The man who helped turn Korean Air into a global powerhouse has died.
Cho Yang-ho died in Los Angeles on Sunday, Korean Air said in a statement Monday. He was 70 years old. The company didn’t reveal the cause of death.
Cho took over as chairman and CEO of Korean Air from his father in 1999. The following year, Cho became a founder of the SkyTeam airline alliance — a move that put Korean Air on the international map.
Cho was also head of Korean Air parent company Hanjin Group, one of South Korea’s sprawling family-run conglomerates.
In more recent years, Cho made headlines for all the wrong reasons. He and his family have been accused of fostering a culture of abuse and violence at the company.
Investors are now hoping the company’s governance issues are behind it — shares in Hanjin Transportation spiked 14% in Seoul following the news of Cho’s death. Korean Air rose as much as 4% in morning trading.
Weeks before his death, Cho was booted from his position as chairman of the board at Korean Air. He was on trial over charges of embezzlement and breach of trust. He denied the charges against him.
The “nut rage” incident of 2014 — when Cho’s daughter, Heather Cho, assaulted two Korean Air flight attendants for serving her macadamia nuts in a bag instead of a porcelain bowl — was perhaps the most infamous example of the corrosive environment at the company. Last year, Cho’s youngest daughter Emily Cho faced a storm of public criticism for allegedly throwing a drink at a business meeting attendee. She was later cleared of all charges related to the incident.
Cho’s widow, Lee Myung-hee, is currently facing criminal charges for physically and verbally abusing her staff. The alleged abuse includes claims that she assaulted an employee for forgetting to buy ginger and drenched another with water for driving too slowly. The criminal indictment against Lee was released by a South Korean lawmaker earlier this year.
Paula Newton and Jake Kwon contributed to this report.