The Words of Kook Jin Moon
Article Title: "I was put in charge of business: my younger brother was put in charge of our church. I'm working to systematize everything."
The following interview appeared in the August 25 issue of the Weekly Chosun (a magazine made by South Korea's largest newspaper), and is one of a large number of stories resulting from events this year. Kook-jin nim deals candidly with some challenging questions while shedding light on various issues of interest to member and non-member alike. The text includes commentary by Weekly Chosun, written by Jeong Jang-yeol, acting assistant editor.
Last July, the helicopter carrying Rev. Sun Myung Moon's party crashed in bad weather on the slopes of Mt. Jangrak in GaPyung, Gyeonggi Province. The accident attracted the media spotlight at home and abroad. The point of great interest was the fact that although it was a serious accident and the helicopter was completely destroyed, all the passengers including Rev. and Mrs. Moon came out of it safe and sound. Nevertheless, the accident focused attention on the idea of the Unification Church without Sun Myung Moon. Rev. Moon, who has constructed a "religious kingdom" with his strong charisma and amassed wealth, is eighty-eight years old. The Unification Church emphasizes that he is still as fit as a young man, but that does not prevent public attention being drawn to question of what will happen with the Unification Church after the death of Rev. Moon.
As it is, the Unification Church is said to have recently and earnestly restructured based on the [Moon family's] second generation. Last April, Rev. Moon's seventh son, Hyung-jin (29), was inaugurated as FFWPU's international president, thus becoming the new center of the religious sphere. Toward the end of 2005, his fourth son, Kook-jin (38), who had been working in the United States, came to Korea and began the process of taking over management of the Tongil Group. In particular, it is said both within the group and without that in the two years or so since he took over the management as chairman, Moon Kook-jin has succeeded in completely changing the appearance of the Tongil Group, which had plunged into a deep deficit during the Korean financial crisis.
We met with him at his office in the Dowon Building in Mapo, Seoul, on August 11 and heard about the current situation and the future of the second-generation management in the Tongil Group.
Recently, your father, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was involved in a helicopter crash. What were your feelings at the time?
I was in the United States when I received a call from my younger brother, who said, "There has been an accident," and it was a big surprise. I was told, "All sixteen on board are all right," so I did not think it was a serious accident. I saw from the pictures the next day, though, that it had indeed been serious. I took care of matters in the U.S. as quickly as possible and went quickly to Korea. Only when I saw that both my parents were well did I feel relieved.
Afterward, I personally went to see the accident site and could not believe my eyes. The accident was so serious that trees had actually been mown down. I think it is a miracle that all the passengers are unhurt.
Is Rev. Moon in good health?
He has recovered quickly. On August 7, he personally presided over a big event. He is leading an active life in good health, holding Hoon Dok Hae with church members every morning, and so on. He still enjoys fishing, which gives him time to think.
The next generation of the Moon family is emerging, as we can see by the inauguration of your younger brother Hyung-jin as the international president of FFWPU in April. Can we take this to mean that a succession structure has been made definite?
My father entrusted me with the business side and my younger brother with the religious side. It can be said to be the beginning of a second-generation structure. My younger brother is doing well in his ministerial duties. He began at a small church, which grew to ten times its size under him. Because he did well and continued to improve, he was appointed the international president. I am in charge of the businesses, and my role is to assist him.
Many say that the power of the Unification Church stems from its mighty financial resources. Between business and religion, which do you think is more important?
Of course, religion. Our power lies in our faith. In the future, too, our success will lie in the direction of faith. We do business to assist the church. We place importance on business only because money is necessary to develop the church.
Your official title is Chairman of the Foundation for the Support of the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. We are curious about your role and the relationship between the foundation and the Tongil Group.
The corporate entity supporting the church is the foundation. The foundation runs not only the Tongil Group but also other businesses. It also manages church assets including real estate.
It is known that there are many companies run by the Unification Church abroad. Is there any relationship between foreign companies and the Tongil Group or the HSAUWC Foundation?
Our Unification Church was begun under the spiritual guidance of its founder, Rev. Sun Myung Moon. In this respect, the entire organization can be regarded as one. However, as the church grows, believers are creating and leading organizations in various parts of the world and in their own fields, so I do not know in detail about what foreign companies there are. Though there are many foreign companies, there is no way of knowing how many there are.
Because of its unique doctrine that sees Rev. Moon as the Messiah, the Unification Church has been regarded as heretical by the Christian community. Even with regard to its supporting businesses, it is said to be different from other religions. It is known that members of the Unification Church manage hundreds of companies in the United States and Japan alone. In a front-page article, "Special Report: Sushi and Rev. Moon," in April 2006, an American newspaper, the Chicago Tribune spotlighted less well-known businesses with connections to the Unification Church in the U.S. According to the article, more than thirty years ago, Rev. Moon foresaw that fish businesses would produce a handsome profit in the U.S. A seafood products company named True World Group was established. True to Rev. Moon's prediction, this company is now supplying fish to seven thousand restaurants in all regions of the U.S. The Chicago Tribune reported, "Although few seafood lovers may consider they're indirectly supporting Moon's religious movement, they do just that in many restaurants when they eat a buttery slice of tuna or munch on a morsel of eel."
Tell us about the current situation of the Tongil Group.
