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Born of this Land - The Founding Story of Hyundai

Below is the book Born of this Land by Jung Joo-young. I've read the book and am just summarizing it for reference. I hope it helps you too.

Overcoming Education With Flexible Ideas

Jung Joo-young only finished elementary school, but he left his hometown to escape the fate of being a farmer. He did not have any higher education, but he had a brain that thought harder than others, a calculation ability that was more precise than others, a sense of adventure that was more active than others, and courage and conviction.

He especially disliked not thinking flexibly. For example, when someone thought that a mixer truck was a finished product and mindlessly waited for a crane, he scolded the worker, asking him why he didn't think of modifying the height of the mixer truck's concrete outlet to the size of the formwork, eliminating the cumbersome crane, shortening the working time and eliminating unnecessary waste of workforce. Jung believed that being a slave to having stereotypes (fixed thoughts) makes you less adaptable. A textbook mindset is a stereotype, a trap that makes us stupid. He felt that if you look for a way, you will find it; if you don't see a way, it's because you haven't thought about it enough. For example, Hyundai Shipbuilding was able to build a shipyard and build ships in two years and three months, which would have taken others five years, because it broke the common sense of 'Hyundai can only build ships after completing building the shipyard'; Hyundai did it side by side. If you're used to avoiding obstacles, you'll only work around them when facing something you must overcome. Another example is that when Jung first started working outsourcing jobs for the US military, Jung had to put fresh green grass on a UN cemetery in the middle of winter. Jung faked it with barley as if it were grass and won the favor of the US military, and from then on, all of our work for the US Army in Korea was Hyundai's.

Give up Short-term Gains for Long-term Vision.

In any endeavor, new challenges require tuition. A smooth ride is not a challenge.

For example, when bidding for a project in the Middle East, he intentionally bid slightly lower, even with a slight loss, to create a workplace where our artisans can earn dollars. The dollars they make are the dollars our country earns. And just by completing this project, Hyundai would've gained an international reputation, which would be very helpful in winning overseas projects in the future. Therefore, winning the bid, even at a low price, was wiser than missing out on the job by focusing on immediate profits.

The Hardship of building the Koryeong Bridge. Hyundai was obsessed with winning the contract and did not calculate, predict, and prepare for other aspects. In the end, Hyundai suffered huge losses due to massive inflation. However, Jung knew that credit was the most important thing for a businessperson, so he pushed forward with the idea that the construction should be completed no matter what. The credit of Hyundai E&C, which ended the building even at a considerable loss, was highly recognized and helped the company win government contracts.

The Hardship of Highway Construction in Thailand. Jung Joo-young represented Hyundai E&C, but he could not think only of Hyundai. He once thought of stopping the project altogether to prevent any further losses. However, controlling the project would have prevented other Korean construction companies from entering overseas markets. Despite suffering considerable losses in constructing the Thai highway, Jung believed that a contract is a contract and must be completed, even if there are financial difficulties. In the end, he suffered huge losses. Still, the construction of the first highway in Korea allowed him to play a leading role among Korean construction companies and paved the way for his rapid growth as an international construction company.

Progress Comes With Risks

Even when Jung experienced a massive fire and was in debt, he pushed forward with the conviction and confidence to make things happen. He believed that meaningful things should be made to happen and that quitting was not an option. Even when he was trying to get a loan for a Hyundai Shipbuilding, which did not have any shipbuilding experience nor any shipyards, he showed the Korean Traditional Turtle Ships(거북선) in his pocket to convince them that the Korean people had been building ironclad ships since the 1500s and that although the Isolation policy had slowed down industrialization and rusted away the people's abilities and ideas, the potential of the Korean people remained.

Disillusionment with politics and authority

During the Korean War, Jung was deeply disappointed by how politicians treated the war casually. He also felt that the country's interests were neglected due to incompetent governments during the development of the modern era. He believes people who can do a good job should be given positions. Instead, every time there is political upheaval, the new regime, to comfort the people and cover up its weaknesses, arrests coddled businesspeople and falsely accuses businesspeople of fraudulent hoarding and tax evasion. Due to the government's lack of integrity, businesses have been prejudiced against. Unfortunately, many people have fallen into the irony that they don't want companies to grow, even though they want them to grow so Korea can compete in the global economy.

Efficiency is Key

When hosting the Olympic Games in Seoul ('88), Hyundai planned and constructed with the principle of preparing thoroughly so there would be no deficit and no regrets. The facilities of a country that invests taxpayer money should be designed and constructed to be the most efficient facilities with the least amount of money.


There's a saying that goes something like 不恥下問. It means there is no shame in asking someone younger than you, or someone with a lower status than you, what you don't know. During the various construction projects, Hyundai learned a lot from the American engineers, who were very serious and willing to learn everything they could.

Time is money

In the early days of Hyundai Auto Services, Jung charged high repair fees by shortening the repair period from ten to about three days. The idea is that people who use cars as their own 'feet' would be happier to have their 'feet' repaired quickly instead of saving a couple of dollars. This applies globally; rather than waiting for the best moment, Hyundai should value time and make efforts. Waiting forever will leave underdeveloped countries behind the developed countries, so Hyundai had to move forward at a higher rate.


