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[Newsmaker] IBK names Korea’s first female bank chief

Dec. 24, 2013 - 20:25 By Chung Joo-won
Kwon Seon-joo

Besides the first female president, Korea has seen another woman break through a glass ceiling, this time in the banking industry.

Kwon Seon-joo, the senior executive vice president of the Industrial Bank of Korea, was named the next CEO of the state-run IBK on the approval of the Financial Services Commission on Monday.

Before Kwon, no woman had been named CEO of a Korean bank.

“We believe that Kwon is well qualified as the country’s first female bank CEO, which she has demonstrated through her risk management skills,” the FSC said in a statement, pointing to her contributions to “raising IBK’s financial soundness and potential support of creative finance.”

Kwon, 57, joined IBK in 1978, shortly after graduating from Yonsei University with a bachelor’s degree in English. She is a person of “gentle character and tight work ethic,” according to the IBK officials.

In 1998, she was promoted to head the Bangi-dong branch in southeastern Seoul, and moved on to head core IBK units such as risk management, card business operations and the financial customer protection center.

Female leadership has been so scarce in the country’s banking sector that she was frequently dubbed “the first female” throughout her promotion history.

“Back in the days when (Kwon) entered the bank, it was part of the traditional Korean culture to have a married woman quit her job and look after the household,” a local bank official said.

“Now that female participation at work has increased significantly, we are expecting to see more female executives in the future,” he added.

And yet the country has seen calls for more female leaders in the financial sector, even from within its financial institutions.

“I think the degree of advancement of a financial firm is seen as whether or not it has a female executive,” said a senior official of the Korea Exchange, the country’s main bourse.

Western countries have many women holding high posts, he said, suggesting that greater opportunities for female staff indicate an advanced corporate environment better than temporary high earnings.

By Chung Joo-won (