South Korea Chazen: doing business in style

As we were nearing Seoul, I decided to watch a Korean film offered on our flight to get a sense of the culture. Despite not always noticing such details, I saw that it was produced by Lotte Entertainment, probably biased by the knowledge that we would be hosted at Lotte Hotels by Lotte chairman and CBS ’81 grad, Mr. Dong-Bin Shin. I had not previously realized the importance in Korea of Mr. Shin, nicknamed by our group as “Mr. Lotte”.

Mr. Lotte himself posing for photos with the trip's organizers

A country run by cheabols, Lotte Group’s presence could be felt everywhere in the country, as perhaps the biggest cheabol focusing on domestic consumer sales. Landing at Incheon Airport, one cannot miss the Lotte Duty Free. On the way to the hotel, you can see Lotteria food courts, Lotte Mart shopping malls, and even stores of the American Seven-Eleven and Krispy Kreme chains that have been (assumingly) licensed to Lotte Group in Korea.

Students entering a Lotte Mart shopping center


Lotteria by Lotte, similar to McDonalds

There are three Lotte hotels in Seoul, and Mr. Shin generously offers to host the CBS Chazen tour for free at the most prestigious of them. And the hotel staff takes every effort to make our stay enjoyable. We were greeted at the hotel by a team specifically dedicated to helping us check-in easily and seamlessly. In our rooms, blue-and-white banners welcoming our CBS 2012 tour covered the beds.

Each and every bed had one of these, prepared with love

We received WiFi internet access, entrance to an amazing “happy hour” lounge that serves delicious snacks and well-drinks in the evenings, had our breakfast served in the same premium-members lounge, and access to a gym, pool and spa, all free-of-charge. The down-side of the trip is that I doubt I’ll ever receive this type of service again in my life, so I hope this does not anchor my future expectations too high…


Chazen South Korea inspects North Korea

While the rest of the Chazen tours were busy doubling down on room service or checking into McDonalds on Foursquare, Chazen South Korea was taking the safety of the free world into its hands by personally inspecting and ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of the demilitarized zone (DMZ)!

CBS students learn that the male-female ratio along the heavily armed boarder is approximately the same as at B-School
The Bridge of no return where soldiers have been exchanged in the past
Overlooking North Korea, with guards on the opposite side staring back at us. This is the place there defectors can ‘run the gauntlet towards freedom, an act roughly as difficult to successfully complete as sprinting from one side of the CMC hallway to the other without being purposefully tripped by a recruiter in one of the adjacent rooms.
The North Korean guard looking back at us.
Trip organizer BK standing in North Korea

At the table where the cease fire was negotiated after the Korean war. The middle of the table corresponds with the demarcation line between North and South.
All of the students on this side have technically defected to North Korea at this point

Our North Korean soldier friend, whom we named John and convinced to enroll at CBS this fall. John said that he would like to be in cluster D, and also asked to skip orientation next year because he said he’s already quite familiar with the indoctrinization practices involved. He also expects to place out of Leadership.
The South side stands facing the north. Ever since an incident in the 80s, the North side now stands facing the North as well (though for some reason, not on the day of our visit) to prevent would-be defectors from sprinting into the south.

One CBS professor stands next to a bombed out train, a reminant of a previous communist era, also fondly nicknamed “The Uris train”

Chazen Korea plagued by spate of studying-induced sleep exhaustion

Things had been going energetically for the Chazen South Korea trip this week before a seemingly inexplicable spate of sleep deprivation stuck at least half of the attendees.

Two first years immediately prior to the McKinsey meeting

What started as a group of alert and energetic MBA students has gradually morphed into a smattering of passed out bodies and head-bobbling meeting attendees.  Scenes of students passed out in offices, on public transportation, at meals, and in lobby waiting rooms have become commonplace.

A first year waits for the Samsung tour to begin

Queried about the development of the phenomenon, tour Organizer Christina Park commented, “I think they’re studying too hard.  Every evening after a light dinner and soft drinks, they go back to their rooms and study for their classes, or else read economist articles and informative Columbia Case Works studies about the country and its local industries.”

A second year immediately after lunch

“Some of us were planning on getting together later to review Applied Security Analysis and its application to the Korean markets” said first year Zachary Keats.  “We went to bed at 1 or 2 but some in of the group stayed up analyzing.  The next morning they came to breakfast late and their eyes were bloodshot.”

