A Week in Korea in retrospect

Korea is more than the companies we visited, Korea is a small country that is making contributions far beyond its stature. Whether it is in international business, fashion trends, music, or food the whole world is listening. As part of Chazen, we got to experience these trends first hand. Whether it was me trying on my first face mask (which left my face feeling silky smooth) or all of us listening to the top hits in K-pop, it was hard to deny the coming Korean Wave. Everyday of the trip started with conversations about how this cool Korean thing needs to make its way over to the states or how Koreans are way ahead of the curve. I mean Seoul is going to house a building that will be taller than the World Trade Center! That is a statement to the whole world and we got to see it first hand.

As much as Korea is changing the world it still faces real problems which were violently highlighted in the news today. North Korea and South Korea exchange fire, that is the headline I woke up to this morning. A little over a week ago I was standing at the border making jokes about the North Korean tunnels into South Korea. But the relationship between the two countries is anything but a joke. Any second this wonderful experiment that is South Korea, that is Seoul, can be stopped by the actions of another. This trip has made me care and want to devote time to learning more about the struggle between these two countries that occupy a little peninsula together.

This trip was also a chance for me to meet 40 other amazing individuals. I got to meet second years, who this Chazen was part of their last hurrah in business school, and first years who I am excited to get to know even more. We are already planning reunions to K-town and the bottles of soju we will share. Two weeks ago these people were just faces on a trip roster and now they are individuals who I will always remember sharing a great journey with.

Chazen was more than I could have expected. It gave me a spring break to remember and friendships that will hopefully last much longer than school.

So thank you to the organizers, to the companies, to our faculty adviser, to the Chazen staff, and to the amazing alumni of Chazen South Korea 2015

~ Slava Druker Chazen South Korea 2015

All great trips come to an end

Day 6:

Our last company visit is probably to the company that represents Korea the most, Samsung. Samsung is involved in every business imaginable, electronics check, construction check, shipbuilding check, life insurance check… the list goes on. The start of our visit is to the Global Strategy Group which is the internal consulting group for Samsung’s foreign operations. Though we were visiting the GSG it seemed more like a CBS reunion. There were about 12 former CBS alums working at the GSG and they shared their experiences of working abroad across various business units. After a brief presentation and panel we headed down to lunch with the GSG group at the Samsung cafeteria. Lucky for us there was a Western section, many of us needed a break from Kimchi at every meal.

The second part of our day included what most people expect from Samsung, tech toys, tech toys everywhere. We got to see the latest in Samsung technology and I really wanted all of it. We got welcomed into their innovation center with a wall of screens with the CBS logo. During our tour we got to see a TV that with 3D type glasses can switch between two different programs, I can finally watch sports in peace 24/7. We also got to see the latest in semi-conductor technology which is near and dear to every CBSers heart. Following our visit to Samsung we had some time to sight-see which I spent on Insadong street.

Insadong is sort of a combination of old style tea houses, antiques, and amazing street food. It was cool to see some authentic Korean arts and crafts, it was interesting how close it seemed to other Asian countries but still had a unique feeling.

Fast forward a few hours and we all find ourselves in one of the hottest clubs in Seoul, Octagon. We have a set up of 3 tables and basically take over a whole section of the VIP area, because anything else would not be CBS. After a week of traveling together we feel comfortable dancing it up and cracking jokes all night long. The night goes on and we start wondering how in the world we will wake up tomorrow…one option is to just not sleep. But we all settle on relying on each other to get us to one of the coolest and most unique places on Earth…the DMZ

Day 7:

For most of us the 1 hour and 30 minute bus ride to the DMZ is passed in a haze as thick as the fog that covers Seoul in the morning. The trip to the DMZ starts feeling real when we are about to enter the zone and a dead serious ROK (Republic of Korea) Soldier enters the bus and demands to see our paperwork. Let’s just say it was a very sobering moment. We wind our way through the check point and get to the first sight on the trip, the 3rd tunnel. We take a little train down to a tunnel built by North Korean troops to try and invade South Korea below the DMZ. They painted the tunnel in coal in order to make it seem as though they were digging for coal and not creating a secret tunnel. The key learning from the tunnel is that North Koreans are like munchkins from Oz. Most of us could barely fit in the tunnel without being fully bent over and even then we hit our heads every 5 feet. We go from the tunnel area to the freedom bridge followed by getting into the UN base.

