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This Billionaire’s ‘Terrible Purchase’ Just Made $14 Billion In Profits, And Now He’s Ready For More

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Back in 2012, it was a mystery to many why Chey Tae-won spent $3 billion to buy control of troubled Hynix Semiconductor. Ten years after being bailed out by South Korea’s government, the world’s second-largest chipmaker was losing money and its stock sliding amid a global slump in demand for PCs and memory chips.

South Korea’s SK Group, the sprawling conglomerate Chey chairs, had a wireless carrier, an oil and gas company, a hotel operator but no presence in chipmaking.

“Pretty much everyone in the financial services industry thought it was a terrible purchase,” says Morningstar Research Director Dan Baker in Hong Kong. SK Holdings’ stock fell 15% between the day in November 2011 the deal was announced and the day it closed the following February.

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To Chey, though, the rationale was clear. “SK needed something else to grow,” he recalls during a rare interview held on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. “Someone needed to step up. It made sense to me.”

SK’s wireless subsidiary, SK Telecom, bought a 21% stake in Hynix from a group of creditor banks, and Chey, already chairman of SK Group and SK Holdings, gained a new title: co-CEO of Hynix, later renamed SK Hynix.

Chey’s foray into the volatile chip industry turned out to be one of his savviest investments, timed almost perfectly to take advantage of a nascent global boom in smartphones. SK Hynix earned an estimated $14 billion last year, up 40% from 2017, on revenue of $36 billion—an impressive 39% profit margin. The stock has climbed roughly 150% since SK took control.

In September SK Hynix ranked No. 20 on the Forbes Digital 100, an inaugural list of the industry’s top publicly traded companies across 17 countries. Chey ranks No. 7 on the list of Korea’s 50 richest, with a net worth of $4.7 billion.

“It has been a fantastic investment given the growth in the memory market,” says Baker. 

The Hynix deal was also a turning point for Chey, now 58, emboldening him to make the kind of big bets that characterized SK under his father before his death in 1998. Chey demonstrated that confidence last June when SK Hynix joined a group of investors paying $18 billion to buy 49.9% of Japanese chip maker Toshiba Memory. Hynix also created an imperative for Chey to expand.

SK Hynix now produces 70% of SK group’s net profits, according to the company, eclipsing its earnings from telecom, oil and chemicals and thereby posing a risk as big as it is successful, given the cyclical nature of the chip business.

In a little over two years, therefore, SK group has spent $2.6 billion to venture into a range of new businesses, from ride-hailing apps and biopharma to food and beverages. “We need to explore other areas,” Chey says. “I cannot rely 100% on semiconductors.”    

SK was born in 1953, when the Korean War had just ended and Chey’s uncle Chey Jong-kun started making polyester. Sunkyong Textiles took advantage of government loans and tax incentives to expand, starting with exports of rayon to Hong Kong (SK is an abbreviation of Sunkyong).

When Jong-kun died of lung cancer in 1973 at age 47, his three sons were too young to lead the fast-growing company. In keeping with Korean tradition, his younger brother and Chey’s father, Chey Jong-hyon, took over.

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Jong-hyon steered SK’s expansion into new industries with the purchase of two companies that now rank among SK’s biggest interests: in 1980, he bought 50% of Korea Oil from former U.S. oil giant Gulf (now SK Innovation), placing SK among Korea’s top five conglomerates, or chaebol, by assets (today it is No. 3 after Samsung and Hyundai). Then, in 1994, he led the $530 million takeover of state-owned Korea Mobile Telecommunications Services, renaming it SK Telecom.

In 1998, at the height of the Asian financial crisis, lung cancer claimed the life of Jong-hyon, thrusting his 37-year-old son, Chey Tae-won, into the role of group chairman. “It was a war situation,” Chey recalls. “There was only one thing on my mind: I have to survive.” Chey had been groomed to lead the Korean multinational: while studying at the University of Chicago in the late 1980s, he met his wife, Roh So-young, daughter of former South Korean president Roh Tae-woo.

