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Hotel Shilla CEO Lee Boo-jin proved her capability as a business leader as amply demonstrated by the stellar performances of the hotel brand. But the Samsung Group heiress has gone through many personal troubles. Photo courtesy of Hotel Shilla

This is the first of a series highlighting businesswomen related to South Korea’s sprawling business conglomerates, called chaebol. _ ED.

Hotel Shilla CEO leads fast growth of top hotel brand

Samsung Group is South Korea’s largest business conglomerate by any measure. Established by Lee Byung-chul in 1938, Samsung has such flagship affiliates as Samsung Electronics and Samsung C&T.

Founder Lee was succeeded by his third son of Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who collapsed in 2014 due to a heart attack and has yet to regain his consciousness.

In place of his bedridden father, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong has spearheaded the Seoul-based business empire over the past several years.

And Chairman Lee’s oldest daughter Lee Boo-jin is heading Hotel Shilla, the country’s top hotel brand that expands its business horizon to other areas like the duty-free industry.

Under her stewardship, Hotel Shilla has chalked up a fast growth through brisk partnership with major global luxury brands.

In 2019, Hotel Shilla recorded 5.72 trillion won ($4.8 billion) sales, up 21.3 percent from a year ago, for operating profits of 295.9 billion won ($250 million), up 41.5 percent. Both were record highs.

Hotel Shilla suffered a deficit in the January-March period of 2020 for the first time in 20 years. But it was due to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, which hit hard the tourism and hotel businesses.

Personal hardships

Although her capability as a corporate leader has been outstanding, CEO Lee has gone through many personal troubles throughout her life.

First of all, she faced many challenges to tie the knot in 1999 with a rank-and-file employee of Samsung, named Im Woo-jae, against the wishes of her parents.

The marriage between a wealthy heiress and a Samsung employee drew huge attention. While Lee was busy in managing Hotel Shilla, Im worked at a different Samsung unit. They had a son, who was born in 2007.

Lee sought a divorce in 2014, prompting her husband to request $1 billion in a split of the billionaire scion’s asset. The lawsuit lasted five years through early 2020 _ the country’s top court ordered Lee to pay $12 million to Im.

Lee has secured sole custody of their hon son, and Im was allowed to meet his son twice a month.

Another controversy involving Lee was the suspicion that she illegally took an addictive drug called propofol in 2016. She instantly rebuffed the allegations, which were raised in early 2019 by a local media outlet.

Police investigated the case for almost a year and decided not to book her due to a lack of evidence. The Seoul Metropolitan Policy Agency said that it failed to find evidence that she violated the law.

Police confirmed that Lee took propofol six times at a cosmetic clinic in southern Seoul in 2016, but could not find medical records, which are necessary to check the amount of propofol injected to her.

Police investigated the clinic’s officials over the amount used, which it said did not make a case for illegal use.

Lee Boo-jin information in detail

Date of birth: Oct. 6, 1970

Educational background: Yonsei University in Seoul, Children’s Studies

Wealth: $1.6 billion (Forbes)

Career:

-Joined Samsung Foundation in 1995

-Got aboard Hotel Shilla in 2001

-Became Hotel Shilla CEO in 2010