Revive fearless entrepreneurshipWhen the massive reclamation project of Hyundai Engineering & Construction in Seosan, South Chungcheong, hit a snag in 1983 due to unruly sea waves, Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung came up with a bizarre idea. He proposed using a decommissioned oil tanker from Sweden as a cofferdam. The head engineer was unsure. Chung shouted at him, “Have you tried?” When they did, it worked perfectly. The construction period was shortened by three years and the offshore construction method was coined after him. “Have you tried?” has since become an iconic phrase describing Korea’s bold and fearless entrepreneurship.
The quote from the late honorary chairman of Hyundai remained as the memorable citation from local entrepreneurs among Koreans in a survey led by a group of former and active public relations officers. The second favorite was “Change everything except for the wife and the kid,” said by Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee. The third was “The world is big and there is a lot to be done,” from Kim Woo-choong, former chairman of now-defunct Daewoo Group.
The quotes of entrepreneurs reflect their philosophies for business and life. When belief is enacted, it becomes entrepreneurship. Without entrepreneurship, a company cannot grow. Entrepreneurship drives employees to be inventive and bold, pushing them to carry out ventures without worrying about failure. It was through this adventurous spirit that a broken economy became a powerhouse in semiconductors, steelmaking, petrochemical, textile, electronics, construction, consumer products, medicine, transportation and ICT.
But the spirit seems to be gone. Korea Inc. is grappling with unprecedented challenges and risks. The shipbuilding industry Chung has fostered is almost dead. Electronics, semiconductors, automobiles and ICT companies are chased by Chinese rivals. They admit their business models have become outdated, but are at a loss when it comes to creating a breakthrough. The economy grew just 1.2 percent in the third quarter. Choi Kyung-hwan, the deputy prime minister for the economy, predicts the economy will not meet this year’s annual growth target of 3 percent.
But next year will be tougher. The economy may be stuck with growth in the 2-percent range for some time. The slowdown in the Chinese economy and stalled U.S. rate hike aggravated insecurity on the external front. At home, the effects from demographic shifts have begun to manifest, while household debt and youth unemployment hover at dangerous levels. At this rate, the country’s future is hopeless. We need Korea’s fearless entrepreneurship.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 27, Page 34