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Top earners

BTS producer tops the list of H1 highest-paid Koreans

HYBE executives sweep top 3 spots with 8-figure incomes after exercising stock options

By Aug 18, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Seven-member boy band BTS
Seven-member boy band BTS

Senior executives of HYBE Co., South Korea's leading K-pop agency, topped the three spots on the first-half list of highest-paid South Koreans, with BTS' chief producer ranked as the top earner.

Kang Hyo-won, a 37-year-old producer and composer for the boy band BTS, reported 40 billion won ($34 million) in income from HYBE after exercising his stock option. 

Kang Hyo-won, chief producer of HYBE
Kang Hyo-won, chief producer of HYBE
The composer of BTS' hit songs Boy With Luv and Spring Day pocketed 39.9 billion won from the stock option exercise, following HYBE's trading debut on the Korea Exchange in mid-October 2020. Between 2018 and 2020, Kang posted the highest royalty income among South Koreans.

Two other HYBE executives -- Chief Director Kim Shin-gyu and its American operations' co-CEO Yoon Suk-joon -- took the second and third spot thanks to hefty profits from their stock option exercise.

The three HYBE executives, including Kang, were the only Koreans with eight-figure salaries, or tens of million dollars, for the first half period, based on biannual reports from South Korea's listed companies.

Executives of Kakao Corp., the country's dominant mobile platform, came next and claimed five spots on the list of 11 highest-paid executives at domestic companies. Its Chief Investment Officer Bae Jae-hyun was ranked fourth with a half-year salary of 8.1 billion won.

Other top earners include Managing Director Lee Min-suk of Alteogen Inc., a Kosdaq-listed pharmaceutical company and Vice President Lee Chang-jin of the country’s top botox maker Hugel Inc

The top 11 list contains none of the employees from manufacturing companies such as Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc. 

First-half Executive Remuneration at Leading South Korean Companies:

Company Name (Title) Remuneration
HYBE Co. Kang Hyo-won
(Chief Producer)
40 billion won
Kim Shin-gyu
(Chief Manager)
27.7 billion won
Yoon Suk-joon
(Co-CEO of HYBE America)
23.5 billion won
Kakao Corp. Bae Jae-hyun (CIO) 8.1 billion won
Alteogen Inc Lee Min-suk
(Managing Director)
7.8 billion won
LG Uplus Corp. Ha Hyun-hoi
(ex-Vice Chairman)
6.5 billion won
Kakao Corp. Shin Jeong-hwan
(Chief Technology Officer)
6.5 billion won
Kwon Seung-jo
(ex-Chief IP Officer)
6.2 billion won
Hugel Inc. Lee Chang-jin
(Vice President)
4.6 billion won
Kakao Corp. Joh Su-yong (co-CEO) 4.3 billion won
Jung Eui-jung
(Chief Technology Officer)
4.2 billion won
Lotte Corp. Hwang Kak-gyu
(ex-Vice Chairman)
4.1 billion won
Samsung Electronics Co. Kim Ki-nam
(Vice Chairman)
3.5 billion won
SK Telecom Co. Park Jung-ho (CEO) 3.2 billion won
Source: Companies' biannual reports


Kim Taek-jin, founder and CEO of game developer NCSoft Corp., maintained the top spot on the list of the country's highest-paid IT business owners. His first-half salary of 9.4 billion won marked the third-largest amount among South Korean business owners, ahead of Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun and SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won. 

NCSoft founder Kim Taek-jin
NCSoft founder Kim Taek-jin

Topping the list was Chung Mong-koo, Hyundai Motor Group honorary Chairman and father of junior Chung. His retirement pay of 29.7 billion won from Hyundai Mobis Co. took the vast bulk of his income. Last year, He stepped down from the group chairmanship.

Meanwhile, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee has not been paid by the world's top manufacturer of memory chips and smartphones since 2017. He was released on parole last week after serving 60% of his 30-month prison sentence over bribery and embezzlement conviction. 

First-half Remuneration of South Korea's Leading Business Owners:

Company Name (Title) Remuneration
Hyundai Motor Group Chung Mong-koo (honorary chairman) 30.2 billion won
Nongshim Co. Shin Choon-ho
(the late founder and chairman)
21.4 billion won
NCSoft Corp. Kim Taek-jin
(founder and CEO)
9.4 billion won
Lotte Group Shin Dong-bin (Chairman) 8.0 billion won
LG Group Koo Kwang-mo (Chairman) 6.6 billion won
Seegene Inc. Chun Jong-yoon (founder and CEO) 4.4 billion won
SK Group Chey Tae-won (Chairman) 3.8 billion won
LS Group Koo Ja-yeol (Chairman) 3.5 billion won
Hyundai Motor Group Chung Euisun (Chairman) 3.3 billion won
Source: Companies' biannual reports

Write to Shin-young Park and Ju-wan Kim at

Yeonhee Kim edited this article.

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