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How to Build an Empire Part 2

Hyundai 30th Anniversary Special

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Hyundai this year celebrates 30 years in Australia and globally. To celebrate, myHyundai News brings you this two-part series on company founder, Asan, who started life with nothing and finished it overseeing a vast industrial empire. In this, Part 2, we look at what Asan achieved after he’d built his empire.

Asan’s life philosophy

“There are no failures, only trials.”

As the eldest son of a poor working family, Asan had to work tirelessly to break himself from the cycle of poverty into which he was born. Not once did Asan falter in his mission to rise above, and even when confronted with a range of failed ventures in early adulthood – many of which were outlined in Part 1 of this series – he persevered.

“Failure” was not a word that existed in Asan’s mind – to Asan, a failure was nothing more than a test of character; something to learn from, and something from which he would come back stronger than before. This was key to his life philosophy.

Anothey key part of Asan’s life philosophy was dedication to his country. He did not see himself as merely an industrialist – he was also a nation builder. For Asan, businesspeople had a responsibility not just towards ensuring profit for their enterprises, but also for their nation as a whole; in this case, the nation of South Korea. For Asan, who rose to prominence during Korea’s post-war rebuilding phase, building the strength of his nation meant everything.


Developing a nation

“Aim high with positive thinking.”

As mentioned, Asan saw himself as a more than just an industrialist. Once he had achieved success in his business life, his responsibility was just as heavily geared towards developing his nation. With this in mind, Asan set up the Asan Foundation in 1987, with the aim of helping the less fortunate members of society.

The Asan Foundation, which is still in operation today, consists of four areas of service: medical support, social welfare, research and development, and a scholarship fund. It has provided modern medicine to rural people in pain and sickness due to the lack of hospitals nearby; indeed, it has been responsible for the construction of nine hospitals. It oversaw the creation of the Ulsan Medical College and Asan Life Sciences Research Institute, both of whose legacies live on today. It was also behind the Sinyoung Research Fund, which has supported academic research and led to partnerships between industry and academic institutions.

Additionally, sport was one of Asan’s great passions, and also something he believed could contribute to the growth of Korea as a nation. He was key in Seoul’s successful bid for the 1988 Summer Olympics, lobbying tirelessly for months on end to ensure his country won the hosting rights – a source of great pride for his people. In 1992, the International Olympic Committee recognised his achievements by awarding him an IOC Medallion for his “contributions to sports as a vehicle of international understanding”.

How to build an Empire

Reunifying Korea:

“Vision of a world in which everyone lives happily.”

In 1987, Asan resigned as active chairman of the Hyundai Group and entered the next phase of his life: politics. Asan may have made his fortune in South Korea, but he grew up in pre-war unified Korea on what is now the other side of the border: North Korea. It was this that fed into one of his life’s final passions: reunification.

Asan believed reunification was key to the long-term security of his nation, and to its continued economic competitiveness, and as such he used his political status to try to expand economic relations between South and North Korea. With this in mind, he ran for president in 1992. While he failed to win the presidency, he did manage to win 31 seats in parliament.

As with the rest of his successful life, he did not let this “trial” defeat him. He continued to pursue his goal of reunifying Korea. He began tourist activities to Mount Kumgang on the North Korean side of the border, allowing hundreds of thousands of people to cross into the Demilitarized Zone. He organised unification basketball contests, with events taking place in both Seoul and Pyongyang. He funded railway lines and infrastructure projects that helped to relink the divided nations. Perhaps grandest of all his plans, he attempted to create an economic development summit, and famously drove a motorcade across the border with 500 cows as a gift to the North Korean people – his way of paying back the cow he stole from his father when he left home all those years ago!

We’ll leave you with a quote from Asan that sums up his life, his success, and his legacy:

“It is not necessary to remember one’s successes. That should be remembered by others instead. Rather, we should remember our losses and failures.”

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