To Korea and Beyond - Lessons of Doing Business in Korea and the Creation of an Unlikely Friendship


In 2004 I was looking to establish a business that would focus on the construction and development industry. At the time I was involved with a land and building Development Company that was punching far over its weight in the industry relative to the size of the operation vs. the size and scope of the projects we were successfully developing. This scenario created a double-edge sword, which offered both opportunity and exhaustion.

It was during one of the 'exhaustion' periods that I began looking to create a business that would both capitalize on existing knowledge within the construction and development industry, yet afford relative freedom to manipulate my environment and destiny. To that end my quest for that Holy Grail (I stress 'quest' and not success of) has led me indirectly to Korea, a country to which I have formed an indelible bond.

Throughout my tenure doing business in Korea, I have come to admire their fascinating history, their courageous and warm people and their surprising entrepreneurial spirit. As you may come to learn through these humble experiences, undertaking business in Korea is not at all what you may think and in some ways (as the saying goes), it is an enigma wrapped in a dichotomy, which regularly offers many surprises, challenges and opportunities.

To appreciate how it came that our little company consummated a lucrative agreement with a solid Korean manufacturing company (when we really had no right being in the game and truthfully had very little experience internationally), is a testament to both parties perseverance, including our high level of advanced preparation and research in combination with the Koreans entrepreneurial spirit and ability to recognize opportunities outside their immediate world.

During the year of 2004 I had reconnected with a friend and through various conversations that followed, we discovered a common desire to utilize collective knowledge in our given industry to start a business. Of course, as these serendipitous connections typically go, the timing appeared right for each of us so we began to seriously pursue the idea.

Throughout this process we explored multiple options, which eventually confirmed our initial instincts regarding which direction to follow. It was about this time that a conversation during an unrelated meeting brought about our first exposure to Asia and more specifically Korea.

While researching a variety of opportunities it was determined we would focus on developing a business, which would import and sell specific building and construction related products. Eventually we settled on Manufactured Stone & Brick Veneers, at the time a multi-billion-dollar per year industry. We felt certain this would be a product we could build a solid business on, so off we went in search of securing a top quality manufacturer. Accordingly, to assist in our quest we armed ourselves with what we felt was practical requirements established during the completion of our business plan. The following are some examples; we required a product that would provide key stone pricing or above average margins at the very least; we required exclusivity on the product for North America; we required ownership of the name and marketing; and we required that manufacturing is ISO certified. Simple request right? Oh how naive we were!

Well, as it turned out, on our way to the 'reality-check-in-line' we discovered there really weren't any products available within North America that afforded us exclusivity or, that would allow a substantial margin or, that we could own the name for within Canada. Ultimately, if we truly wished to follow this path it was crystal clear we were not going to do it through a quality manufactured rock company here in North America.

Given this new reality, and with no shortage of reluctance or intrepid anticipation we turned our attention to Asia. It was about this time that the conversation (as noted above) pointed us directly to Korea, more specifically to a small manufacturing company in the southern port city of Busan, South Korea, a city of some 4 million residents and geographically located within the South Eastern edge of the Korean Peninsula.

The introduction to this small, indiscreet, manufacturing company proved to be the perfect solution to our business needs and set in place a lifelong connection to a country I have become extremely fond of.

In future articles I will expresses in vivid detail our modest growth as an international company and expand on our trials, tribulations and lessons learned while exploring the human, political and entrepreneurial side of this fascinating country.

Connect with me and you will experience a truly unfiltered look, warts and all, to the birth of an international business. Through this series of articles you will learn;

1. The enormous value of international diplomacy.
2. The importance of politics when dealing with a foreign country.
3. How to work effectively with Foreign Trade Offices and Government Embassy's.
4. The art of Negotiating through interpreters.
5. Importing your product, how to protect yourself.
6. Setting up your business and corporation.
7. Who can you trust! the short answer is NO ONE so understand the legal.
8. Does you personality matter?

In the meantime, if you or your company are engaged in doing business internationally or, if you are looking at taking your first careful steps to expand beyond your borders, follow my blog or contact me if you feel I can assist you in any way.

'A journey of a thousand miles begins with one simple step.'
- A Korean Proverb

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