We have fifteen affiliates including Il Hwa [ginseng and beverages] and Yong Pyong Resort. Last year's sales amounted to a trillion won.
At the time of the financial crisis ten years ago, the group was not in good circumstances; some major companies declared bankruptcy. How is the group doing now?
Other than the Sege Times, all our affiliated companies are in the black. Since being entrusted with the management of the group in 2005, I have restructured all the affiliated companies. I have cut the number of affiliates from thirty to half that number. After I took over, I brought in a large number of experts, including accountants, and replaced 90 percent of the employees. In 2004, the entire group's net loss was 45 billion won and the debt ratio was 760 percent. The group was in crisis, but last year we achieved a performance improvement resulting in a 50 billion won net profit and a debt ratio of 261 percent. In particular, Yong Pyong Resort was suffering a loss of 20 billion won when I took over, but after the restructuring was completed, this year's profit on sales was enough for it to have broken even. We expect to make a considerable net profit if the sale of condominiums currently underway is satisfactorily concluded. Actually, for the first time in the history of the Tongil Group, we are at the beginning of a period in which all the affiliate companies are in the black.
What problems were there when you took over the management of the group?
There was a big problem in the management. There were no expert managers.
The Tongil Group explains that Mr. Moon had already successfully led his own business in the United States, which was the background to his being entrusted with the management of the group. In 1993, he established a firearms manufacturing company, Kahr Arms, and made it into an enterprise whose profit alone amounted to 100 billion won. From his teens, he has designed firearms as a hobby; he holds six patents in firearm design in the U.S. He says, "After I graduated from university, I borrowed some money and began a firearms manufacturing business. I focused on sales; we made six hundred calls a day. That company in the U.S. is the only property I possess."
Do you have particular management principles or philosophy?
I have five management principles, namely result, responsibility, transparency, open communication and trust. I've developed the organization based on these principles. Decisions I made resulted in some people leaving the group; they may not like me, but to those who remain we are able to give a higher salary or more incentives because of our improved performance. At present, the Tongil Group has three thousand employees, 90 percent of whom are not Unification Church members. Working in our group, they have the means to support their families and they pay taxes. I believe the Tongil Group is making a contribution to the nation's economy and society.
Do you think you are a "special person" because you are a son of Rev. Sun Myung Moon?
I greatly respect my father. He has done many great things, such as founding a new religious order and creating many companies. I cannot help respecting him.
However, I do not consider myself different from other people. In order to succeed in life, a person has to make effort in his own way and find his own path in life. Nobody hands out success for free. When I was growing up, I overcame many difficulties and persecution.
What do you mean by persecution?
Throughout the 1970s, the media in the U.S. was hostile to the Unification Church. Because I went to school, I also experienced such things on many occasions. Even when I was grown up and running my own business, many of those I dealt with were wondering what it was that my father was doing. These were among the difficulties I faced.
Will it be difficult to maintain your current position?
I am not here simply to maintain my position. I have come here to bring results, and I am actually doing that. I wouldn't want to be in this position if I weren't bringing results. I am not receiving any payment or compensation here. I am doing this voluntarily for my father.
Do you feel that your father has certain expectations for you?
That is why I am here. If I had not come, the group might still be in the red.
Though you have done well until now, what would you do if you failed in management in the future?
I already have my own business, and I am making products I like. If I were in the U.S., I would have more time to enjoy drives with my family and could spend more time with them. I would be happier on a personal level. While here, I cannot avoid being immersed in work.
He went on to say, "I have five children, the oldest, a girl, is ten years old and the youngest, a boy, is a year old. The whole family moved here when I came to Korea. I have to work, and during the weekend, I have to take care of my parents, so I don't have much time to spend with my family. I feel very sorry about that."
What has been most difficult for you in doing business in Korea?
It is not being fluent in Korean. I speak better Korean now than I did when I first came, but it still is not good enough, which is frustrating and embarrassing.
Many worry that when Rev. Moon, who is rather advanced in years, passes away, the group won't continue as it is now.
It is true that many people indeed have such concerns. Though my father leads people with his charisma, since I came here many areas of operation have been systematized. Because I am not as charismatic as my father, I brought in many capable workers and I am systematizing everything.
What do you think about the vision and the future of the Tongil Group?
We need to create a vision now. The foundation was established to help achieve our religious goals. I will work hard to help my younger brother and make effort to realize my father's great dream.
Il Hwa - Ginseng and Beverages, under government management in 1998 after declaring bankruptcy, repurchased in 2005
Il Shin Stone - Construction materials; the sole listed company
Yong Pyong Resort - Leisure business, taken over from Ssangyong Industries in 2003
Sunwon Construction Co. - Construction industry
Seil Tour - Tourism industry
Ilsang Ocean Development Co. - In charge of the "Yeosu Project" which includes The Ocean Resort
Asia Forum - Cultivation of seafood products, processing of frozen food
Ilheung Shipbuilding and Engineering - Shipbuilding
Tongil Sports - Manages Seongnam Ilhwa Football Club
Pyong Il Communications - Multimedia
Cheonil Education Center - Education, including English language
JC - Producer of sewage treatment chemicals
TIC Industries - Producer of equipment parts, former Tongil Heavy Industries as its axis
Pyung Nong - Management of farmlands; distribution of agricultural and marine products
Segye Times - Media