He joined SK in 1989 as a manager at a subsidiary in San Jose, California, moved two years later to the group’s U.S. headquarters in New York and returned to Seoul in 1994 as group managing director. By 1997, he had already been promoted from head of business development to CEO of SK Corp., then the group’s largest subsidiary.

Chey cut his teeth on smaller deals: in 2000, he engineered the takeover by SK Telecom of a smaller rival, Shinsegi Telecom, for 2.3 trillion won ($2 billion) in cash and stock. Buying Shinsegi boosted SK Telecom’s market share overnight to 57% from 43%. But Chey’s plans for an overseas push were put on hold when, in 2003, he was sentenced to three years in prison for accounting fraud. He was released after seven months and given a full presidential pardon in 2008.

Chey didn’t manage to resume SK’s expansion until 2007, when he turned SK Corp. into a listed holding company, SK Holdings, for SK’s major subsidiaries; it is now the de facto holding company in which Chey and his family hold nearly a 30% stake. Chey then led SK into China, investing in oil exploration in the South China Sea as well as energy and chemicals in Shanghai and Wuhan.

Today, the SK group employs 93,000 people in 101 companies and generates an estimated $140 billion in combined revenues. Of these, 16 major companies operate autonomously, yet the CEOs of these firms convene monthly as part of a “Supex Council” to coordinate strategy under the slogan “independent yet united.”

When Chey first started looking at Hynix, it was a troubled company with a dominant position in the market for dynamic random-access memory, or DRAM, chips. The nine Korean banks that ended up its largest shareholders after its 2002 bailout had hunted for years for a buyer. U.S.-based chip company Micron Technology bid $3 billion in 2002, only to be rejected by Hynix’s board.

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Pain, Poison And Potential

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For a man who wanted to end his life at one time, it is quite ironic that Steve Harris is today one of Nigeria’s most successful life and business strategists.


Being born into a lower middle class family is one thing; trying to make a name for yourself after dropping out of university twice is another. That is what Steve Harris, a life and business strategist and motivational speaker, fondly known as ‘Mr. Ruthless Execution’, has accomplished.

Harris learned the sinusoidal motions of the entrepreneurship journey very early in life.

At 40, he is the Chief Executive Officer of EdgeEcution, an organization that helps high performance individuals and institutions bridge the gap between their performance and potential.

Today, he is among one of the most downloaded, quoted and followed personal development trainers in Nigeria, a feat that is outstanding when you consider that he almost committed suicide before this journey even began.

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The events leading up to his worst day began to unfold when Harris gained admission into the University of Benin in Nigeria. His parents wanted him to become an engineer but his failure to attain the required grades meant he had to take the Industrial Maths class instead. That is when his emotional saga began.

“I had altercations with my lecturers and I was flunking because I was not cut out for math. I had issues with my lecturers because at the time, my department was the most corrupt department in the university and if you wanted to pass, you needed to bribe your lecturers. So they were pretty much a cartel and if you didn’t pay, you wouldn’t pass, so someone like me who at best was a C student became an F student.”

As a result, he scored 4% or 11% in his exams even when he had prepared well enough.

“I eventually got kicked out [of university] in 2004.”

Harris managed to get into a private university but this time, he was required to start all over again.

“I couldn’t go the distance and I dropped out in my seventh month. I couldn’t handle it because my mates were already working. My younger sister was also already working and I was going back to my first year of university. I started having suicidal thoughts and I couldn’t handle it anymore so I dropped out.”

Those suicidal thoughts would come back to haunt him later.

Being the first-born of three children, Harris was the one most likely to succeed. As fate would have it, his two failed attempts at university made him the black sheep of the family.

“I remember coming back home and my younger sister had graduated and my parents were super stoked, and here I am, the first child and I didn’t even get it together. Very quickly, she got a job and started earning money. She began buying things for the house and taking care of responsibilities and started giving me an allowance. I remember she gave me N10,000 ($28) and I was very grateful because I didn’t have any money,” says Harris.

