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In memoriam: Yang Ho Cho, transportation executive and USC trustee

The successful businessman earned his MBA from USC and led a global conglomerate that spanned many industries.

April 9, 2019

Originally published by USC News on April 9, 2019. Written by Eric Lindberg.

USC Trustee Yang Ho Cho, a successful businessman who led major international transportation companies including Korean Air and Hanjin Transportation, died Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 70.

Cho oversaw Hanjin Group, a global conglomerate featuring dozens of transportation and logistics companies. He also spearheaded South Korea’s successful bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics and reshaped the skyline of Los Angeles with his Wilshire Grand Center redevelopment project.

“Yang Ho Cho’s numerous investments in Asia and the United States made substantial contributions to economic growth and trade throughout the Pacific Rim,” USC interim President Wanda M. Austin said. “Not only was he an accomplished leader, businessman and engineer, he was also a deeply dedicated member of the Trojan Family who strengthened USC’s research and teaching connections with Asian universities. He will be remembered fondly.”

Cho’s connections to USC extend beyond the MBA degree he earned in 1979 and his 22 years of service on the USC Board of Trustees. His children earned degrees from the university, as did his two brothers, sister and cousin. The Cho family has given back to USC by endowing scholarships and supporting the creation of the USC Korean Heritage Library.

He also funded USC education and research initiatives in Korea. They include the USC Pratt & Whitney Institute for Collaborative Engineering, a research partnership among the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Inha University, Korean Air and the Pratt & Whitney Corp. In 2014, he endowed the Choong Hoon Cho Chair in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at USC Viterbi in honor of his father.

Yang Ho Cho: From toy trucks to transportation chairman

Cho served as chairman of Hanjin Group, whose holdings span industries such as aviation, marine and ground transportation, tourism and real estate, information services and nonprofit services. He took on the role in 2003 from his father, who had built the multinational organization from a hauling firm established in 1945.

“My father’s first business was trucking, and I remember as a child moving toy trucks around our front yard, just as I had seen in the yards of Hanjin,” Cho told Elite Traveler in 2010. “It was natural for me to take interest in the transportation business, and it became my dream to one day lead one.”

Cho attended Cushing Academy, a preparatory school in Massachusetts, and earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and doctorate from Inha University in Korea. He also received honorary doctorates from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Ukraine’s National Aviation University.

He began working at Korean Air in 1974 as a manager in its Americas Regional Headquarters in Los Angeles and gradually rose through the corporate ranks to become president in 1992. Seven years later, he became the airline’s chairman and CEO.

Cho also served as vice chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries, chairman of the Korea Defense Industry Association and co-chairman of the Korea-U.S. Business Council. He was honorary consulate-general to Ireland from South Korea, co-chairman of the Korea-France High Level Businessmen’s Club and a member of the Board of Governors of the International Air Transport Association.

His dedication to education and training was reflected in his roles as a trustee of Inha University, president of Korea Aerospace University and founder of Korean Air’s Advanced Management Program.

Cho’s contributions to Los Angeles and beyond

Cho helped realize a family dream by completing the Wilshire Grand Center, the tallest building west of the Mississippi when it was unveiled in downtown Los Angeles in 2017. The 73-story building, with 889 hotel rooms and more than 350,000 square feet of office space, was built on real estate purchased by the Cho family in 1989.

“His motivation for business was the devotion to reach his goal. Otherwise, why take the risks?” Cho said of his father in the Elite Traveler interview. “Watching him work, I was able to learn things they don’t teach you in classrooms about managing a company: Leadership is one part knowledge, one part courage and one part passion.”

In addition to his business pursuits, Cho enjoyed traveling and photography, each year creating a calendar featuring photos from his travels around the world as a New Year’s gift for friends.

In 2010, he was appointed the 10th Ambassador for Peace and Sport, the first such honor awarded to an individual from Asia. He also served as chairman of the Korea Table Tennis Association and the East Asia regional vice president of the Asia Table Tennis Union.

Cho led the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic bid committee, successfully earning the right to host the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and was president and CEO of the PyeongChang 2018 organizing committee.

He received the title of Grand Officier in France’s Legion of Honor, the Polaris Award from Mongolia and the Mugunghwa Medal from South Korea, among the highest civilian honors in each country.

Cho is survived by his wife, Myung-Hee; son, Walter MBA ’06; and daughters, Heather MBA ’07 and Emily ’07.