Published : 2010-03-30 17:31
Updated : 2010-03-30 17:31
Jurgen Konig has been leading Merck Limited Korea, the local unit of the world`s oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company in the world, since last August.
As the local chief of the German-based company with a history spanning more than 300 years, he sees Merck`s competitive edge and opportunities in Korea as being in liquid crystals, pharmaceuticals, pigments, life science and analytics.
"Opportunities in Korea are in both chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and we see big opportunities in the areas of oncology, diabetes, cardiovascular, fertility and growth hormones," Konig said.
Korea`s aging population and still nascent pharmaceutical industry -- compared to the information and communications technology sector -- are two major reasons for growth potential. Konig said Merck also has every reason to be in the Korean market investing in research and development facilities in its chemical sector. He stressed that it is only right for Merck to be in Korea as the company has been a pioneer of liquid crystals, the key component for creating the revolutionary thin television monitors and computer screens by Samsung and LG.
"Korean society is getting older and older, which is an opportunity for our pharmaceutical business, while major industry players needing liquid crystals are also right here, ranging from the printing industry, textiles, automobiles, and mobile phones to cosmetics," the 55-year-old executive said. "We have two big customers in Korea, so we produce the liquid crystals here, the raw material, in Pyeongtaek," he added.
He noted that his company also produces the chemicals for producing light-emitting diodes, which Samsung has applied to create its latest technological innovation for portable devices and TVs.
As a specialist in raw materials like chemicals, it is most often the case that the company`s efforts are overlooked.
"We go unnoticed most of the times, but we also produce the raw materials for pharmaceuticals, as well as pigments for automobiles, cell phones and cosmetics, which produce the color and glossy effect," the chief said.
Konig, who assumed his post in August 2008, said Merck`s second R&D center here will be completed in December. The 14 billion won investment was made to provide more space for conducting research in such areas as liquid crystals.
He believes Korea is the "perfect test market."
"Korea is a big consumer market; Koreans think on a month basis, while the Germans think on a three- to four-year basis," Konig said, referring to Koreans` unique nature to change mobile phones within a year because of their sensitivity to technology trends.
The art buff said the current economic downturn makes it the "right moment" to make investments.
"We need to invest more in R&D to come out of the crisis well-prepared," he said, noting that investing is also cheaper now because not as many companies will be making investments.
Before coming to Merck, the father of two had taken on various management positions at BASF between 1977 and 1998, and served as managing director of BASF Pharma in Pakistan from 1998 to 2001. He was then plucked to take on the managing director position at Merck Pakistan, where he stayed for almost nine years.
Today, in addition to managing Merck Korea, Konig is serving as the chair of the Pharmaceutical Committee at the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea. He believes his role as the chamber committee`s head is to help the industry work with the government in a respectful manner. He said he aims to help "clean up misunderstandings" and stressed the need to raise awareness for ethical marketing.
Korea`s pharmaceutical sector has imparted a negative perception, tainted with bribery cases involving doctors offered free golfing rounds, among others, as well as offering rebates.
"I think it`s time for companies to think deeper about code of conduct; if everyone follows them, then such problems would probably not exist," Konig said. He cited the need for making clear rules that are black and white and not open to interpretations.
To the entrepreneur, the free-trade agreement being pursued by Korea and the European Union only means opportunities.
"In my own experiences, I`ve only seen positive results for companies and individuals; it`s about fairness and openness," Konig said. "There is no need to feel uncomfortable or concerned about issues; we just need to create more awareness about FTAs and just respect each other."
As for comfort, the CEO of German-Austrian descent said he always feels at home wherever he goes. In addition to his open-mindedness and diplomatic nature, a quick and wise adaptation strategy is moving everything from home with him, which includes paintings and furniture. This includes hanging an oil-canvas painting by his mother, painted when she was 16, at his office.
"This is the first painting by my mother and I`ve been keeping it at my office for 30 years now," he said, smiling.
By Yoo Soh-jung