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How red lipstick helped win an election

When South Korea's first female leader, Park Geun-hye, was elected it was not just her background as the daughter of a former president that helped swing the victory in a country known for high levels of gender inequality.

Conservative lawmaker Park took up her post in February of last year, pledging national security and economic revival. But before she won the majority of votes, she enlisted the support of one of Asia's most recognised businesswomen, Sung-Joo Kim.

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U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye attend a joint press conference in Seoul
Song Kyung-Seok - Pool I Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye attend a joint press conference in Seoul

Park asked Kim, the founder and chief executive of Asian fashion business Sungjoo Group and CEO of European luxury brand MCM for her help in turning around opinion polls, where she was losing to rival candidate Moon Jae-in.

Despite warnings from her father about getting involved in politics, Kim decided to back the female leader, but not just because of her gender.

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"I helped the first female president to be not because she was a woman, because she was coming from the conservative party who can preserve Korea on a very sound ground as a democratic capitalist society, because her opposition party, the competitors, were coming from left-wing, pro-North Korea," Kim told Tania Bryer for CNBC Meets.

"They (the other party) had more than 65 percent supporting poll. This poor lady had only 32 percent supporting poll," she added.

Kim said it was not her political knowledge that helped her rally support, but rather her marketing savvy.

Sung Joo Kim, chairwoman and founder of Sungjoo Group, poses for a portrait in Seoul, South Korea
SeongJoon Cho I Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sung Joo Kim, chairwoman and founder of Sungjoo Group, poses for a portrait in Seoul, South Korea

"So the first day I showed up at the party building, which is a very boring, grey cement building. I showed up with red sneakers and red lipstick. I shocked every politician and impressed all the media," she said.

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Kim said approximately 150 interviews with newspapers, TV and magazine followed the stunt, which she describes as "a really great marketing outcome".

After mixed opinion polls in the run-up to the election, Park made history in becoming South Korea's first female president since Queen Jinseong ruled Korea in the 9th century.

"So you know these days when you go around the markets, not only in Korea, even in Europe, the conservative Europe, all the men are in the red sneakers because I did one and a half years ago. It was the beginning of the lucky red sneakers that everybody wears now," said Kim.

The full program - CNBC Meets: Sung-Joo Kim - will air on CNBC Europe on Wednesday 4 June.

Contact CNBC Meets

  • Showtimes

    EMEA (CET)

    Wednesday 25 March 23:00

    Saturday 28 March 23:30

    Sunday 29 March 18:30

    Wednesday April 22 23:00

    Saturday April 25 23:30

    Sunday April 26 18:30

    Wednesday May 20 23:00

    Saturday May 23 23:30

    Sunday May 24 18:30


    CNBC World (EST)

    Saturday March 28 22:00

    Sunday March 29 16:30

    Saturday April 25 22:00

    Sunday April 26 16:30

    Saturday May 23 22:00

    Sunday May 24 16:30


    Asia (SIN/HK)

    Saturday March 28 17:30

    Sunday March 29 19:30

    Saturday April 25 17:30

    Sunday April 26 19:30

    Saturday May 23 17:30

    Sunday May 24 19:30


  • Tania Bryer is a guest presenter and executive producer of CNBC Meets. In this series, she profiles some of the world’s most successful business people to find out what makes them tick. Bryer previously worked for BBC and Sky Television.