SM Group Chairman Woo Oh-heun, left, Booyoung Group Chairman Lee Jung-geun, center, and Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin/Courtesy of SM, Booyoung, Lotte groups

Chairman Woo is board members of 32 SM affiliates

Most people may not know much about SM Group, a mid-tier Korean conglomerate that has gained weight through proactive mergers and acquisitions (M&A).

When it comes to control of subsidiaries by a tycoon’s family members, however, the group seems to be second to none.

CEO Score, a private consultancy, said this week that SM Chairman Woo Oh-heun was a board member of 32 SM units as of the start of this year to top the list by a big margin.

In addition, CEO Score said that four others in the top 10 list were Woo’s relatives including his two daughters. In other words, Woo and his family members take up half of the top 10 list including the first, second and fourth spots.

In fact, the number of firms where Woo has a position on the board fell from 37 in 2018 to 32 this year. But that is simply way too many. It would be impossible for him to do his best for all of the 32 companies,” CEO Score chief Park Ju-gun said.

I think that the owner of big groups may be able to work hard at two or three flagship units.”

Booyoung Group Chairman Lee Jung-geun has been appointed as a board member to 17 companies, while Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin is on nine boards, which are still too many by Park’s standards.

Park also criticized Shinsegae Group Vice Chairman Chung Yong-jin, as he does not sit on the boards of any of the group’s units. He said that Chung’s move is not a responsible way of managing a big group.

Frequent shopper at M&A markets

Under the leadership of Chairman Woo, SM Group has expanded its business horizon through gobbling up financially-troubled companies.

For example, the shipping group acquired Korea Line Corp., the country’s second-largest bulk carrier that operates scores of vessels carrying iron, ore, and crude oil as well as automobiles, in 2013.

Three years later, SM Line Corp. was included under the wing of the group. Other major subsidiaries such as Woobang Construction, TK Chemical and Namsun Aluminum were also purchased by the group.

Of note is that the group has nothing to do with SM Entertainment, one of the country’s leading entertainment companies.