Korea ranks behind many of its developed and less developed Asian neighbors in many major economic freedoms and indices.
The major monkeys on the back of the Korean economy, according to some surveys, include restrictive trade policies, a bloated bureaucracy, high tax rates, and over regulation of credit, business, labor and whatever else the bureaucracy thinks it can get its hands on.
These indices are a useful guide for businesses considering entering the Korean market, however, they must never be viewed in isolation from other realities.
The indices never consider the inherent difficulties in doing business in the developing world. Many of these difficulties are not present or even considered in Korea. One of these difficulties was evident during my recent trip to one of the world’s favorite vacation destinations.
I awoke at about 8 a.m. to a fully developed adult monkey sitting on top of the TV feasting on a bowl of fruits. Awakening to a monkey in your hotel room is entertaining; trying to get a “five-star” hotel in a developing economy to remove a monkey from a hotel room is simply hysterical.
I sensed in my recent trip to one of Asia’s favorite banana republics that if my hotel is any reflection of the nation’s work force, Korea has little to fear from this emerging economy. The developing economy is often labeled as more economically freer than Korea in many major categories of these economic freedom indices and equal or only a little lower than Korea in many others.
Awakening to the monkey on your TV eating fruit from the hotel supplied fruit bowl, I thought it would be best to call the reception desk. I suspected that they wouldn’t check him into a different room, but would check him out of my room.
Calling to the reception desk, I proclaimed in what must have sounded like an excited voice “a monkey is on the TV.” Reception: “TV needed fixed. Transferred call to repair.” “No. No. A monkey is on top of the TV” I proclaimed. Reception: “Ok. Ok.” After a few choice words influenced by an Irish temper and Italian wit, I was transferred to a repair guy.
The repair guy, after having a good laugh and asking if the monkey was of any relation, advised that this is a matter that room service will take care of so. He quickly transferred me to room service.
I explained the situation to room service and explained how the monkey has now taken my swim shorts into the shower room. I suspect the shorts were a little too big for the monkey. I was a little concerned that I may have to choose between swimming in the buff or in Asian-sized swimwear.
The buff, I was sensing, may be a little more comfortable than the Asia-sized swimwear alternative. The room service man said sorry since they don’t handle these issues and he quickly transferred me back to the reception desk.
Of course, a who’s on first conversation ensued leading me to request a gun and two bullets. One of the bullets was intended for the monkey and none were intended for me. I learned quickly that monkeys seem to understand that loud profanity is a sign to leave and leave without my shorts.
I have had the pleasure of assisting clients in doing business in China, Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and a few other Asian nations. Yes Korea has many structural problems caused by its bloated bureaucracy and overregulation of everything; however, in Korea you are far more likely to find employees to handle your monkey problems.
Korea does need to get the figurative monkeys off of its back; however, investors should never consider, alone, these indicators as tools in choosing investment options.
For most companies establishing an office in a foreign nation, the most important consideration should be access to a quality labor pool. Korea may not have the world’s greatest labor pool, but you are sure to find employees to handle all of your monkey business.
Appeared in the Korea Times on October 9, 2010.
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