“Like all African parents, my parents started complaining and reminding me about how I wasted their money and how I failed. How the children of others were working in [companies like] Shell and I was just at home.

“I would hide from friends and family members when they visited so I wouldn’t have to tell them my situation. The next month, my sister gave me N5,000 ($14) and I couldn’t ask her where the other N5,000 had gone. She was such a high-flyer that within six months, she moved into her own place and bought a car and here I am, first-born and I couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas card,” avers Harris.

Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“One day, my sister asked me to come over to her house for my monthly allowance. I went in and she had everything I wanted, she had a flat-screen TV, the whole nine yards, and I was just sitting there comparing my little sister with myself and I was thinking ‘there is no way I was ever going to catch up with her’. We were talking and in the middle of the conversation, I pissed her off and she said, ‘I am not even going to give you any more money’ and she kicked me out of her house.

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“I felt so embarrassed and ashamed and here I was, the one who everyone thought was most likely to succeed and I was being kicked out of my younger sister’s house because I didn’t have money. That messed with my mind. I remember sitting at home and I had bought rat poison. I kept thinking that it would be so much better to die than being alive and subjected to the misery I was giving my parents,” says Harris.

As he sat down with the box of poison, mentally preparing himself to end the pain and embarrassment he had brought to his family, one of his siblings walked into the house, in the nick of time.

“That is what stopped me. Then, I also found out that if you commit suicide, you will go to hell and here I am, living my own hell on earth and if I died, you are telling me I am going to be in hell forever?”

That was the wakeup call Harris so desperately needed.

He began to work his way up, starting off with volunteer jobs such as being a church driver for his pastor and also working as an office assistant with Fela Durotoye, a management consultant and recent presidential candidate of the Nigerian elections.

Harris grew through the ranks until he became a management consultant before starting off on his own entrepreneurial journey. Amid the challenges of finding his true purpose, certain thoughts came to his mind that changed his outlook towards life forever. He began asking himself: ‘why am I on this earth?’, ‘how can I make enough money to take care of myself and my family?’ and ‘how do I use my talent to help others?’

He found the answers in books on business written by authors such as Tom Peters and Michael Porter. That is when Harris first discovered he had a penchant for success.

And with his ability to overcome failure, Harris is now on a mission to empower millennials to look inward at their strengths and inner power, and with his able guidance, build brands that can beat the odds and survive, just as he did. 

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Rewriting The News On Africa

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African media can reverse the downward spiral affecting newsrooms across the continent, says APO Group chairman, Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard.


The media landscape has changed dramatically over the last decade. As a result, newsrooms have been forced to make monumental changes such as reducing the staff complement to keep up with the demands, or they have simply had to shut down.

With some African newsrooms being written out of history, there has been an emergence of international media setting up shop on the continent. This interest serves as a double-edged sword for African media that often finds itself under-resourced. 

Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, the founder and chairman of the APO Group, is of the view that the African media landscape has faced challenges that precede digital migration, which have compounded existing problems. An incident that stands out for him, before the digitizing of media, was a lack of access to information for African reporters, and that propelled him to start one of the foremost media relations firms on the continent.

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 When he was a journalist for online publication, Gabonews, and the deputy president of the Pan-African Press Organisation in France, between 2005 and 2007, Pompigne-Mognard says this was a recurring problem hampering the productivity of African reporters. 

“If you wanted the right to attend an international press conference, you would need an official card.

“As an African correspondent, the only way for you to have that card and get access was to prove that you were getting at least €1,000 ($1,121) of earnings, and most of them didn’t have that,” says Pompigne-Mognard.

“It was rooted in disparity. If you have two journalists and one of them has the right card and the other doesn’t, then of course, the other one cannot do his job. He cannot earn money or write articles. 

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“More than that, it reinforced the dependence of African media on international media. They had no other choice but to rely on the information provided by the biggest media.”

To remedy the circumstances that seemed to disempower his peers on the continent, Pompigne-Mognard founded APO from his living room, using $11,000 in savings.

