In a high-rise, spirits can be liftedOf all the tall buildings in Seoul, two -- one north of the river, the other south of the Han -- stand out for their Westernized feel.
Indeed, the Seoul Finance Center in Gwanghwamun, and the Star Tower in Yeoksam, have become magnets for foreign businesses in the capital.
Completed in May 2001 for 700 billion won ($560 milion), the Seoul Finance Center rises 30 floors, with eight floors below ground. Its rents are among the highest in downtown Seoul.
"This building is quite popular with foreign companies who want convenience to restaurants, shops and fitness clubs,” said You Kyeong-ok, the center’s asset manager.
From her first day at work, Gang Yeo-ri, 28, an assistant manager in the mobile finance planning department of SK Telecom, on the 12th floor, noticed that the Seoul Finance Center was a different sort of place.
“I rushed to get in a packed elevator that day,” she remembers. “The door had just about closed and I thought, Uh-oh. But instead, many of the foreign workers in the elevator, which had been held just for me, gave me greetings of ‘Good morning!’ They offered warm smiles rather than frowns or complaints as often happens elsewhere.”
Ms. Gang soon realized that she had stumbled upon a totally different business culture for Korea. Indeed, she’s come to call the building a “cosmopolitan community” and says working there is like working in New York because multinational companies like McKinsey & Co., Merrill Lynch, and Philip Morris are located in the Seoul Finance Center.
Ms. Gang says she no longer thinks it is strange to see a foreigner having a sandwich and a cup of coffee alone at lunch at one of the center’s many underground cafes. Various events held in the building’s lobby, such as a new car exhibition or a fashion show are another joy, she says.
Seol Woo-jae, 29, who also works at SK Telecom, was bewildered at first by office meetings that constantly changed in time and place, and that were held over breakfast. In Korea, most meetings are held not in a restaurant but in a meeting room, and at a time that never varies.
The Star Tower, completed in September 2001, rises 45 floors, with eight below ground. Its estimated cost was 1.5 trillion won. The number of people in the building on a single day can reach 50,000. Universal Pictures Korea, ING Life Korea, Epson, Mercedes-Benz and DaimlerChrysler Korea have offices here.
Kim Hong-jeong, 26, a consulting manager of Samjeong KPMG, on the 10th floor, says that she once failed to pick up a client at the airport. The client later appeared and said happily, “I found you so easily. Everybody knows Star Tower.”
Ms. Kim says going to work in the Star Tower is comforting. “There’s great freedom just looking out of the windows here. Even the bumper-to-bumper lights of cars at night on Teheran Street are exciting.”
An employee lounge on his floor is a favorite place for Jin Jeong-tae, 31, an assistant marketing manager at DaimlerChrysler, on the building’s 14th floor. He often takes a break there with a cup of coffee and a CNN broadcast.
Both Ms. Kim and Mr. Jin say they are closing in on their dreams in the building. "I want to work for a foreign company as an accounting expert," Ms. Kim says. Mr. Jin dreams of being president of the Korean branch of a global company. The two agree that an office equipped with high-tech facilities may help them achieve their goals.
"The most important thing in a workplace,” says Ms. Kim, “is having good co-workers and a team spirit.”
by Pyo Jae-yong, Jung Hyun-mok