So farewell then, Hyun Myung Kwan. On Wednesday afternoon at Seoul Racecourse, a ceremony was held for the outgoing Chairman of the Korea Racing Authority who has retired following the completion of his three-year term.
All heads of what are known as “public” companies in Korea are appointed by the government and it is almost unheard of for a public company Chairman to serve for longer than three years but until recently the 75-year-old Chairman Hyun looked likely to be an exception and receive an extension. However, that was before the “influence peddling” affair which is currently convulsing Korean politics, business and society.
The significance of the extraordinary ongoing scandal across Korea cannot be overstated (read this and this for the best overview in English). 2.3 Million people demonstrated on the streets of Seoul last Saturday evening demanding the resignation of President Park Geun Hye and her government has effectively ground to a halt with an impeachment vote due on Friday.
This past Tuesday, the Chairmen of Korea’s biggest companies; Samsung, Hyundai, SK, LG, Lotte, Hanjin, CJ and Hanwha, were questioned by lawmakers live on national television over donations to “foundations” set up by the President’s alleged confidante Choi Soon Sil, who is currently under arrest, suspected of essentially running government policy and decision making.
Chung Yoo Ra, the horse loving daughter of Choi Soon Sil was a member of the Korean dressage team that won Gold at the 2014 Asia Games and it is now alleged that much of the machinery of state – both public and private – was mobilized towards getting her into that position and then going forward, to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Along with Samsung Electronics and others, the KRA is one of the organisations alleged to have granted Chung special favors to this end. Accordingly, the Presidential office instructed the KRA to recruit a new Chairman at the end of Hyun’s term.
Hyun’s tenure has been eventful and in terms of international affairs, arguably more progress has been made under him than under any previous Chairman. He green-lighted first the Asia Challenge Cup and then the ambitious staging of the Korea Cup and Sprint earlier this year. Domestically, as a former Samsung executive, he focused on improving customer service. This involved the re-branding of the Off-Track betting centers into “Cultural Centers” with 100% assigned seating, the introduction of the mobile betting app and the upgrading of the on-course facilities including the construction of the massive 128-metre long “multi-vision” screen. Foreign ownership of racehorses has been allowed and the maximum ceiling price on imported horses abolished.
The recruitment process for a new Chairman is underway. The final say over the appointment lies with with the President of South Korea.