The top four billionaires on the Forbes "2018 Korea's 50 Richest People" list are some of the most influential and powerful people in South Korea, heading massive companies in technology, healthcare, and cosmetics.

Key Takeaways

  • South Korea has 45 billionaires according to Forbes.
  • The top 4 Korean billionaires have a net worth of just under $50 billion.
  • The country represents the fourth-largest economy in Asia and the 15th largest in the world in 2018.
  • A handful of companies, led by the Samsung Group, dominates the business community and holds significant sway over political matters.

1. Lee Kun-hee, $20.6 Billion Net Worth

Lee Kun-hee is the most well-known and influential person in South Korea. He is the third-generation chairman of the Samsung Group, the massive company that represents more than 20% of the entire Korean economy. He's been in the top spot for the past 10 years. Samsung Electronics, a subsidiary of the larger Samsung Group, is Kun-hee's most noteworthy legacy and the second-largest information technology company in the world after Apple. Other subsidiary companies include Samsung Heavy Industries, Samsung Engineering, Samsung Everland, Samsung Electro-Mechanics, Samsung Life Insurance, and Cheil Worldwide.

Samsung posted record revenue of $212 billion and a net profit of $36.6 billion in 2017. Lee has been at the helm of Samsung since 1987. His legacy has been somewhat tarnished by a slush fund scandal that forced him to relinquish control of the Samsung Group between 2008 and 2010, but he has unquestionably left an indelible mark on South Korea.

2. Seo Jung-Jin, $11 Billion Net Worth 

Seo Jung-Jin was the biggest winner in the 2018 Forbes listing, increasing his wealth by $9.1 billion, or 478%. Seo is the founder and CEO of biopharmaceutical company Celltrion. The company's subsidiary, Celltrion Healthcare, went public in 2008, and revenues have soared with the release of new drugs to treat lymphoma, breast cancer, influenza, and rheumatoid arthritis. The stock price tripled in just over a year.

Seo is known as a bold entrepreneur. He was named a member of the board of directors at Daewoo Motors, yet left in 2002 to start Celltrion. He knew little, if anything, about the bio-industry but felt strongly that healthcare would be a significant part of the world economy.

3. Jay Y. Lee, $7.9 Billion Net Worth

Jay Y. Lee is the only son of Lee Kun-hee, and that distinction has earned him access to part of Samsung's vast fortune. Lee, whose given name is Lee Jae-yong, has been groomed for years to be the successor to the Samsung Group empire, and he has been vice chairman of Samsung Electronics since 2013.

In 2017, Lee began a year-long sentence for bribing a confidante of the then South Korean president to secure a merger. He was released from prison in February 2018. Many in South Korea call him "Crown Prince of Samsung." Compared to his father, Jay Y. Lee is considered cold, uncharismatic, quiet, and subtly playful, a leadership style criticized by some in the Korean media.

4. Suh Kyung-Bae, $7.6 Billion Net Worth

Head of one of Asia's leading cosmetics brands, Suh Kyung-Bae transformed his grandmother's secret hair product into a multi-billion-dollar empire called AmorePacific Corporation. Kyung-Bae, who earned his master of business administration (MBA) from Cornell University, joined the company in 1987 at the behest of his father, then-owner Sung Whan.

All of AmorePacific's current products are designed for women, but its breakthrough item was ABC Pomade for men back in 1952. The company shifted gears after the Korean War, focusing on women who lost their husbands during the war. Cosmetics are incredibly important in Korean culture; the per capita spending on skin care among South Korean females is nearly 250% higher than among American women. The company went public in 1973 and has been growing ever since, buoyed in particular by AmorePacific's first product release, IOPE Retinol 2500, which was the first anti-aging cream in Korea.


The median income in South Korea for the year 2018.