After a somewhat politically incorrect briefing regarding the size of flags we are ready to actually step into North Korea. First we get to stare the North Korean Soldiers down. Our US military escort informs us that though there is only one North Korean outside that the window next to him is taking pictures of us and that there are probably 30 more hidden in the building behind him. The South Korean soldiers look like wax figures, they don’t move and there bodies are so tense it feels like nothing can move them. We enter a meeting room that straddles the border and get to walk around. Without realizing most of us had entered into North Korea which is one half of the room. After taking more pictures than I can count in the room and with the ROK soldier it was time for us to go.

No one got kidnapped and no one ran away so I think the trip to the ROK was a success.

Getting back to the hotel allowed us all to crash from both the exploits from the night before and the intensity of the days events. The crash is short lived because we have to end this trip the right way by going to one final amazing group dinner filled with Apple Soju from Apple Cups and creative takes on traditional Korean dishes.

The dinner and the toasts were the perfect way for this amazing journey to the country of the Morning Calm to end. I cannot wait to go back to South Korea to explore it further and I feel as though I have made so many friends who are willing to hop on that trip with me

K-pop is not just for teenage girls….

It seems as though the Empire building of Korea continued on days 4 and 5 of our trip

Day 4:

Some people wonder what the best way to follow up a night singing Karaoke is, actually no one wonders that but I could not think of a better way to start this post. One thing I can tell you is that grabbing a bullet train at 7 in the morning is not that way. I think most of us still had songs ringing in our ears and may be some other after effects. That being said, all of us could not wait to get to our destination of Ulsan to see Hyundai Heavy Industries and Hyundai Motors.

Hyundai Heavy Industries is another example of a company that may not be known out West but is a global leader in its industry, Ships, really really big Ships, like the biggest Ships in the world. Hyundai Heavy is the worlds largest ship builder, among many other business lines, and we got the rare opportunity to visit their ship yard. This was really one of the more surreal moments of the trip because we got to see the scale of this ships in dry dock. Fun fact: Just to feed their workers at the ship yard it takes 60,000 chicken for a single lunch. Hopefully, that provides some scale of the man power that is present in this operation. One cultural quirk that occurred during our visit was the gift provided by Hyundai Heavy a small towel. We were informed later that is quite common to receive a little towel, often with a company logo, as a present.

After visiting Hyundai Heavy, we took a short trip to the home of Hyundai Motor Company where operations class came in handy. After a brief presentation and tour of the visitor center at Hyundai Motor we got the rare opportunity to see a live production line. We got to see Kaizan in action and how they measure productivity on their line. I think we all truly believe that in a few years Hyundai cars will catch up to the other leaders in terms of quality after seeing the attention to detail put into their manufacturing process. Another interesting aspect of our trip was seeing the loading of cars onto ships for transportation to markets abroad. Fun fact: These ships have 15 levels for storing 7,500 cars which are all individually driven onto the ship by professional drivers.

Once the visits were done we hoped back on the train to Ulsan to try to get some sleep before another amazing night out in Seoul. The organizers set up a Royal Dinner for us at one of the top restaurants in Seoul. The dinner consisted of somewhere between 30-40 dishes of every type of food imaginable. One thing I did not realize was how much the Royals drank because the beer and soju never stopped flowing…ok that last part may just have been our interpretation of a Royal Dinner. We went straight from the Royal Dinner to B One Lounge where we planned to kill sometime until the highlight of the night occurred. At 2 am, we left the lounge, a little wobblier than we started, for the Seoul Fish Market. I think he wobbliness was necessary to sturdy our constitutions for what the organizers had planned. We walked around the market and were guided towards a restaurant area where we got served fresh flounder and live octopus that the organizers had selected for us. Live octopus is really a pain to eat because it suctions onto the bowl so you can’t even pick it up and when you put it in your mouth you just hope it doesn’t get stuck on your tongue. One final surprise awaited us at the fish market. Our press tour continued with a photographer from a local paper coming to watch us viewing a fish auction.