APO has grown since its inception as it provides a variety of media offerings such as press releases, videos, photos, documents and audio-files.

The company has sources such as global Fortune 1,000 companies, reputable international and Africa-based PR agencies, governments and international institutions.

“I didn’t start it to make money. I didn’t start it as a business. I wasn’t an entrepreneur at the time. I was a journalist and I wanted to address a problem. At the beginning, I wasn’t even aware that companies were paid to distribute press releases.”

Pompigne-Mognard has since realized many things through the medium of his company as APO delivered growth of 60% in 2018, representing a turnover that has more than doubled in two years.

As a correspondent of Gabonews, before the inception of his company, Pompigne-Mognard was covering Europe, and he had to report Africa-related news and needed information. As a result, he would ensure he was receiving as many press releases as possible; however, this came with its own logistic challenges.

“That’s when I realized it was extremely difficult to actually ensure I received all the press releases from institutions like the United Nations, as an example. There was not one point where I could get all the African information issued by the international system. 

“Journalists had to rely on information that was on websites. It was very time-consuming to get access to all the content…

“It got me thinking about how if international media was not receiving information from our most important institutions, then what does that say about our voices in the world?”

A single conversation propelled him to make decisive change, Pompigne-Mognard says.

“I had a serious meeting with the president of the African Development Bank at the time, Donald Kaberuka, and he told me something that was instrumental because that’s when I decided I wanted to do something about it.

“What he told me is that the destination of information about African economies contributes to the growth of the continent, because at the time everybody was talking about poverty, war and struggle.”

Over the years, Pompigne-Mognard has observed a similar trend in the way press releases are compiled and disseminated.

He feels this has contributed in transforming the narrative on Africa.

“Something that is specific with press releases is that 95 percent of them convey good news. Usually, when a company issues one, it is to say that they are appointing a new CEO, they are opening a new branch, or they are expanding into new markets.

“We (APO) have been participating, for several years now, in changing the African narrative. We are in a unique place where we have a chance to influence the narrative and make sure that Africa has its own voice and is not influenced by the bias of international media.

Although information is accessible to those who seek it, he says there is currently another challenge that African media needs to resolve in order to maintain autonomy and make money to sustain itself.

“I think there is a big problem coming towards us and it is coming fast,” says a concerned Pompigne-Mognard.

“Nigeria is starting to watch more international media than the local media. Think about the international companies which are willing to expand on the continent. What if 10 years from now, the conclusion is that in the most developed economies on the continent, the nationals are watching more international media? Where exactly do we think the international companies are going to spend on advertisements?

“As an international company, why would I deal with five national TV stations in different countries, if I can approach a single international station and get, not only those five countries, but also better coverage?”

Pompigne-Mognard says the continent is ripe with potential and international media companies, which have observed the budding possibilities, are striking while the iron is hot.

“They know the population is going to grow, the middle class is growing and that purchasing power is growing.”

Finances remain a colossal inhibiter to the growth of newsrooms, as many have had to retrench to make ends meet.

The ripple effect is that the quality of the content produced eventually suffers.

“On a global scale, the media landscape is in a challenging position. It has become very difficult to finance content and to find new ways to make money. Africans also have the same challenges, but often they don’t have the same means or resources.

“I would prefer to be wrong on this matter, but if I’m right, in 15 years’ time, the media landscape in Africa will be completely different – in a bad way.

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“I want Africa to have a strong media landscape. But in order to do that, people need to understand that media companies need to be run as businesses.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom for African media; Pompigne-Mognard sees hope. He says the status quo can be reversed if there is a joint effort to curb the problem. 

“One of the solutions is to create pan-African media,” he says. “The person who is going to crack the code and make it happen could be extremely rich. It doesn’t have to be [entirely] pan-African, even 30-35 countries are more than enough.

“There’s a thing about Africa which is a strength and a weakness; it’s that doing something here will always be more difficult. But the good news is that for those who manage to do that thing in Africa, they can do it anywhere.”

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Packing Light In School Bags

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Former South African rugby star John Mametsa provides alternative energy solutions for the state. With his wife Tumi, he says their future in the business is bright.


