One-man institute preaches zeal his own wayThe Gong Institute is not your typical economic think tank with prim offices and smartly dressed people buzzing about. Rather, it consists of one shabby room crammed with research papers, a computer and a fax in the apartment of its namesake. There is one employee ― the president.
“It’s not easy working alone and there is so little time,” says President Gong Byeong-ho, an entrepreneur who has been a controversial figure for nearly a decade as a strong supporter of jaebol, or Korea’s conglomerates, and the free market.
It wasn’t always so solitary a workplace for the Gong Institute’s president. He directed the industrial studies department of the esteemed Korea Economic Research Institute from 1990 to 1996 and oversaw its offshoot, the Center for Free Entrepreneurship, from 1997 to 1999.
During Mr. Gong’s years at the think tank, jaebol owners praised him for supporting them; but others, especially those in small and medium-sized firms, criticized him. But when Mr. Gong resurfaced in 2000 to join the Internet start-up boom, he did an about-face and began attacking the jaebol system.
That’s when he took heat from his former supporters, the jaebol owners, most of whom were members of the Korea Economic Research Institute. They decried him as lacking in morals for reversing his earlier attitudes about the jaebol system.
So when his second Internet start-up went under, he heeded his entrepreneurial guts and founded this one-man research institute, offering a range of advisory services to corporate and academic clientele.
He gives about 20 lectures each month at companies such as Samsung Insurance Inc., Hyundai Motor Corp., LG Group, and Daishin Securities, as well as Yonsei and Korea universities.
His publications include “Gong Byeong-ho’s Self-Management,” “Challenge with Passion” and “Gong Byeong-ho’s Reading Notes about Future Trends” which came out last October.
After Mr. Gong’s book “Ways to Succeed as an Entrepreneur” hit store shelves last month, the author hoped everyone in Korea would adopt the lifestyle described in the book.
According to Mr. Gong, an entrepreneur differs from a freelancer in that the entrepreneur has his own brand or distinctive item to sell. In Mr. Gong’s case, books and lectures are his commercial items and brand.
Mr. Gong pointed out that one does not need to leave his current company job to become a self-promoting entrepreneur. “If a person has the best product and brand within a company, that person can become a successful one-man entrepreneur.”
He offered the case of Bang Sun-keuk, an assistant manager at Cheil Industries Inc. who has presented over 2,500 ideas to his company over the past three years ― ideas which have boosted the company’s productivity. In a sense, Mr. Bang has become his own brand as the king of suggestion. “Mr. Bang has looked at situations with the mind of an entrepreneur and that is why he can bring out so many suggestions,” explained Mr. Gong.
As for Mr. Gong, contrary to the looks of his “headquarters,” he has become quite successful over the past year, posting an income of 300 million won ($255,000).
Over 200,000 of his books have been sold, and Mr. Gong commands up to 2 million won for a 90-minute lecture session. Mr. Gong has also earned money as an outside board member for several companies. The Gong Institute is worth an estimated 3 billion won.
Success comes at a price, however. “There’s nothing but the workload, and the intensity as well as the working hours are immense,” says Mr. Gong. “When I look back on how hard I have worked since I became an entrepreneur, I miss those years as a salaryman who could take time off.”
Still Mr. Gong stressed his satisfaction with his life’s situation. “Since the country received relief support from the International Monetary Fund in 1997, a lot has changed,” says Mr. Gong. “The time has come where one should be responsible for himself.”
Mr. Gong’s perception of large corporations and organizations has changed. “Companies are no longer the object of loyalty,” he says. “One must think of a company as his most important customers.”
“If everyone becomes an entrepreneur with the mindset that he must do his best to serve his clients, which in this case is the company, in return that person will receive the benefits he deserves,” says Mr. Gong.
In other words Mr. Gong advises that one should be the best at what he does at work.
Mr. Gong plans on continuing his one-man campaign for corporate entrepreneurship until 2007, by which time Mr. Gong says he expects to have annual sales of 5 billion won, an annual income of 500 million won and a growth rate of 50 percent.
by Lee Jae-kwang