Cho Yang-ho, Korean Air chairman, has died due to illness at a hospital in the United States on April 8, 2019. The 70-year old had been suffering from chronic lung disease. The news comes weeks after Cho was voted off Korean Air board.

Career at Korean Air

A son of Choong Hoon Cho, the founder of Hanjin Group and Korean Air,  Cho Yang-ho, started his career at the carrier in 1974. After working as the company’s president and CEO, Cho was named chairman in 1999.

Under Cho’s leadership the carrier registered significant growth. Since 1990s to 2018, operating revenue grew from approximately 1,5 billion to 11 billion, passenger numbers rose from 12,259K to 26,820K. The carrier’s fleet expanded from 72 to 166 aircraft, instead of 42 destinations, the airline now has 124, according to data revealed by the airline.  

In late March 2019, Cho failed to secured two-thirds of shareholders’ votes and was ousted from Korean Air board, but managed to sustain his board seat at Hanjin KAL during another shareholders voting two days later.

While the voting at Korean Air did not mean Cho’s full loss of power and his son, Cho Won-tae, also remained the president of the airline, Cho became the first founding family member of a major South Korean conglomerate to be ousted from a board, according to media reports.

Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho was ousted from Korean Air board on March 27, 2019. Ironically enough, March 2019 is also the month when Korean Air celebrates its 50th anniversary, inherently connected to Cho and his family.

Controversial legacy

Cho was voted off Korean Air board among an increasing dissatisfaction with his, and his family members’, affairs. The news of Cho passing away is met not only with sympathy and respect, it also prompted an upsurge of the company’s shares.  

“Embattled 2nd-generation leader of Korea’s largest airline leaves behind disgraced family, embezzlement charges and shaky leadership,” Kim Da-sol from Korea Herald summarizes Cho’s legacy.

In October 2018, Cho was indicted for charges including embezzlement, tax evasion and breach of trust and was set to stand trial. Prosecutors believe he took millions-of-dollars in fees meant for the carrier by unfairly awarding contracts to family-owned businesses. Cho denied the charges.

Allegations against Cho’s family members

In March 2018, Cho and his family became subjects of public protests, after being accused by employees of abuse, assault and exploitative behavior. Hundreds of Korean Air employees took to streets demanding Cho’s resignation and expressing anger of his family.

Previously, Cho’s wife was questioned by police in relation to employee abuse and assault allegations.

The family’s youngest daughter, Cho Hyun-min, was accused of allegedly throwing a drink at two representatives at a business meeting in March 2018. South Korean police launched for possible assault, but in October 2018, she was cleared of all charges.

Meanwhile, the oldest daughter of Korean Air’s boss, Cho Hyun-ah, made her mark in the worldwide media back in 2014, when she was jailed after ordering a Korean Air plane to return to its gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) only to kick a flight attendant off the aircraft in an outburst over the way nuts were served.

Another scandal hits the largest airline and flag carrier of South Korea, and this time it involves the man at the top. Korean Air Lines Chairman and CEO is set to stand trial in an embezzlement case as prosecutors say he took millions-of-dollars in fees meant for the carrier by unfairly awarding contracts to family-owned businesses.