Comment: Why Korea?

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Mickey Charles, president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US, gives his thoughts on what Korea has to offer the business world.

"First it was 'The Bridges at Toko–Ri', then 'The Manchurian Candidate', and, finally, 'MASH', a true classic. Those films and the Korean War served as an introduction to Korea, that little known nation in East Asia. Just so you can impress all of your friends, MASH stands for Mobile Army Surgical Unit and do not, for an instant, tell me that you knew that. I know you did not and I also know that you will be practicing your trivia skills on family and colleagues 10 minutes after reading this piece. Actually, it is South Korea that is often referred to as Korea and it is located on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. In the last century much has happened on this volatile land projection. In a land–grab, Japan annexed the entire peninsula in 1905 but, at the end of World War II (in 1945), Korea was split into North and South, with the 38th parallel the general demarcation line. Five years later, in 1950, South Korea was attacked by North Korea, but that aggression was defeated with military help from the US. Subsequently, after years of on–going political rancor and much–needed social policy changes, the modern, transformed country of South Korea, and its dramatically expanded economy, garnered the world's attention in a big, big way. Besides successfully staging the Summer Olympics of 1988, and the 2002 FIFA World Cup, South Korea's tourism base is now growing rapidly, especially in the Australian and Asian markets. In June 2000, a historic first North–South summit took place between the South's President KIM Tae–chung and the North's leader KIM Jong Il. But, North and South Korea are as different as black and white when economies, living conditions and personal freedoms are compared, but on the Korean Peninsula today there are millions of people still hoping for the eventual reunification of their common culture and extended families. I would not wager a won , won or chon on this happening any time soon. Now we come to one of my least favourite words. It is perception. That which we believe to be so for any number of reasons but, in truth, is as distant from reality as the sun is from earth. Hollywood, fact of the war(s) fought there, poverty publicised by the media, relatively poor public relations and image–building have led to this reputation. The Korean War of 1950–53 still lingers and that is an unfair and inequitable indictment of a nation striving to become a tourist destination and world–class economic power. There is the north and the south with the twain not likely to walk down any aisle together in the near or distant future. So, when considering Korea for any reasons whatsoever one has to focus on South Korea with the taint of Communist China still rearing its head up north, imposing and often, not too anxious to join the brotherhood of man, as we know it today and hope it will be tomorrow. Korea has grown, it has developed, and it has taken giant strides since the 1960s with an economy fueled by high savings and investment rates coupled with a strong emphasis on education. It is now considered one of the fastest growing economies in the world and wants to become the focal point of a powerful Asian economic bloc during this century. Helping that goal along is the Southeast Asian region which commands a superior pool of essential resources that are the necessary ingredients for economic development. These include a population of 1. 5bn plus people, abundant natural resources, and large–scale consumer markets. That translates into great business opportunities for those with 'connections and contacts' to pave the way. It is the same tune you have heard me play before and a necessary prelude to whatever you might have in mind, if anything other than a visit to Seoul for awhile. You can invest in Korea, have products manufactured in Korea and spend some quality time in Korea relaxing and absorbing another culture but, as with so many other seeming enticing places on Mother Earth, chances of you pulling up stakes and resettling there as a residence and/or place to do business permanently or semi–permanently are nil to none. As you likely recall, the 24th Summer Olympic Games were extraordinarily successful after a 16–day run in Seoul, from 17 September to 2 October 1988 under the theme of 'Peace, Harmony and Progress'. It was the largest–ever Olympiad up to that time. As a result, Korea now has many world–class sports facilities, concentrated in Seoul and Busan where most of the games were held. Okay, okay, so far, so good. But, what about business, what about advantaging their growth for my own purposes? Good question. The capital city, Seoul, is a modern, thriving metropolis with all the latest technology the world has to offer. First class telecommunications, fantastic five–star hotels, Western restaurants, modern transport systems, innovative architecture and much more. And the bad news? It is Korea and you need not be expert on the nuances of the culture but they appreciate and near demand efforts to apply yourself as much as possible to the language...when greeting and thanking...for example. Family and hierarchy rank high on the attributes scale and women are still fighting their way up the ladder. 'Brownie points' are easy to gather once you know how. Seniors are held in high regard so get older fast before arrival. Business men are more important than business women but that changes with foreign business women who are on almost equal footing. Mixing social life with business is de rigueur in Korea...going out to drink, sing–along at the 'no–rae–bang' where a group of business people go to an establishment to drink and become the Beatles or Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones to a video machine playing music. Relationships rank high so forget the cold call, and introductions are crucial to success. Koreans want to do business with people with whom they have formed a relationship, a personal connection of some sort set in place by a mutually acceptable intermediary...a matchmaker. Have your bilingual business cards handy. Always give your business card with the right hand after presenting it with both hands. Do the language in Chinese characters when travelling to Korea, China and Japan. Get a title on the card so that you can be matched with someone of like status. Do not make notes on the other person's business card. Better to write on your hand than that. Best bet is to bring a pad of some sort. No matter how well you negotiate or how good the deal you are proposing might be, there has to be a certain panache and flair to it...style counts big time!!Do not be rigid, be flexible, and enjoy the process. Detailed contracts are anathema to the culture...something loose and easy, able to be elasticised works much better. Allow for flexibility and adjustment. General agreement reached and details to follow. That works in Korea...closure later. Contracts are a guide, not the Korean Bible or Living New Testament. People count more; interpersonal relationships go to the head of the class. And, do not sign a contract or write a person's name in red ink since this indicates that the person is deceased. Be prepared for trampoline negotiating...jumping from one topic to the other and different people asking the same question, more than once. Also, 'yes' does not mean yes, it just keeps moving things along. If you are lying or they think you are, check the plane schedule for the next one home. Read up on Confucius...that will help when you think it will. Common sense works. You are now ready to head to Korea and open your latest ventures there...pretty much. On the other hand, a week in Seoul and the surrounding area is not exactly a bad idea either, laden with digital cameras and an itinerary that includes every tourist stop possible over that period of time. Look at it this way...what was, was; what is is very nice, modern and waiting for you...socially or for business. "About Mickey CharlesMickey Charles is president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US. For further information about The Sports Network, visit: www. sportsnetwork. com. The Sports Network2200 Byberry RdHatboro, PA 19040 Tel: +1 (215) 441–8444 Fax: +1 (215) 441–5767

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