POWER MOVESIn the world of business, CEOs are some of the busiest people around. They must make decisions every day that can break or make their bottom line. Despite blistering schedules, many of them try to maintain their endurance and physical health by engaging in sports ranging from triathlons to martial arts.
Businessmen draw strength from their sports to help them persevere in their career. The endurance and drive to achieve a set goal are often cited as common factors of the sports and business world, and many CEOs try to apply experiences in sports to their business lives. The JoongAng Ilbo interviewed five Korean CEOs about their sports activities.
Martial arts practice keeps him calm
Park Hyo-dae, the CEO of S-Net Systems, a company specializing in network integration, is a time-strapped man who must make business decisions and attend meeting after meeting, day after day.
Despite his packed schedule, Mr. Park manages to squeeze enough time to visit Jiri Mountain or perhaps a temple to practice Taekeukkwon, a Chinese martial art form based on the opposing forces of yin and yang.
To stay fit, he hits the gym for a three-hour workout four to five times a week. And during self-imposed breaks at the office, he stretches his body and practices chi exercises. He is known to pull out his sword and polish it while meditating.
About eight years ago, a bout of severe back pain led him to join the ranks of Taekeukkwon practitioners. It took him only six months to heal. The experience turned him into a fanatic of this martial art.
The myriad positions one must practice require one heck of a workout, according to Mr. Park. Maintaining some of these positions for more than five minutes leaves him dripping in sweat.
“The key here is to have patience,” says the CEO. “It’s patience that I have learned and that helps me to overcome problems that I encounter when doing business.”
In Taekeukkwon, he explains, one must integrate the chi, or mental state and accompanying body motions into one move, a complex task requiring great composure.
“In the information technology business, one frequently is required to make quick decisions,” he says. But without maintaining calm one is either late or makes the wrong decision. In that respect Taekeukkwon helps me a lot.”
It seems that Taekeukkwon has helped the CEO in making the right decisions. The company posted 100 billion won ($78 million) in sales in 2001 while succeeding in being listed on the Kosdaq only 14 months after being established.
Tackling three sports at a time
If you love to swim, ride a bicycle and on top of that pound the pavement all day, then triathlon training might be the right fit. This sport combines all three aerobic sports, all of which require endurance and a body as fit as a soldier’s.
That the International Olympic Committee has set limits on each event is some indication of the physical stress the human body is subjected to in this 3-part sport. First, one must tackle a 1.5-kilometer (0.93 mile) swim, followed by a 40-kilometer bicycle ride. As if that’s not enough, competitors pound the pavement for another 10 kilometers.
Kim Jin-young has made it a point to prepare his body for this daunting sport. At 48, he’s at a natural disadvantage in a sport that even younger people find hard to master. But as the CEO of Samsung Books, a leading company in children books, Mr. Kim is accustomed to facing obstacles.
“Especially in cycling, the local road conditions aren’t that great,” says Mr. Kim. “Nevertheless, I kept on pedaling as I felt my health improving with each finished race.” The CEO adds that the intensive workout helps him to relieve his stress level as well. He runs along the Han River at least twice weekly. He compares the sport’s challenges to the obstacles people in their 40s must face in their daily lives. “I think the sport nicely reflects the kind of life people in my age group are experiencing,” he says. “You just grind your teeth and try to maintain a steady tempo because you know you have to go forward. Sometimes, you have to overcome your limits.”
Out of the 3,000 people in Korea who enjoy this sport, half of them are said to be middle-aged.
Despite a gloomy economy, his company has targeted 50 billion won ($40.4 million) in sales ― a gargantuan leap from last year’s 5 billion won. The self confidence this CEO has gained by finishing triathlon races has helped him power this ambitious goal.
Getting to the top takes willpower
Employees of Duzon Digitalware, a company specializing in management information systems, say their CEO, Kim Jae-min, is an enormous fountain of energy. From where does the 51-year old chief executive derive his energy?
“When I climb mountains I feel like my body as well as my spirit is being uplifted,” says the CEO. “I recharge myself while I am out in nature.”
In the spring of 2002, he journeyed to the Himalayas for two weeks of trekking and climbing. He climbed at elevations of 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) for up to 12 hours a day.
