[FOUNTAIN] Lesson From Hyundai's Founder

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[FOUNTAIN] Lesson From Hyundai's Founder


When an influential figure dies, we often feel solemn, as if reading the last page of a long historical novel. Depending on the quality of the deceased, we sometimes rethink the meaning of his or her life and sink into grief. The death of an influential person is often described as the setting of the sun or the collapse of a gigantic tree.

When the sun sets, it takes away the light which brightened the world, and when a great tree falls, it takes with it the leaves, branches and other plants which depended on it. Often the deaths of the great mark the end of an era. When we heard of the news of the death of Hwang Sun-won, the celebrated Korean writer, in September, the poet Suh Jhung-joo in December and the master painter Kim Ki-chang in January, we might have felt very differently than we did at the news that Chung Ju-yung, the honorary chairman of the Hyundai Group, died a few days ago. Yet, what these men share is that they all represent an era.

The Mr. Chung once said, "The principle guiding my life is doing my earnest best until the final moment, with nothing more to add." When he worked as a construction laborer in Inchon when he was young, he said he learned an important lesson from the bedbugs in the workers' lodge. When he was sleeping on a table, bedbugs climbed onto his body. He put the four legs of the table in bowls of water to prevent them from climbing up. Then the bedbugs climbed up the walls to the ceiling and fell onto his body. Touched by the efforts of the bedbugs to achieve their goal - in this case, feeding - he determined to "put his best efforts into his life, just like those bedbugs," according to his autobiography.

The barley episode is also famous. During the Korean War, he was in charge of a business landscaping a UN military cemetery. It was the middle of the winter and impossible to find green grass to cover the mounds. He came up with the idea to landscape the cemetery with green barley. "After winning the favor of [the U.S. Army], Hyundai can win any construction project for the U.S. Army in Korea, if we want to," he said proudly.

None of his autobiographical material mentions what happened to the barley. We do know that the generation that followed him has experienced the merits and demerits of cutting corners and making do - like covering a cemetery with barley - and has decided that this is not the way. In fact, we are still experiencing the merits and demerits right at this moment.

Facing the news of Mr. Chung's death, we dream of "a society where principles work" by learning from his achievements and vowing never to repeat what he did wrong.


by Noh Jae-hyun

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