In 1992, Mr. Kim became the first South Korean businessman to visit North Korea, at the invitation of its founder, Kim Il-sung. The Daewoo chief called that isolated country “the last market on earth.” He opened the first joint inter-Korean venture in 1995, producing textiles from the North Korean port city of Nampo.
When the Soviet bloc began crumbling in the late 1980s, Mr. Kim went on a shopping spree, buying dilapidated automotive and home-appliance plants in former Communist countries and developing nations. At its peak, Daewoo took over a company every three days, he said in interviews, and he dreamed of becoming, as he put it, an “automotive Genghis Khan.” Daewoo built car factories in 14 countries, including China, India, Poland, Romania and Uzbekistan.
His memoir, “The World Is Wide, and Full of Business Opportunities” (1989), sold one million copies in six months, a record still unbroken in South Korea. Its English version, “Every Street Is Paved With Gold,” was published in 1992. That year, Mr. Kim briefly campaigned for the South Korean presidency.
“You have to be desperate,” Mr. Kim once said, explaining what drove him as a businessman. “If you are desperate enough, the answer will come to you even when you are in sleep.”
Mr. Kim befriended President Trump when Mr. Trump was a real-estate businessman in New York. Mr. Kim’s company Daewoo Engineering & Construction was one of Mr. Trump’s main partners in building Trump World Tower in New York, at United Nations Plaza, in the late 1990s. That relationship led to a license contract under which Daewoo was allowed to use the brand name Trump World on seven tall buildings in South Korea.
The headlong expansion of Daewoo and other South Korean chaebol, like Samsung and Hyundai, fueled South Korea’s rapid economic growth.
Mr. Kim famously said: “If we don’t have technology, we can buy it. If we don’t have money, we can borrow and repay it when we make it.”