The heir to the "nut rage", who forced an airplane to turn back her macadamias, is fighting against her brother with the support of active shareholders against her brother for control of the family airline and underlines the resistance to reforms in South Korea's chaebols.
45-year-old Cho Hyun-ah, whose family controls the Hanjin Group, which also includes the airline Korean Air, made headlines worldwide with her angry reaction when she was served nuts in a bag instead of a plate in first class.
A series of scandals focused on subordinate abuse quickly made the Chos the most disparaged billionaires in the South.
But now her fight against Brother Cho Won-tae could be a turning point for the family-run conglomerates known as Chaebols, which dominate business in the world's 12th largest economy.
It has partnered with an activist mutual fund, Korea Corporate Governance Improvement (KCGI), which states that better chaebol management will improve efficiency, employee engagement, and shareholder returns.
Cho Won-tae became chairman of the Hanjin Kal conglomerate holding company after the sibling's father, Cho Yang-ho, who directed the successful bid for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, passed away last year.
"You can't run a business simply because you happen to be a grandson of its founder," said Lee Seung-hoon, KCGI's global business director.
Many Chaebol families retain a small stake in their businesses, but maintain control through complex networks of cross-shareholdings between subsidiaries and fast transportation for family members.
Lee told AFP, "Many are misled into being 100 percent owned."
just say no
The Hanjin Group was in financial difficulty long before the corona virus broke out, affecting the finances of airlines around the world. The subsidiary Hanjin Shipping was once one of the ten largest container lines in the world, but went bankrupt in 2017.
Korean Air lost 1.74 trillion won ($ 1.4 billion) in five years, according to Lee from KCGI, who accuses Cho Won-tae of "repeated strategic mistakes".
When Hanjin Shipping collapsed, the group sold valuable shares in the profitable S-Oil Corporation oil refinery to try to support it.
As with many Chaebols, there was no room for disagreement at the top of Hanjin, he said.
"The governance structure under current leadership makes it impossible for the so-called independent external board of directors to say no."
To avert some of the criticism, Hanjin will consider selling non-core projects such as hotels, and Cho Hyun-ah, KCGI and "speculative forces" accuse Korean Air of surviving in an era of "unprecedented crisis."
There was "no disagreement" that Cho Won-tae "was the right businessman to survive the coronavirus crisis," he said in a statement saying that he had shown "excellent business performance".
Wake up call
The battle is razor sharp. Cho Hyun-ah, KCGI, and ally Bando Engineering and Construction will have 32.03 percent of the voting rights at next year's Hanjin Kal meeting when Cho Won-tae's fate is decided.
A year younger than his sister, he is supported by other family members and the US alliance partner Delta Air Lines by Korean Air with a total of 32.45 percent.
The Chaebols played a key role in the rapid economic growth of the South, but have now spread to all business areas and are now accused of suffocating smaller companies and hindering innovation.
And their political ties have proven increasingly controversial – Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong has been jailed for his role in the corruption scandal that overthrew President Park Geun-hye.
KCGI's campaign against Hanjin sends a "strong message to all Chaebol families," said Kim Dae-jong, an economics professor at Sejong University in Seoul.
"It is a wake-up call to Chaebol groups that if they do not act properly and act against the general interests of shareholders, their control could be removed through collective action."
KCGI's drive is "the right step at the right time," he added.
But it took a split within the controlling family itself to create the possibility of change at Hanjin.
The rebel alliance wants to put a former president of SK Telecom at the top, and Lee denied that Cho Hyun-ah was looking to return to management.
"After a long period of deliberation," he told AFP, "Cho agreed that Hanjin must be led by professionals."