The Institute of International Affairs of the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS) at Seoul National University in Seoul, and the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment (VCC) at Columbia University in New York, are releasing the first annual report on leading Korean multinationals. The research for this report was conducted in 2010 and covers the period 2007 to 2009.

The Republic of Korea (henceforth ‘Korea’), the 11th largest economy in the world, has now become one of the leading investors abroad. The number and the size of the corporate giants that dominate the economy have increased over the years, boosting and diversifying their investments around the world. Korea’s multinational enterprises ranked by their foreign assets (see table 1 below) show about USD 93 billion in assets held abroad.

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (SEC), a member of a leading Korean conglomerate, ranked 1st with slightly over USD 18 billion, followed by another top conglomerate member, LG Electronics, with over USD 10 billion dollars. Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., Ltd, and DSME Co., Ltd, had foreign assets of over USD 8 billion each and LG Display had over USD 6 billion. The top five firms together accounted for just over half of the total foreign assets of the top 20 companies.

Foreign sales (including exports) of the top 20 were about USD 246 billion and 12 of the 20 firms together had 139,715 employees abroad. (Figures on foreign employment were available for only 12 companies. See annex table 1 and the immediately following tables 1a, 1b and 1c for details regarding assets, sales and employment.) The top 20 list includes only one state-controlled firm: Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO). The rest are privately controlled, even though some have small stakes held by state enterprises. Most of the other companies on this list belong to business groups known as chaebol − see box 1 on ‘Common governance among the top 20’ below. Following the progressive liberalization of outward investment policy since the 1980s, Korea’s largest firms have become progressively more internationalized in recent decades.

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