“I still can’t forget [Mount] Everest looking down on me,” he says. “Just the sheer size of it made me think a lot. For me, it’s the same with every mountain; whenever I climb I can step away from my work, which helps me regroup my thoughts for the next day.”
Mr. Kim has relished climbing and trekking since high school, and for 40 years he has climbed mountains both in and outside of Korea. His favorite course in Korea is Chiaksan in Gangwon province. He even visited Baekdusan, in North Korea, in 1997.
For this CEO, the sometimes grueling ascent toward a mountaintop involves some hardship, but the payoff comes at the end, when he conquers the summit. “The harder it is to climb the more satisfaction I get afterward, and this is what drives me. This goes for my work and other things in life as well.”
The CEO says that in business many projects are abandoned for a lack of willpower to pursue it when obstacles appear. He says climbing has taught him to pursue a goal not necessarily through an all-out attack but with a driving force that does not tail off at the end.
“What’s important is to stay focused and keep driving ahead no matter what,” says the CEO. Mr. Kim already plans to climb 4,093-meter Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia’s loftiest peak, this summer.
Playing baduk reminds him of big picture
Profits at numerous credit card companies have dwindled, and Korea’s credit card industry is struggling to recover defaulted loans to consumers.
Amid this debacle, Lee Ho-gun, the 61-year old CEO of BC Credit Card Co., is saddled with the task of figuring out how to ratchet up his company’s profitability.
With a delinquency ratio above the 10 percent mark, the solution won’t be simple. That is why this CEO spends a lot of time staring at the board of a baduk or “Go” game, which is said to have originated in China.
“Looking at the board gives me some time off from work,” he says. “I can relax and recharge myself. Sometimes I also watch a TV show that features baduk games. It has the same effect, you know?”
The CEO first learned the game while reading a baduk problem in the newspaper. From that day on he collected all of the baduk problems appearing in the paper, and taught himself how to play.
Amateur players must pass 18 levels, called geup, just to reach the amateur first dan. Since venturing into this arena, Mr. Lee has attained fourth dan status (seven being the highest amateur level). The professional level of play follows, with nine levels all to its own.
Mr. Lee has learned a variety of lessons from the game, which he applied to business.
“When playing baduk an important aspect is not to become over-confident from small victories,” he says. “You’ve got to have the big picture in your mind at all times.”
Four years ago, when credit card companies issued plastic en masse to boost cardholder levels, he chose to issue credit cards only to consumers with solid credit histories. That is why today the company’s drop in profitability remains smaller compared to other companies.
“Just like baduk, our strategy to take it step by step saved us a lot of trouble,” says Mr. Lee.
In boxing, and business, he plans ahead
Lee Seung-han, the 57-year old CEO of Samsung Tesco Home Plus, an Internet-based shopping mall, emphasizes that managing a business is a form of art.
He likens himself to the conductor of an orchestra. The business model and strategic plan are like music notes while the human resources are the musicians. And Mr. Lee? He’s the man in the middle, directing all of it into one beautiful tune.
While his business philosophy contains some artistic flavor, his physical workouts are another story:
His passion is boxing.
The executive says he almost opted for a professional career in boxing, rather than business. “When I was a kid I would spar with employees working at my father’s rice mill,” he says. “At the time I dreamed of becoming a boxer.”
While at Gyeosung High School in Jeolla province, he was also a ssireum seonsu, a wrestler in the local version of the sport, not to mention being a basketball and volleyball competitor. Today, he also has notched a black belt in judo.
Besides boxing, he also enjoys golf and tennis as many executives do. But boxing is the one sport he hopes to stick to until age wins him out. Although Mr. Lee has insufficient time to spar regularly in the gym, he never fails to punch a sandbag hanging from a tree in his garden.
One phrase this man does not like is “getting old.” Instead he prefers to use “growing old.”
“You know, only people who don’t have a dream get old,” he says. “If you have a dream you mature as time goes.” He adds that in boxing one learns how to read the opponent and land a punch to finish him off.
“It’s the same in business. To stay competitive you have to know what the competition does, plan ahead, and get the edge so that you can put the other guy out of business,” says the CEO.
by Choi Hyung-kyu, Ha Ji-yun, Kim Chang-woo