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Cultivating Success: The Familial Power Behind South Korea's Chaebols

Thanks to the rising numbers of K-dramas, most people are now familiar with the term "Chabeol" and the luxurious lifestyle it entails. For those who are still unaware, the word chaebol designates a family-controlled industrial conglomerate in South Korea, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Chaebol (재벌) etymologically hails from the Korean words jae (wealth or property) and beol (faction or clan).

Historically speaking, Chaebols rose to power in the second half of the 20th century, when South Korea underwent a profound industrialization. The actual foundation of the Chaebols though lies a bit earlier, when the Japanese left Korea in 1945, giving Koreans the opportunity to obtain some of their assets.

Concerning the corporate culture the institution of Chaebols creates, one could observe that these conglomerates are quite paternalistic. The Chairman acts like a fatherly figure, having to be both strict and gentle with the employees. The hierarchy is very strict and well-defined and most of the decision-making takes place in the upper part of the hierarchical pyramid. In fact, Chaebols are extremely family-based, leading to most of the power being concentrated in the hands of a few, very carefully selected, family members.

Lastly, it's important to remember that Chaebols are in possession of both hard and soft power. Not only are they capable of influencing South Korean politics but they have also played a considerable role in shaping the world's idea of South Korea, mainly through their depiction in modern pop culture.

By Maria Zoi Michailidou - Corporate Culture Correspondent at YNBC


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