hiring of several top British automotive engineers, Hyundai Motor introduced the first Korean manufactured car, the Pony, in 1975. With styling by Giugiaro (ItalDesign) and power train technology from Mitsubishi, the Pony was marketed in Korea and exported to a few countries, including Canada, where it quickly became the top-selling car in the market. (The Pony didn’t meet US EPA).
By 1986, Hyundai entered the US market with the Excel, a product that Fortune magazine nominated as “Best Product #10, primarily because of its affordability, but not its quality or reliability. The Excel recorded 176,000 sales in its first year, a record for a new model from a new manufacturer. New models, like the Sonata, were being launched, and by 1990 Hyundai had built its 4 millionth car. While the volume was rewarding, the image deficiency caused by low levels of customer satisfaction and a perception of “cheap” were providing strong headwinds to Hyundai’s sales goals in the (then) world’s largest market, the US. Hyundai had serious image problems. In 1996, Chung JY began to turn management of the Hyundai Motor Group over to his son, Mong-Koo Chung, from his brother. Chung had been serving as the Chief Executive of the Hyundai Motor Service organization. As Chung JY’s oldest living son, it was a matter of inheritance that was fortunately coupled with impeccable business skills.
Chung turned the focus of Hyundai to address the quality issue both real and perceived. Design and build quality were addressed plus the quality of the customers’ experience became a focus, with innovative actions like a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty offering proof of Hyundai’s commitment to their satisfaction. By 2004, Hyundai had passed all manufacturers but one in J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study, leading Automotive News to observe: “Once a byword for badly build cars, Hyundai finally broke through. It was as if Yugo shot past Mercedes on the Power charts.”
Mong-Koo Chung has had a long and exclusive career within Hyundai. Following graduation form Hanyang University, Chung joined the business founded by his father and held a series of high-level positions. Through Chung’s leadership and direct efforts, he took a struggling 20-year-old car company and made Hyundai Motor Group the world’s fifth-largest car maker while Hyundai Motor Company alone ranks as the world’s sixth largest.