‘Have you tried it?’

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‘Have you tried it?’

Nov. 25 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Chung Ju-yung, the legendary entrepreneur and founder of Hyundai Group. There are many reasons why we still miss him. He was the type of figure who would suggest creative prescriptions to put our supine economy back on its feet.

Chung was an icon of entrepreneurship as evidenced by his famous phrase: “Hey, have you tried it?” Whenever his subordinates were pessimistic about a new business, Chung immediately came up with that reply. His motto encompassed all of what is demanded from competent business leaders: an indomitable spirit of challenge, inventiveness and innovation, as well as an unflinching determination to push forward regardless of daunting obstacles. Chung’s dramatic rise to become leader of one of Korea’s most global enterprises owes much to that spirit and those talents.

Cases which illustrate his audacity and persistence are aplenty. The feat of taking orders for “the world’s largest shipyard” after presenting his client with nothing but a 500 won Korean note featuring Geobukseon - the famous Korean warship that Adm. Yi Sun-sin used in Korea’s war against Japan in the 16th century - was a driving force for Korea to emerge as the world’s top shipbuilder.

In the mid-1970s, Chung decided to enter construction markets in the Middle East at the peak of the oil crisis despite vehement opposition. People said it was too hot in the Middle East and there was no water. Chung said, “We can sleep during the day and work at night. An abundance of sand helps us make concrete cement. Water can be supplied from Korea through oil tankers we will build, and the tankers can return home filled with petroleum.”

That’s thinking outside the box. Hyundai’s winning of a tender for the construction of a gigantic industrial harbor in Jubail, a city on the coast of Saudi Arabia, began with such aggressiveness. Chung earned international trust by completing construction eight months early. That began the Korean construction industry in the Middle East. An entrepreneurial spirit is a linchpin in the course of nations. When it is weak, a nation has no future. The strength of the United States and the rise of China owe much to the innovations of Google, Apple and Xiaomi.

What about Korea? The index for our entrepreneurial spirit is ranked 22 among 34 OECD nations. When few young entrepreneurs take on challenges, pessimism and frustration prevail. If Chairman Chung was alive, we know what he would say. “Hey, have you tried it?”

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 24, Page 30

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