Day 5:

Waking up I was pretty sure there was still octopus roaming my stomach but it would soon get replaced with the amazing tastes provided by our next company visit, CJ Foodville. CJ foodville manages 14 restaurant chains in Korea and abroad like Tous Les Jour and Bibigo. In their headquarters they have a gigantic food court area with test restaurants for all of their brands and we got to experience bibigo. After eating there the first question we asked was when they would expand beyond LA, more specifically Columbia’s campus. We followed up lunch with a tour of their R&D and Cooking Labs. This company seems more like a hip fashion line than a food business. Everything in their offices was cool from the way people dressed to the layouts and designs of the floor. This hip factor translated into their restaurant designs and were places any western could feel comfortable.

CJ Foodville was just the first stop on our CJ group tour. You may notice that in Korea most businesses are far more diversified than in the states and I will discuss that in a later post. We went over to CJ Entertainment and Music which is sort of like the MTV, American Idol, ABC, and Universal all rolled into one. They manage movie theaters (leaders in 4D future cinemas), produce their own movies (check out Snowpiercer coming soon to the states, their first all english production), produce the biggest Music Awards show in the world, and the most watched music countdown show. Of course when we arrive the first thing we see is a TRL flashback with about 100 teenage girls crying while watching a taping featuring their favorite K-pop band. After a brief tour of their building we got to go to their private screening room which was outfitted with 4D seats and side video panels (the seats move, spray you with hot or cold air and water based on the environment of the movie). We got to watch clips from their latest movies and got to test out the 4D technology which will be coming to the states soon.

You would think that this would be enough but CJ had one more surprise up their sleeve. We got escorted into M-Countdown, the biggest Music countdown show in the world. We got to see about 20 K-pop bands perform including megastars  2ne1, BTS, and 4 Minutes. Mind you we are all in suits/ties and a foot and half taller than the surrounding audience which is mostly teenage girls who are sobbing when their favorite bands wave to them. So we blended right in, I am pretty sure we threw some of the bands off when we started jumping and screaming at all the wrong times but we had a blast nonetheless.

Once we had been converted to K-pop fans we got the amazing honor and privilege to be hosted by the Korean Alumni Association at Yonsei University for a dinner to connect Alumni, current students, and future Korean Admits. This was another one of those wow moments of how connected the CBS community is globally. Everyone was so gracious and the spread was top notch (pretty much all you can eat sushi and Korean Food). I think the new admits got to experience a little bit of orientation already when we made them go up to the front and introduce themselves as we did not stop cheering.

Takeaway from these days:

These two days were dramatically different in terms of the types of companies we visited but one thing that stuck with all of us is that Korea is moving up in the world. All of us can see the transition from a manufacturing economy to one that provides service and is a leader in global trends. Going on this trip has given us a small window into that transformation and I think has opened our eyes to the possibilities of working with and or for Korea in the future

Until next time this is Slava Druker Seoul ’15 reporting in

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Soju, Maekju, and Empire Building

I have put off writing my first in country blog post partly because exploring Korea has been too much fun but mostly because it is difficult to capture how truly amazing this experience is.

Day 1:

On day 1 of the trip we immediately see the benefit of being a Columbia Business School student. We get to check into a 5-star hotel, VIP style, because of the generous support of the Lotte Chairmen Dongbin Shin (I’ll get back to him more later). The hotel is immaculate and our every need is taken care of. The rooms are so nice that it is almost a shame we never spend anytime in them.

We leave the hotel for our first event which is a non-verbal Korean Dance Show “Ballerina Who Loved a B-Boy”. The show is a mix of ballet and break-dancing. We are blown away by the talent of some of the dancers and generally feel like the moves we will display at the clubs later will fall far short. One of the cool things about the show is that it is interactive with the audience so of course a group of non-Koreans gets called out by the hosts. After the show we went to our first group dinner at a Korean Seafood Well-being restaurant. What that translates to is food that will test my nerve. We get everything from skate wing to tofu to uncooked crab (best described as warm fishy jelly). Once dinner was over I wish I could say we went out but the jet lag made us all pass out

Day 2:

CBS takes over the Korean news media, for good reasons. We got a private audience with the Mayor of Seoul in his personal office. I have never seen more stacks of paper in my life. The Mayor turns out to be the nicest politician I have ever met, he genuinely cares about hearing the wishes of the citizens. His office has a full wall of post it notes written by visitors to city hall with comments and suggestions. He even has a herb garden in his office to encourage others to develop urban farms. From the Mayor’s office we travel to the Blue House (Korean equivalent of the White House) to meet with the Senior Minister of Finance. The visit with the minister feels like a GEE class. He discusses total factor productivity, labor rates, and capital stock accumulation, thankfully we ask good questions and know what he is talking about. I should note that the faculty member on the trip is my econ professor so he was beaming after the talk because it reinforced his material. The main takeaway from his talk is that Korea is going to maintain GDP growth by focusing on innovation and encouraging female employment. It seems as though the current administration has a strong sense of direction and that the future is bright.