In his prime, former Blue Bulls winger John Mametsa had rugby fans screaming in delight at his try-scoring exploits at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. Between 2001 to when he retired in 2010, he had brought smiles on people’s faces.

Hidden beneath the rugby bravura on display on a weekly basis were Mametsa’s entrepreneurial exploits, which led him to co-found Soltech, a solar technology company he started with his wife Tumi.

Soltech has bridged the gap between solar technology and user-friendly consumer products by creating school backpacks, outdoor umbrellas and lifestyle bags custom-fitted with solar power.

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The smiles are back but Mametsa has brought them in a different form.

Soltech’s main aim is to help companies achieve their corporate social investment targets and make a real difference in the lives of school children who might not have electricity at home, or whose access to electricity is limited.

“Generally, I love giving back. Just to see the kids smile brings joy to me,” Mametsa says.

“It is the best space I could have asked for. Other than when I was involved in rugby, this is the best thing I could have ever been a part of.

John Mamemtsa. Picture: Supplied

Putting smiles on kids’ faces is the best thing. Because we are dealing with children, we have aligned ourselves with people that want to make a difference.

“We don’t stop at just giving them the bags where they can charge phones and study at night but we also educate them about the social ills that come with roaming on the internet and social media.”

During this period of Eskom blackouts, uncertainty about South Africa’s energy and a widening chasm between the haves and have-nots, he says Soltech’s products make a difference in the lives of ordinary citizens.

In a sense, they’ve taken the might of solar technology and put it right in people’s hands. The school bags come with a solar-powered battery, which has a night lamp and cellular phone battery charger installed.

“With everything that’s going on at Eskom now, they (citizens) are using millions of liters of diesel per month, just to keep the lights on,” Mametsa says.

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“Hence, it’s coming back to hit our pockets and they (Eskom – South Africa’s national energy provider) are raising the electricity prices again. Such things we have to read about so that, as we grow, we educate the people that we are selling the bags to.

“At some point, you need to convert [to reusable energy sources], you need to start using solar energy. We are still fortunate that there’s an Eskom in the first place. What about those countries that don’t even have electricity at all?

“Yes, we have power cuts but the people that really need the bags are people in the rural areas.”

Admittedly, Mametsa was the pretty face and Tumi conceptualized the idea when they started. But their partnership was perfect in more ways than one. Tumi, just like her husband, had a massive entrepreneurial drive.

While Mametsa was playing rugby, he would dabble in taxi and printing businesses – an uncommon trait among sportsmen and sportswomen who are at the peak of their powers. Tumi was no different. As a student, she would sell hair and cosmetics products, something that sharpened her business senses.

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And despite a successful 11-year career in corporate as an accountant and financial manager for companies such as Alexander Forbes and the Film and Publication Board, Tumi took a bet on herself and dedicated her time fully to building Soltech.

The result was that, in just the company’s second year, they have signed a memorandum of understanding with Finland solar technology company Tespack. Tespack founders Caritta Seppä and Yesika Robles were last year named in Forbes ’s 30 Under 30 Europe.

The joint venture will see Soltech come out, among other things, with a solar-powered, fast-charging power bank, which should totally disrupt the smartphone accessories market.

Tumi Mametsa. Picture: Supplied

“There’s going to be skills and knowledge transfer,” Tumi says.

“The DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) is also backing us on the partnership because we need them and their funding to assist us. We will be hiring South Africans to work the machinery, which was something that was very attractive to the DTI.

“The Tespack partnership confirmed my belief that our company could grow from a small tree to a forest someday. Once we manufacture in-house we can streamline the process. And there are so many other ideas for products I have, such as ladies’ handbags and stuff.”

Here at home, Soltech has partnered in CSI projects with Liberty and Exxaro and they hope to grow their client base in the next couple of years. It is a huge endorsement of their products and should see them salve some of the hurt from the country’s electricity crisis, especially to those who need it the most.

-Sibusiso Mjikeliso

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