First year Zach Keats at work

“Implication for Leverage” – A close up of what keeps Keats up late at night in Seoul

Christina Park further commented, “Most evenings the trip atendees study late into the night, some even neglecting to take care of themselves or to drink adequate amounts of water.”

“Korea has a very strong cultural emphasis on education, and the local highschool students even study at schools called ‘hakwon’ after their regular school gets out,” commented trip organizer Song Won Lee.  “Some of the local students are in class from 8am until midnight.  The CBS students on Chazen South Korea have quickly internalized these local customs.”

Fellow students are unforgiving of their classmates who study too hard
One first year student passes out in the middle of BBQ dinner

“Why, just this morning, Jordan Lang emerged from his room into the breakfast lounge with eyes bloodshot and hands shaking after a night of heavy studying.

Trip organizers are "unconcerned"

He came in and discussed P/E ratios of some of the local companies, as he began eating an egg sandwich.  He then fell asleep with the sandwich half eaten in his mouth.”

One student falls asleep mid-sentence
First year slips out of consciousness while chewing

Thus far the condition has not had significant effects on the company visits, as the level of sugar and coffee injected beforehand serves to ward off any inattentiveness.

Students looking alert and attentive during daily meetings due to high caffine and sugar intake immediately prior.

However, some of the trip attendees are concerned about the level of studiousness.    “I’m slightly concerned that the students aren’t really getting a local experience here,” class of 2013 member Zachary Brown commented.  “They came here to experience the local culture, go out, and meet local people… it would be a shame if they spent all of their time cooped up inside and focusing on overly academic presentations of the country.’  When pressured to comment further, Brown himself admitted that he had stayed up reading Samsung case studies the night before.

Zachary Keats immediately before faceplanting into his Bennigan's salad with green chicken (in honor of St. Patrick's Day)


Chazen Korea Day 3

We’ve completed day three of eight on our venture into the exotic world of Seoul and we’re heading into Wednesday on an emotional and BBQ-induced high.  We arrived Sunday and hit the ground running with lunch and a performance of ‘Nanta’, a theatrical mix of ‘iron chef’, ‘stomp’, and ‘Gallagher’.  A member of our group was even called up on stage and partook in an impromptu wedding ceremony, much to the delight of the locals and his classmates.

New ties being formed...

A night of eating and karaoke followed, with people chugging coffees and fighting through jetlag in an effort to belt out English classics at the top of their lungs with their classmates.

Our first full day in Seoul featured a company visit with the consulting firm McKinsey.  McKinsey’s presentation enlightened us with a general overview and discussion of more subtle issues in the Korean economy, including demographic shifts, operations of the Chaebol, and the situation with the North.  This experience was followed by a smorgasbord of BBQ, a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace, and an evening lounging and dancing at various venues throughout the city.

Luis makes new friends

Tuesday was the most intense day of the trip thus far, consisting of a visit to the Lotte Group, a major Korean conglomerate that has businesses in a plethora of industries.  We arose early in the morning and donned our business fatigues to embark upon an experience that, for most of us, will be the closest to experiencing a real life version of ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ as we will ever get.

The party bus gets rolling

We took a bus from our hotel and arrived at the site to an army of suited executives, engineers in what appeared to be full nuclear detox outfits, interpreters, and film crew, all of them bustling in anticipation of our arrival.

Our debut on national TV

The tour of the facility began with visiting filming studios for one of the company’s ‘Home Shopping Network’ type divisions, and was followed with visits to major shopping centers and a visit to the company’s confectionary manufacturing operations (aka, The Chocolate Factory).  The only thing missing from the confectionary manufacturing tour was Oompa Loompas, as otherwise all major aspects of the Willy Wonka movie seemed to be present….  high tech machinery in futuristic settings, a décor that was welcoming to guests of all ages, excited youngsters eager to put their hand all over everything (us) and, of course, conveyer belts full of chocolate bars.

The Chairman of the Lotte group was remarkably generous in his time, as he personally led us through the factories and spoke at length about the industries in which his conglomerate operated.

Christina Park inspects the facilities

Most importantly, he showered us all with chocolate.

James Cai making all the children jealous

As he himself is a CBS grad, he knows full well the power of free food in the mind of the MBA and we all left the experience  with our pockets so full of exotic confectionary delights that kids all over the country are still weeping with jealousy.

Shouts of “best company visit ever!” and “most baller exit by a CEO ever!” ricocheted off of the interior of our party bus as we departed the chocolate factory and have set the bar high for our subsequent activities this week.

The Chairman prior to his departure by jetpack