After earning his MBA from Columbia University, Kyungsun Chung, grandson of late Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung, could easily have joined one of South Korea’s largest business groups, just like many of his cousins. But after delving into climate change, Chung chose to chart her own path as an impact investor.
IIn late September, Hurricane Ian swept through southwest Florida, killing more than 100 people and damaging some 18,000 homes. Estimates by disaster modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. put Ian’s privately insured losses at close to $63 billion. That would make it the costliest storm in Florida history.
Natural disasters like these are exactly why Kyungsun Chung, a scion of Hyundai’s founding family, cares about climate change – which makes hurricanes and other disasters more destructive – and charts his own course as a impact investor.
“When I went to business school, it was the first time I saw a lot of climate change data,” Chung, 36, says in an interview on the sidelines of the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Singapore, where he spoke on a panel on ESG and sustainability. “Looking at the data really worried me because one thing is that my livelihood will be affected. And the second thing is that the first industry that will be wiped out because of climate change is the insurance industry. .
Chung cites the example of Camp Fire in California in 2018. It was the largest and deadliest fire in the state and caused the bankruptcy of local insurer Merced Property & Casualty following fire-related claims.
A collapse in the insurance industry will also affect Chung’s livelihood. He is the only son of Chung Mong-yoon, the 67-year-old chairman and largest shareholder of Hyundai Marine & Fire Insurance, and the second youngest of eight sons of Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung. “It was a very big sign for me,” Kyungsun Chung says of Merced’s bankruptcy. “That’s why I decided to become much more proactive in impact investing.”
In 2019, after earning an MBA from Columbia University, Chung launched private equity firm The Sylvan Group in Singapore with classmate Scott Jeun. Sylvan specializes in impact investing, which focuses on investments that benefit the environment and society, while making a profit. Backed by $200 million from members of the Chung and Rockefeller families, Singaporean billionaire Wee Cho Yaw’s United Overseas Bank and Hanwha Life, among others, Chung is now looking to invest in companies that can help fight climate change.
In February, Chung made his first investments, albeit not related to climate change, at least not directly. Sylvan acquired majority stakes in four Singaporean pharmaceutical and healthcare companies for $140.5 million: Artemis Health Ventures, DX Imaging, Juniper Biologics and Juniper Therapeutics. “It’s all so connected,” Chung says. “You can’t push for climate action without getting buy-in from the people. But when they’re not happy with their education, their healthcare, their housing and everything, you can’t go for it.
Chung has long been involved in non-profit organizations. In 2012, he founded Root Impact, a non-profit organization in South Korea that supports social entrepreneurs, for example by providing office space, who create social purpose businesses. Chung is also a board member of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, one of the largest philanthropic service organizations in the world.
Chung said he was inspired by his grandfather who taught him that the wealthy should give back to society. Chung Ju-yung founded the Asan Foundation in 1977, which builds hospitals and medical research centers, sets up scholarships and supports local charities. In 1998, the founder of Hyundai, born in what is now North Korea, drove 50 trucks carrying 500 cows to the Hermit Kingdom, which was suffering from food shortages.
“You can’t push for climate action without getting buy-in from the people.”
AAnother trend that Kyungsun Chung seeks to capitalize on is the move away from globalization that has defined the past three decades. “From Covid, then decoupling and de-globalization, and the war in Ukraine, that means we won’t have a stable supply chain anymore,” Chung says. “So some things will become much more expensive, and some of them will be important necessities, like food.”
In early February, for example, people in Hong Kong faced a shortage of vegetables after strict Covid-19 border controls in mainland China severely disrupted the supply of fresh food. Food shortage experiences like this have spurred demand from agricultural technology companies like Farm66, a vertical farming company in Hong Kong that grows vegetables and fruits in aquaponics. “During the pandemic, we have all noticed that the productivity of locally grown vegetables is very low,” said Gordon Tam, co-founder and CEO of Farm66. Forbes Asia earlier this year. “The social impact has been enormous.”
And in Singapore, prices for chicken – the city-state’s most popular meat – jumped after neighboring Malaysia temporarily banned chicken exports on June 1 to stabilize domestic supplies that have been disrupted by the pandemic. extreme weather caused by climate change and war. in Ukraine, a major producer of corn and wheat, which are used in chicken feed. “This time it’s chicken, next time it might be something else. We have to prepare for that,” Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in interviews with local media in late May.
“I think the agricultural sector will face a very difficult time very soon,” Chung said, adding that he is interested in alternative proteins, sustainable agriculture and agricultural technologies.
He is not alone. Other investors have already poured millions into food-related startups, even in the face of soaring inflation and rising interest rates. At the end of June, for example, Hong Kong-based Avant Meats, which grows fish fillets and fish maw (swimbladder – a delicacy in China) using cell culture technology, raised 10.8 million in a funding round at the end of June. The funding was led by Chicago-based food and agriculture company S2G Ventures, backed by billionaire Lukas Walton (a grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton), and will be used to build a pilot plant in Singapore. Avant Meats is one of 16 Hong Kong startups to make the 100 to watch list this year.
In Singapore, maker of plant-based chicken alternatives Next Gen Foods raised $100 million in February to fuel its plans for global expansion, including in the United States. Its star-studded list of investors includes South Asian company Alpha JWC Ventures, China’s first food tech company. Bits x Bites capital fund, English football player Dele Alli, Singaporean global fund EDBI, Midas Lister Jenny Lee’s GGV Capital, Kuok Meng Xiong’s (grandson of Malaysia’s richest person Robert Kuok) K3 Ventures, Singaporean public investor Temasek and Daryl Ng’s (eldest son of Singaporean billionaire Robert Ng) food and beverage manufacturer Yeo Hiap Seng.
“When we had this abundance of venture capital money, they invested in all these food tech companies. Now they are finally becoming more viable and ready to scale,” Chung says. “So they could be targeted by private equity firms like us. We are looking really seriously at this sector.