Failure is an option, after all

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Failure is an option, after all

Successful start-up stories are rare in Korea. There is the case of Woongjin Group, which started out renting and selling humidifiers, and NHN, which operates Naver, the nation’s largest portal site, but they are few and far between. In the manufacturing sector, winning models are even thinner on the ground. Mobile phone maker Pantech and electronic dictionary producer iRiver were budding stars at one time but are now forgotten. The lack of innovative enterprises like Microsoft or icons like Steve Jobs is lamentable as both the economy and the corporate world would be motivated by such role models. In the 1970s, Daewoo Group founder Kim Woo-choong inspired many wannabes when he famously said, “The world is big with lots of things to do.” Young entrepreneurs ventured to experiment with their ideas and dreams, and the economy became richer as a result.

The economy is already suffering from inequalities, a structural gap among income classes and chronic joblessness because it lacks youthful ventures and vitality. As such, more successful start-ups must be encouraged to combat these economic problems.

It is wonderful to hear that Pantech recently graduated from its workout program with creditors after almost going bankrupt in 2007. By launching affordable handsets since 1991, Pantech became the third-largest phone maker at home after Samsung and LG. After acquiring Curitel of Hyundai Electronics and Sky, it ranked among the world’s top 10. But it faced a liquidity crisis in 2006 and came under management by creditor banks.

What is remarkable is that founder Park Byeong-yeop refused to call it quits. Although he no longer owned the company after relinquishing his entire stake to creditor banks, he worked tirelessly to help keep it afloat. Even global leaders like Motorola went under after Apple revolutionized the mobile phone market with its iPhone, but Pantech survived amid intense competition and an ongoing global financial crisis. It raked in net profits for four consecutive years and saw its revenue increase to over 3 trillion won ($2.6 billion) this year.

The company is still fighting an uphill battle in the cut-throat world of mobile technology, but its rebound can inspire many aspiring technology wizards. Meanwhile, the government must work aggressively to make domestic business circles more tolerant of failure. There must be a system to encourage companies not to fear taking the plunge and support programs in place to help them recover even after a few falls.
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