Fashion Chief Rallies to Make Park South Korean President

Kim Sung Joo, who refused an
arranged marriage to pursue her fortune selling luxury goods,
said electing Park Geun Hye next month as South Korea’s first
female president would help destroy its entrenched gender gap.

“If she becomes the top leader in Korea, we’ll break
through everything — glass, concrete,” Kim, 55, a co-
chairwoman of Park’s election campaign committee, said in an
interview on Nov. 15. “That will equalize men and women in
Korean society.”

Kim, whose business took off after securing the local Gucci
franchise in 1990, and Park are exceptions in Asia’s fourth-
largest economy, which has one of the world’s biggest divisions
in gender equality. Park is the front-runner and has pledged to
appoint more women to ministerial posts while working to
increase jobs and reduce a growing income gap.

“In Korea you have no idea what’s out there because it’s
such a male, closed society — a big boys’ club,” said Kim,
dressed in black pants, white shirt, and her trademark red scarf
and red high-top sneakers.

South Korea ranks 108th among 135 countries surveyed in the
World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Report. The
country is 116th in economic participation and opportunity for
women, 99th in female educational attainment and 86th in
political empowerment, according to the report.

The number of women legislators increased to 15.6 percent
after an election in April, from 13.7 percent in 2010. There are
no female chief executive officers leading the nation’s top-20
business groups, and women make up 6.2 percent of executives in
companies with more than 1,000 employees.

Future IPO

Kim’s Sungjoo Group, which owns German fashion brand MCM,
isn’t a publicly listed company. Kim said sales approached $400
million last year and may rise to as much as $600 million next
year. An initial share sale in Hong Kong may be on the agenda in
three or four years, she said.

Park leads in polls ahead of male rivals Ahn Cheol Soo and
Moon Jae In for the Dec. 19 election that will determine who
leads the nation for the next five years. Thrust into the role
of first lady at 22 when her mother was killed in a North Korean
assassination attempt on her father, the late dictator Park Chung Hee, she is one of the 47 female lawmakers in the 300-seat
National Assembly.

Her critics contend that because she has never married and
is childless, she can’t relate to the problems faced by women
trying to juggle work, family and child rearing. Empathy and
experience combating the “machoism” and “deep patriarchy” of
South Korean politics will serve her well, said Kim, who
ultimately married a man of her own choice and has a 23-year-old
daughter.

Incentives, Subsidies

Ahn, the independent candidate and software entrepreneur,
has pledged to increase the number of daycare centers by 30
percent while Moon of the main opposition Democratic United
Party wants to encourage men to play a greater role in raising
children and would legislate for a minimum of two weeks’
paternity leave.

Park has also said she would offer incentives to companies
to increase the number of women in management roles, double the
budget for job training for women and add 30 new employment
centers for women seeking to join the work force. Government
child-support subsidies for single-parent homes would be raised
to 150,000 won ($138) per month from the current 50,000 won.

A “Women Talent Academy” would also be set up to nurture
future female leaders in business and government, Park said in a
Nov. 14 speech. There are two female ministers now serving in
President Lee Myung Bak’s administration and the highest
government posts to have been held by women previously are prime
minister and justice minister.

Amherst Graduate

Park’s support rate is 44.4 percent, compared with Ahn’s
25.2 percent and Moon’s 24.1 percent, according a Nov. 14-15
survey by Seoul-based pollster Realmeter and JTBC, cable-
television affiliate of the Joongang Ilbo newspaper. Ahn and
Moon have discussed merging their campaigns, which might be
enough to overcome Park’s advantage.

Kim, a graduate of Amherst College in Massachusetts who
also studied at the London School of Economics and Harvard
University, joined Park’s camp on Oct. 11. She will return her
luxury business and life-long interest in style and fashion
after the election.

“Grace does her own hair and make-up every morning because
she wants to be herself more than anything,” said Kim, using a
nickname for Park the pair use together. “And that is
beautiful.”

To contact the reporter on this story:
Sangwon Yoon in Seoul at
syoon32@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Peter Hirschberg at
phirschberg@bloomberg.net

Nov 18th, 2012 | Posted in Fashion
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