Everything Yoon Seok-keum touched seemed to turn to gold. He was a man who in just three decades, built a 6 trillion won ($5.3 billion) empire from the ground up, armed with nothing but a few good men and a natural gift for sales.
But whether this success story will have a happy ending has become uncertain; Yoon’s company, Woongjin Group, recently filed for court receivership in a desperate bid to prevent a spreading bankruptcy after the group’s construction arm, Kukdong Construction, went down the drain.
“We tried our best to keep the company together, but we failed. I apologize to our creditors and all of our customers,” Yoon said on Wednesday at an emergency board meeting he called to announce the decision to undergo court management.
Desperation, sorrow and fear are probably not nearly enough to explain what Yoon is going through. On Thursday, he stayed away from his beloved company, locked up in his home.
Yoon started his career as an encyclopedia salesman with a natural knack for door-to-door sales. In just a year, he was crowned global sales king at Britannica. In 1980, he founded his own business, Woongjin Publishing Co., which was the precursor to Woongjin Think Big ― a home study materials company.
Think Big was a huge hit, and Woongjin soon became a steady seller in cosmetics and health food. Employees were heady with success and more in love than ever with Yoon, while the world outside knocked on his doors, begging to access Woongjin’s formula for success. Yoon soon began to tour corporate Korea to preach on how compassion is the key to a great company. A couple of years ago, Forbes magazine featured Yoon as one of the 40 richest in Korea.
In the end, it was compassion that trapped Yoon; a man known for making shrewd yet timely decisions, he could not bring himself to get rid of Kukdong. Whether he will be given a second chance to undo the damage now remains in the hands of the creditors and the court.
By Kim Ji-hyun (email@example.com