In February and March 2013 I travelled to Korea and China with a group of Executive MBA students nearing the completion of their program at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles plus two professors. This year the founder and until recently head of the LMU EMBA program, Dr. William Lindsey was not with the group for the first time. Bill and Margie were very much missed.
Organizing a well planned and executed Executive MBA trip takes work and we had been working on this trip for over six months to ensure proper speakers, logistics and other matters. We started our trip in Seoul, the capital of Korea on Sunday, February 24 with a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the National Forlk Museum of Korea, an outside view of Chong Wa Dae (the President’s Official Residence in Korea) which was under very strict security because of the next day inauguration of Korea’s new President Park Geun-hye, the first woman President in Korea and one of a growing number of Asian women leaders. We finished the day with a visit to Myeong Dong which is one of Korea’s most famous shopping streets where we tried Korean fast food and enjoyed people watching in the immense crowds.
That evening we went up to see the lights on a Seoul highpoint and then had a opening kickoff dinner where we all toasted the new President. Our first meeting was with Samsung Electronics, the largest company in Korea and a world leading company for mobile phones, LCD TV, LED TV and other electronic products. We visited the Suwon R&D Center, a large and sprawling campus that includes the R&D center plus other portion of this large and dynamic company. The focus of this years trip was the entertainment, television, computer game and apps market and Monday’s meeting included visits to SBS(Seoul Broadcasting System), the second largest commercial broadcaster in Korea. SBS operates the cable channels of CNBS, ESPN, Nickelodeon and others in addition to supplying lots of Korean language material.
At KBS, we received a special lecture by Professor Daniel Park, a professor at the Graduate School of Film & Digital Media, Hongik University. Dr. Park is considered one of the best known experts in Korea on Hally, Korean Wave. Professor Park talked about the cultural evolution of Korean wave and the historical development of the Asian TV Drama market. Korean soap operas and TV programs are shown throughout Asia including China and Southeast Asia and most major Korean actors and actresses are well known to those in Manila, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Shanghai and elsewhere in Asia.
The next day we visited the Headquarters of Hyundai Motor in Seoul and saw their new line up of cars plus discussed marketing and brand issues with Hyundai Motor staff. Later we visited CJ Entertainment and Media, one of Korea’s largest entertainment companies and toured their facilities plus had a long and very interesting session with their staff. Later we met with NC Soft, a major game manufacturer and discussed mobile games both for the PC and cellphone use. NC Soft is a leader in this field and its games are played all over the world.
The next morning was reserved for independent research that the students had identified. In the afternoon we attended a briefing at the US Embassy in which the Ambassador welcomed us before turning it over to a briefing by four Embassy officers from Economic Affairs, Cultural Affairs and 2 officers from the US Commercial section. We then proceeded to the central train station and took the first class train to Busan arriving at about 9:00 PM.
Busan is Korea’s second largest city and a large seaport and tourism center. It is to the far South of Seoul and so the weather is generally warmer which we certainly noted. We stayed right on the beach in Busan at the Homers Hotel which proved to be a good base. The next morning we visited Hyundai Motors(Ulsan) which is the largest single location car manufacturing plant in the world. The plant even has its own port and we watched the drivers zipping onto the car carriers and parking to only leave perhaps an inch or two between cars. We also toured the line where cars are assemble. Car workers in this plant according to our guide make approximately about US$80,000 per year which seemed to be a good rate of pay as there also seemed to be other benefits. We also visited Hyundai Shipyard (Ulsan) where we observed giant ships both being built and refurbished. The size of these large ships is really awe inspiring. Korea and in particular Hyundai are very major large ship builders. After a seafood lunch to enjoy Busan’s fresh and inviting seafood, in the afternoon we visited the Busan Cinema Center, the venue of the Busan International Film Festival. The architecture of this center and of much of Busan was stunning.
The next day we had internal presentations by the LMU team of Dr. Richard Stafford, Dr. Yongsun Paik, Dr. Jeff Gale and myself. Later we toured the site of the 2005 APEC Leaders meeting in Busan and other nearby sites. This day was a national holiday in Korea and unfortunately the traffic was much heavier than expected which was somewhat ameliorated by the nice weather and the blue skies.
The next day we flew to Beijing where we were met by our Beijing team of Larry, Tony and William and wisked to the Peninsula Beijing Hotel in Wangfujing. Sunday we got an early start and visited Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall plus many other sites in Beijing. The next day we made a visit to the CCTV building which is architecturally stunning and where we had great views plus saw the studios and production facilities during a two hour tour. That afternoon we visited Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) where we received a talk from a Professor on the growth of his institution and of education programs generally in China. We then had a basketball match with a group from BIT and a social mixer before traveling on to the Acrobatics Show.
The next morning we had probably the clearest day in Beijing that I have experienced in a long time. Skies for the day were blue and we enjoyed the clear skies during a morning tour of the Forbidden City followed by lunch and then a visit to Baidu where we heard from Kaiser Kuo, Chief of Investment Relations, where we saw many of the new innovations that Baidu is making in search technology and in integrating personal media and search. We ended the day with a presentation by Mr. Jerome Ma, Managing Director of Government Affairs, Lenovo Group who spoke about his company and also challenged the EMBAs to think more broadly and more internationally.
On the last day we met with the US Embassy in the morning for a round-up briefing on all sectors in China before visiting two China media companies. Our first visit was to Enlight Media which was established in 1998 and is not the biggest privately owned multi-media company in China. It is a listed company on the stock exchange and last year produced a movie called “Lost in Thailand” that for a very low initial investment returned over a 1 billion RMB gross and became the most financially successful film in recent history (not only in China but worldwide). Later we visited the Dalian Wanda Group which also produces films. The Dalian Wanda Group has the largest cinema chin in China and last year bought the American AMC cinema chain to add to its worldwide holding.
Each time I start one of these trips, it seems that it will be a long time together but all too fast the time is gone. This year’s LMU group was a great group to travel with and to see how they profited from what they saw and heard. I wish them and the University every success.
About the Author:
Christopher W. Runckel, a former senior US diplomat who served in many counties in Asia, is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark Law School. He served as Deputy General Counsel of President Gerald Ford’s Presidential Clemency Board. Mr. Runckel is the principal and founder of Runckel & Associates, a Portland, Oregon based consulting company that assists businesses expand business opportunities in Asia. (www.business-in-asia.com)
Until April of 1999, Mr. Runckel was Minister-Counselor of the US Embassy in Beijing, China. Mr. Runckel lived and worked in Thailand for over six years. He was the first permanently assigned U.S. diplomat to return to Vietnam after the Vietnam War. In 1997, he was awarded the U.S. Department of States highest award for service, the Distinguished Honor Award, for his contribution to improving U.S.-Vietnam relations.