Day 3:

The best way to describe this day is to say empire building seems like a good business plan. On day 3 we got to meet Dongbin Shin and learn about his diverse Lotte business empire. We start the day off with a visit to their home shopping network tv studio. There we get the royal treatment: tv cameras, executives, presents, the works. The tv studio has the largest live studio in Korea and we got to watch a live taping, I am pretty sure viewers could hear us making a ruckus in the background. During this portion of our visit we get a presentation from Chairman Shin on the Lotte business. Lotte seems like the biggest company you have never heard of. They operate a shopping network, confectionery business, hotels, amusement parks, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, food/beverage, and petrochemicals all over Asia. From the studio we went to the Lotte confectionery company. We donned clothes covers and got to see the making of chocolate, gum, and ice cream filled with more samples then we could handle.

Lunch is at one of the hottest restaurants in Seoul, TGIF (yup you heard me right). We go to the TGIF in Lotte World Amusement park. In Korea it is considered an upscale restaurant and our tour guides from earlier in the day are super jealous that we get to go. Since this is a Lotte restaurant we have the red carpet waiting for us when we arrive. The whole staff is lined up to high five us as we walk in and I think they prepared special “American” sized portions of hamburgers for us.

After lunch we get to do one of the coolest things I have ever done. Remember that whole empire building thing I mentioned earlier, well one of the perks is that you can build skyscrapers…really really tall skyscrapers. We get to visit the under construction Lotte World Tower which will be the largest building in Korea and the largest in the OECD. This building will be taller than the World Trade Center in New York. We get to go up to the one of the highest unfinished flowers for a crazy view of the city. There is something surreal about being 46 stories up with no walls and just concrete. The tower is the final part of our visit with Lotte, a company I will be keeping my eye on in the future.

You would think that all of this would be enough for one day but of course this is Chazen and we do not get a break. From Lotte we go straight to AmorePacific, the largest skincare company in Korea and a leader in skincare globally. We get a tower of their offices and design studio. As we learn more about Korean skincare products, I think all of us are subconsciously thinking about how inadequate our skincare routines are. Fun fact: on average French women have 6-7 skincare products in their house, Koreans average about 20. They are serious about flawless skin. No tour of a skincare company would be complete without a visit to one of their company stores where we run to try on product. There is something pretty funny about watching guys in suits all rubbing cream into their cheeks.

This ends the business visit portion of the day. All this means is that we can finally take off our suits and put on our party clothes. When in Korea the only way to party is to get a Karaoke room. All of us jammed into our own private room for hours of hits and beers in Gangnam, and of course we did sing Gangname style. I would love to tell you more about the evening but needless to say it was a blur.

Until next time,

Slava Druker reporting from Seoul, Korea ‘2015

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The countdown to Kimchi begins…

I am less than a week away from my trip to South Korea and I am a mix of nerves and excitement. I cannot stop talking about this experience with all of my friends and family, even though I am pretty sure they would like me to. It is incredible to think that in a weeks time I will get to meet the Mayor of Seoul and see the world’s largest ship yard.

Since coming to CBS I have been strangely connected to South Korea. My cluster always suggests events in K-Town, mostly Karaoke. In class I have studied Samsung and the K-Pop industry. Now in a weeks time I will be visiting Samsung and seeing a live B-boy show at CJ Entertaiment and Music. I helped a clustermate on his business which sells and educates US consumers on Korean Cosmetics, shout out to SokoGlam, and now I will be visiting the largest beauty care company in South Korea, Amore Pacific.

This is one of those experience of a lifetime that you hope for when you go to business school. As excited as I am for the great itinerary our Chazen team has put together, I am more excited for all the surprises in store for me and the new friendships I will build.

Korea here I come! Get the Kimchi ready and put the Soju on ice!

~ Slava Druker ’15 (South Korea)