Japanese CEO breaks in recruits on BukhanAt the head of a long line of Japanese hikers marching up Mount Bukhan on Seoul’s northern periphery strides Sin-ichi Munemasa, the president and CEO of a Japanese sanitation company in Fukuoka.
Mr. Munemasa is leading 242 new Sanix Inc. hires on this trek a few kilometers from the heart of Seoul. Many of them have never before visited the mountain, which forms a dramatic backdrop for city dwellers on clear days.
For this executive, however, it is not his first time. He has reached the summit of the 837-meter (2,744-foot) peak 232 times in his life.
“The first time I climbed Mount Bukhan was Feb. 28, 1995,” Mr. Munemasa says. “That year, I attacked the mountain 40 times with my employees. Since then, I have climbed Mount Bukhan at least 20 times a year.”
Thanks to the CEO’s enthusiasm, no employee has escaped a climb up this jagged peak, a mountain fortress in centuries past whose final approach entails walking on bare rock, using rope holds for balance. There have been 14,557 unique trips by Sanix staff, with 4,000 having climbed it at least three times.
“By chance, I was told that Mount Bukhan had strong chi, or life force,” he says. “I thought climbing the mountain would improve my health so I went alone the first time. After, I included the hiking course as part of the new recruits’ training program. Just the times I climbed the mountain with my family accounts for 20 of the 200 or so times I’ve been up here.”
Around the time Mr. Munemasa began ascending Mt. Bukhan, Sanix started to grow. Even though Japan was mired in recession during most of the 1990s, Sanix’s revenue increased from 30 billion yen ($250 million) in 1997 to 50 billion yen today.
“I began hiking here in 1995. We went public the following year and the business has prospered steadily since then,” he says. “From Bukhan I gained my courage and can-do spirit.” Bukhan has also been a place for him to practice self-denial. Mr. Munemasa says, “Climbing the mountain takes my mind off carnal thoughts and relieves anxiety.”
Following his 100th trip up and down Mt. Bukhan in 2000, Mr. Munemasa donated 100 million won ($84,000) to the Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism “for the benefit of Mount Bukhan,” as he put it. It paid for new trail markers.
“I gave because I felt I owed a great deal to the mountain. I felt it was part of my educational fee for what I was able to learn from my many treks.” He adds jokingly that he felt a twinge of guilt for “I have caused serious damage to the lungs of Seoul” by wearing down its trails.
Mr. Munemasa says that Mount Bukhan differs from many mountains in Japan that he knows. “It is rough, with many rocks and stones,” he says. “Sometimes, from afar, it feels like a landscape painting.”
He notes that most employees think that climbing up 800 meters will be tough. “But once you reach the top, the sense of fulfillment and freedom is very rewarding.”
Mr. Munemasa always walks at the front of his employee hiking parties, for he insists “I am fit enough to compete with those in their 20s and 30s.”
by Oh Young-hwan