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Until It Sticks

In one of my previous lives, I worked as a the sales/marketing director of a Korean soccer company trying to make entry into the US market (and here’s the defunct website-unchanged since 2003).

We realized (by we, I mean everyone except the guy in charge) early on that the company was underfunded and ill-prepared to enter the competitive US market. For instance, they didn’t have US shoe sizing down properly, weren’t spec’ed for US apparel regulations, and had severely underestimated marketing costs in the US. And we realized it early on. I would say by week 2, but the executive director was in denial. We did enough market research to know that Nike and Adidas had a menacing presence on the soccer market and had correctly diagnosed the fact that the MLS was going to grow with or without Beckham, and already at the youth and college level, soccer was multi-billion dollar industry.

But even though we knew it, we set out on our little version of Iraq anyway. We got warehouse space, developed brochures, had samples sent in, met with buyers, spoke with media outlets, went to national conferences, courted big box chains as well as the omnipresent Eurosport. We talked to everyone we could think of at every level in any corner of the country. But nothing stuck.

And when myself and my coworker were very low in morale and having seen the writing on the wall since week 2, we begged the director to stop and reconsider. What was he waiting for?

He replied at length about how Koreans were known for their passion and determination. He talked about the will of the Korean people who rose up from the ashes of the Japanese occupation and the Korean War. He referenced Hyundai and Samsung once laughingstocks now leading a diverse array of markets and way ahead of technology in America. In his best dramatic tone (closely modeled off of Keanu Reeves I think in retrospect), he said that Korean blood ran through our veins though we were born in America and we must never say die. Even the most ludicrous, absurd goal, Koreans have the power to achieve it. If what we’re doing right now isn’t working, try something else. And if that doesn’t work, try something else. We try and try until it sticks. But if we keep at it, one day it will work.

When I pressed him for a vision, a strategy, a plan, he just shrugged. We can do whatever – whatever works, he replied. He made it sound like a position of strength, like “We can do anything. Anything is possible.” I remember thinking, wow, you have absolutely no idea…

I lasted about ten months before I quit. But like I said, from where I was sitting, he was way in over his head before week 2.

The thing that remains with me is the haunting feeling that the director really believed what he thought about the tireless Korean spirit. Did he really just expect good things to happen even when he had no real plan or strategy? Did he expect Nike and Adidas to do a double take at this no-name brand that was virtually unknown even in its country of origin? Sorry, I forgot that they sponsored the national team of Bahrain one year. My bad.

Seriously though, after serving at a Korean church not long after, I remember hearing some similar things from the senior pastor there, well, except that the language was spiritualized. Is it true that Koreans just have a sense of “let’s just throw stuff around until it sticks” mentality?

Do Korean American pastors really think this is just going to work itself out? Silent exodus, whatever. Multi-ethnic churches, sure. We can do it all. Let’s try this and oh, I heard that other church down the street is doing such and such. Why don’t we try to do that. And I heard there’s a good speaker, let’s get a praise night together, oh and I heard coffee shops and bean bags are in,  oh, you’re right we should get more socially active now, blah bob lob law…

Really? Just throw whatever around, huh?


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

3 responses to “Until It Sticks

  1. Pingback: The Korean Spirit « the hwannie corner

  2. Tony Lee ⋅

    Until it sticks huh? I “stuck it” to the “exec direc” the very last week and made him cry. I felt bad about doing that — but not too much! :mrgreen:

  3. sue ⋅

    um, i can’t believe i hadn’t seen this until now. please tweet when you blog…or i guess i can subscribe. =)

    i love how you know not to include frivolous details (sign of a good writer) that i would have struggled more to leave out; they did not add to your main purpose, so you didn’t mention that it. oh sad details that i quite revel in….like how it was a 2 and a half person staff (and if i was really honest, i’d take the half off b/c the non entity that was our boss did enough bad to negate the work of our part timer!), and that we were the b*tches that had to be his moronic voice in those embarrassing meetings (pardon my language, but thats how i felt!). ack.

    won’t ever forget your patience in mentoring me and showing me the wonders of excel. you listened to me whine all the day long, and only put on the “annoyed older borther face” on the rarest of occasions. =) perhaps our experience is the true testament of the “korean spirit” of resilience under persecution! we made a commitment to give it a go…and gave much more of our time/selves than kika deserved.

    yeah, i see the parallel you’ve aligned with the floundering, delusional kika boss tactics and many korean churches. ultimately its the saddest case of lack of vision, b/c of the proud, “we’ll just keep trying stuff since we are driven, masochistic koreans” sum up their vision in the method (blind folded darts). not a sustainable model.

    by the way, hey tony. survivors united? =)

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