The Korea Herald


‘Giving can transform your life’

By Korea Herald

Published : March 11, 2013 - 19:53

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The following is the fifth article in a series featuring support and networking systems for foreigner-owned businesses in Korea. Intern reporter Lee Sang-ju contributed to this report. ― Ed.

Yoon Hyeong-seok believes that helping others before helping oneself is not only a mantra for daily living, but for better business.

“If you really know the joys of giving, it could transform your life,” said Yoon, director of the Korean chapter of Business Network International.

It’s this philosophy on which BNI was founded in 1985 and has led the referral-based business networking organization to grow to more than 150,000 members in 51 countries.

“Our fundamental core philosophy is ‘givers gain,’” Yoon said in an interview with The Korea Herald. “I try my best to embody that philosophy in everyday life.”
Members listen during Business Network International Korea’s meeting on March 5 in Gangnam, southern Seoul. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald) Members listen during Business Network International Korea’s meeting on March 5 in Gangnam, southern Seoul. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

Yoon, formerly a patent lawyer turned life development coach, said he was driven by his passions for motivating and helping people to take the reins of BNI Korea in 2007. Being introduced to BNI while living overseas, he saw potential in the network to help local small-business people.

“They are on their own. ... If they don’t sell, they cannot feed their family,” Yoon said. “I wanted to help them. ... I wanted to do something meaningful.”

Similarly, BNI functions on the idea that what goes around comes around, and those who help others grow their businesses will get a greater return in the future. At each weekly meeting, all members must make at least one business referral to a fellow member, whether for business deals or potential partnerships. Members must also regularly invite non-members to the meetings.

To aid the “givers gain” mindset, Yoon says, a fundamental difference between BNI and other networking groups is that it’s strictly business.

“Our members join BNI purely to make money. That’s how we serve the small and mid-sized business owners,” said Yoon. “There are a ton of networking organizations especially in Korea where people get together, get drunk, go to karaoke and exchange business cards, hoping that someday, some of them will give you business. But most of the time it never happens.”

The group attains its objective through a rigid structure. Every meeting worldwide starts with a brief history of BNI before opening the floor for each member to give a short presentation, typically one minute, on their business and their networking needs. Then members must present their referrals to the group and thank any fellow members who helped them close a business deal, with all referrals and successes noted in the chapter’s records to keep track of each member’s effectiveness.

Membership fees cover professional networking support, marketing and presentation training, ongoing coaching, and access to do business with the 150,000 members worldwide. After joining and paying the membership dues, new members are then teamed up with mentors to help them learn the ropes.

As the group grows through word-of-mouth marketing, new members generally must come recommended by a current BNI member. Only one businessperson per field is allowed per chapter, so membership is diverse and direct competition between members is minimized. Joining the group is a lengthy, regulated process that may take three to four months and requires the approval of the current members. Not everyone is a good match, Yoon notes, stressing that applicants must be networking-oriented.

“We look at the minimum level of your networking power,” he said. “(If) you are not influential ... then you are not a good member and we don’t need you, even if you have a big business.”

Jung Tae-ryeon, who has recently repatriated to work at his family’s manufacturing business in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, says his local network is limited due to his many years living overseas. A former member of BNI in Japan, he hopes the Korean chapter will streamline his business opportunities.

“When I need some advice...I usually check with my relatives,” he said. “Instead of doing that, through this network, I can directly ask people here, so it will reduce time to find someone.”

Eun Ji-sung, president of Eunice entertainment agency, said that the group has helped to expand her network and accomplishments.

“I earned income through courses I had not even considered,” said Eun, who joined the Korea chapter eight months ago. “(Fellow members) have referred me to great people, and for three months last year, I recorded the biggest earnings of the group.”

Kim Moo-gyeom started off five years ago with a small flower shop, UFlower, and said he was willing to try anything to do business. He said that since he joined the chapter his business has grown fivefold, which he largely attributes to his BNI connections. Now he is pioneering a new business and also works with a company in Vietnam to develop charcoal cubes to hold plants.

Beyond getting business deal opportunities from fellow members, he hopes to further partner with them for their businesses to grow together.

“BNI gives me a sense of security,” he said. “I think about half of the members feel the same over time (as our relationships strengthen). Trust grows with time.”

BNI Korea meets every Tuesday at 7 a.m. in a hotel in Gangnam, southern Seoul. BNI Korea is preparing to open a second chapter in April in the Jonggak area, and Yoon says he will open an English-only chapter as soon as he secures the minimum number of interested members.

Visit Business Network International at, and BNI Korea at

By Elaine Ramirez (