With our Chazen South Korea study tour kicking off on Sunday, I sat down with trip leader Kyungsun Chung (’19) to chat about his plans for the trip. Prior to joining CBS, Kyungsun was the Founder and CEO of Root Impact, a nonprofit that focuses on building capacity for the social innovation sector in Korea. He is in the third-generation of the Hyundai family.
Why did you want to plan a Chazen trip to South Korea?
I really wanted to add something to the Columbia community. I knew this Korea trip was something I could do well and it seemed like a good fit. Since I’m coming from a family business background, I thought I could add an interesting mix into the trip.
On that note of family business, I know one of the things we’re going to be learning about is this idea of chaebol. Would you tell me more about that?
A chaebol is a large business conglomerate that is owned by family members. With companies like Samsung, they are billion-dollar companies, but they are controlled by maybe 10-50 people in a family. So chaebol is basically family business—but with a crazy business size.
How did this idea of chaebol get started in South Korea?
This idea of a family-controlled conglomerate is especially popular in developing countries. When an economy is developing and doesn’t have a lot of resources or infrastructure, you’ll see a government make a conscious decision that they will basically concentrate the economic power within a few family businesses so they can compete internationally. As you know, the international businesses coming from Europe or the United States have much more capacity to compete; the developing government needs to put everything they have into a small number of businesses.
In Korea, the government gave a lot of tax breaks, bank loans, and other benefits to these family businesses so they could grow fast and drive the Korean economy. In Korea, there was basically nothing after the Korean War in the 1950s—it was really devastating—but now you have these Korean conglomerates, Samsung and Hyundai, which are the #1 conductor company and #6 largest automaker in the world, respectively. I really wanted my friends at CBS to learn more about chaebol because it’s really one of the few successful cases of the government-intervention economic model.
Aside from the company visits, what are you most excited about?
Basically… everything! The food part, of course. We are going to Korean traditional barbecues. On Wednesday, we have a cultural day—we are going to the Korean War Memorial Museum.
What do you think are some misconceptions that people have about Korean culture?
Because of North Korea, a lot of people think that South Korea is dangerous. They’re worried we are going to be invaded. But it’s not at all like that. I mean, there are more than 20,000 U.S. citizens living in South Korea. In terms of crime, we are one of the safest cities in the world.
Lindy Gould (’19) is an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School.