Reinsurance firm seeks to be among top five reinsurers globally by 2020; currently top firm in Asia
President Park Jong-won of Korean Re.
"You have to break up your tendency to stay safe in your current surroundings by training your body in tough natural conditions. That is the only way for your firm to continue to develop. Climbing Mt. Everest is an event to show our company's challenge to be a top company in the world," said President Park Jong-won of Korean Re.
CEO Park is leading 15 officers and staff of Korean Re to Nepal to conquer the highest mountain in the world in May on an 11-day tour to climb the 8,848-meter peak. He often joined the reinsurance firm's officers and staff on climbs of some of the well-known peaks in Korea to train their bodies as well as their minds.
This will be the first time for a company in Korea to dispatch a group of its officers and staff to climb Mt. Everest, although they will not go for the highest peak on the mountain. They plan to climb as high as the highest base camp along the ridges of the mountain, officials of the company said.
When CEO Park took over Korean Re in 1998, the company's financial conditions became so bad in the wake of the Asian financial crisis that it was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. He was able to recover the reinsurance firm's financial health in the same year and has since extended his term as president five times, which is considered quite an accomplishment for a former bureaucrat who worked for the Ministry of Finance.
The first thing that Park accomplished when he arrived at Korean Re was to help officers and staff of the company recover their confidence by infusing their minds with the ambition to challenge anything.
"When I first arrived, the employees were negative about everything they did at the company and were afraid of doing anything creative for fear of failure," Park recalled.
When they were told to do something, they said either "too difficult" or "can't do," Park recalled. They needed to be rearmed, and mountain climbing, he thought, would do the job.
He often held mountain climbing trips, leading Korea Re's employees in August every year divided into three teams, including trips in the Mt. Baekdu Range along the country's East Coast. Each team would climb peaks higher than 1,000 meters, with the courses ranging from 30 to 50 km in length. Everyone at the end of the mountain climbing trip spoke about their experiences, many of them in tears, and CEO Park saw them slowly regaining confidence in their jobs as their physical conditions improved, he said.
Korean Re's net profit grew by 11 percent annually on average for the past five years, ranking it 11th in the world and tops in Asia in terms of sales.
President Park is seen leading a group of officers and staff of the reinsurance firm on
Baekdu Daekan Range on the East Coast region of Korea on one of the company's
mountain climbing trips in August every year.
The rapid growth it achieved was owed to ridding itself of bad assets in the first year that Park took the helm as well as starting operations in China and Southeast Asia in 2000, before many foreign reinsurance firms did. Today, Korean Re gets about 20 percent of its revenues from overseas.
The reinsurance firm also developed new products including one that allows a customer firm to get reimbursed if one of its executives causes it to sustain losses.
When Park came to Korean Re it ranked 30th globally, but in a decade it rose to become 10th largest in the world, and by 2020 the company aims to rank among the world's top five largest, Park said.
CEO Park never liked mountain climbing, especially during rainy weather. But he gets great pleasure when he sees many of the employees enjoying it. He said he is a little worried about climbing Mt. Everest since no one in his group are professional mountain climbers, but he hopes everyone will succeed and return home safely. The next challenge, he said, will be to scale Mt. Baekdu in North Korea from the Chinese side. nw