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Taiwan Cement chief Koo Cheng-yun dies at 62

Brother-in-law Nelson Chang takes over reins, expresses optimism for 2017

Taiwan Cement Chairman and Chief Executive Leslie Koo Cheng-yun passed away on Monday after a fall.

TAIPEI -- Leslie Koo Cheng-yun, chairman and chief executive of Taiwan Cement, the island's top cement maker and the sixth largest in China, passed away on Monday a day after he sustained serious injuries from falling down a flight of stairs at a Taipei hotel. He was 62.

Following Koo's death, Nelson Chang, husband of Koo's younger sister, has been appointed by the company board to be the new chairman and chief executive, according to Taiwan Cement. Chang has long been a board member at the company.

Speaking to local reporters on Monday, Chang praised Koo's leadership.

"We feel deeply sorry about the accident that was so unexpected... Chairman Koo was a great and beloved leader. Under his disciplined and excellent leadership, the company has a very solid foundation," Chang said.

"We will execute what he has planned for 2017. As for the industry outlook for the overall cement industry, we believe the year 2017 will be definitely better than 2016."

Shares of Taiwan Cement opened lower but closed 2.29% higher at NT$35.75 New Taiwan dollars on Monday. Taiwan Cement, along with the company's listed affiliates Taiwan Prosperity Chemical and China Synthetic Rubber, have a combined market capitalization of NT$154.78 billion ($4.92 billion).

Born on Nov. 28, 1954, into a Taiwanese business dynasty, Koo Cheng-yun was the second son of the late tycoon Koo Chen-fu. Koo senior served as Taiwan's chief representative in the island's first-ever high-level dialogue with China in 1993 after the two sides split amid a civil war in 1949.

Taiwan Cement Corp. Group, controlled by the Koo family, has 17 affiliates in various sectors including biotech, construction, chemical products and garbage recycling. Taipei-listed Taiwan Cement is the group's flagship company.

The family has extensive business interests in Taiwan. The island's leading financial group CTBC Financial Holding is currently controlled by Koo's nephew Jeffrey Koo Jr.

'Eagle-style' leader

Koo held a bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of Washington and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S.

In 1981, he returned to join Taiwan Cement and was promoted to become vice president in 1988 and president in 1991.

Koo became the de factor leader of all of his family's businesses across cement, chemical products, rubber materials, construction and pharmaceuticals since 2003, after his father's health began to deteriorate and after his older brother died -- Chester Koo passed away in 2001 at the age of 48 due to bile duct cancer.

Koo often characterized his philosophy of management as "eagle style," valuing precision, concision and simplicity.

After he took over Taiwan Cement, Koo overhauled the traditional industrial conglomerate founded by his grandfather almost a century earlier by canceling the lifetime employment system and prioritizing performance over seniority.

He also led the company's expansion in China since 2001, riding on the infrastructure and real estate boom. Later his company was called the "King of southern China."

Since June 2003 when Koo became company chief, shares of Taiwan Cement have risen more than 200% to some NT$35 at the end of 2016. Taiwan Cement generated NT$89.57 billion in sales for all of 2016, up more than 100% from revenue of NT$42.83 billion in 2003.

Modest, kind man

Koo was renowned for his gentleness and kindness to employees, investors, and the press.

Although he came from a wealthy family, he often flew economy class when traveling overseas, tended not to surround himself with an entourage and often ate at small local stalls.

Koo leaves a son, Gung-kai, and a daughter, Hsuan-hui, both in their thirties and neither of whom hold any position in the family businesses.

However, Chang, Taiwan Cement's new chairman, told local reporters that Koo's son, Koo Gung-kai, had been selected to join the company's management associate program on Monday, without providing further details.

"We would be a bit concerned about the company's succession plan after Koo's sudden death, and who would be the one that is actually in charge of the industrial conglomerate in the longer-term," said Leo Lee, an analyst at Yuanta Investment Consulting. "But overall, Taiwan Cement is a healthy and transparent company with many professional executives."

Lee said that the cement industry bottomed out and was already heading for a recovery in the second half 2016, adding that the fundamentals look promising for the current year.

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