Jung believed that the purpose of a company is not only to pursue profit but also to contribute to national and social development. To this end, he argued that companies should pursue growth and profit and fulfill customer satisfaction and social responsibility. Companies are not there to increase the wealth of any individual but to contribute to the future of a more developed country and a more prosperous life for the people while contributing a large share of the taxes used for national welfare.

Jung rejects the argument that the size of companies is a problem, saying that it is essential to strengthening their growth and competitiveness (i.e., Too Big To Fall.) He emphasizes that the problem is companies that monopolize domestic markets and sell domestic products at prices higher than the international competition. Companies should grow by satisfying customers and fulfilling their social responsibilities.

Korean People and Intellectual Resources

Because Hyundai has the world's best weapon, and that weapon is the world's best artisans — the Korean people.

Speaking about Korea's economic development and national patriotism, Jung emphasizes that Korean workers are responsible for the country's world-class construction and shipbuilding and that the country's current economic achievements are due to the efforts of creative and diligent workers. Jung also emphasizes that Korea's human resources are far more valuable than its material resources. The country's wealth is finite, but human creativity and effort are infinite. This means that economic development that relies on resources will stop when those resources are depleted, whereas action through human endeavors is constantly possible.

Jung believes Korea can become the center of Asia and a future Model Nation for the world. He emphasizes that the Korean people can have 60-70 million strong and wise people if unified, but this requires constant effort and dedication. Therefore, the noblest and most valuable thing is for each person to work and study hard for their country and their people.

It was not for the government of the day. It was for my country, where I was born, live, work, and where my children will live. Whether Hyundai likes the government or not, the country will always be ours and our children's. It should be eternal, developing, and prospering day by day.

Constantly Thinking

Jung Joo-young is constantly thinking about what to do with his tail. He harbors and nurtures multiple thoughts and multitasks them. For example, while working on a project for the US military, Jung simultaneously thinks that Jung needs to get a government contract and that Jung needs to go to an overseas market soon. This desire to do big things is a source of energy for entrepreneurs.

President Park Chung-hee

Although President Park was a flawed leader who came to power through a coup d'état, Jung admired Park's determination and commitment to national development, as well as his intelligence and thoroughness in implementing it. Park accurately assessed the state of the Korean economy at the time and made bold, groundbreaking decisions to modernize the economy. Park decided to trust Korean entrepreneurs, who had no experience and a weak foundation, and the government guaranteed the payment of foreign loans based on business plans submitted by entrepreneurs. There was no other thought for Jung but to help the president, selflessly thinking of the country.

Park: I said, the president of a country and the deputy prime minister of the economy is helping you. And you can't do that one thing, so you give up? So you thought this would be easy when you first said you would do it? Of course, you knew it would be difficult. And still, if you made a promise, you should do it no matter what, no matter how you do it, and now you're saying you can't do it because you can't just try it once more? Jung had no words.

Luck is Mostly Timing

Jung believes luck doesn't exist and is mostly about timing. For example, the timely construction of a shipyard in the early 1970s, against everyone's odds, allowed Hyundai E&C to become active in the Middle East in the mid-1970s. The company's presence there helped revitalize a heavy industry that the oil shocks had stranded.

Hyundai's goal

Hyundai aims to create wealth in Korea by earning money overseas.

Rags to riches is a race against the odds. To win this game, the poor must put in more effort than the rich to overcome their disadvantages. 'Hyundai' is a living example of success through sheer hard work.

Challenges and politics of the impossible

Jung was proud of his contribution to Korea's economic development. Still, he could not ignore that the country's financial foundation was faltering, and the path to national prosperity was becoming bleak, so he entered politics. His dream and goal were to bring together the motivation of workers, the enthusiasm of business people, and the people's hopes, which had made economic growth possible, and to reform politics to create an advanced and Unified Korea. No matter what, he was determined to prevent the country from failing and falling and to make it a country where everyone could live happily and rewardingly together.


In-house retained earnings are often cited as one of the causes of the Korean Discount. That is, Korean companies do not pay dividends to shareholders but instead retain the profits in the company, causing the company's stock price to be lower than the market price. While this is known to be a social problem of the current day and age, Jung back in the days held that in-house retention is better than dividends. He believed that creating a company owned by shareholders would make the rich richer and that a reliable centralized company should be built to contribute to society. Again, this may be due to the social status of that time.

Rural Modernization and Food Self-sufficiency

In industrial societies, farming is considered a livelihood, and there are many abandoned lands where young people have left for the city, and only the elderly remain. Even the smallest farms are abandoned because there are no laborers. However, Jung believes that Hyundai should be self-sufficient in food no matter what.

Unions and collective selfishness at Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI)

It was excruciating for the unions at HHI to suffer humiliation year after year, even though their treatment was so harsh, their working environment so harmful, and their welfare so inferior that they played a leading role in national union activities. They worked very hard, but I was doing my best. I felt an unspeakable sense of betrayal from them as if I had become a rogue entrepreneur who had achieved modernity by exploiting their wages. Their demands had nothing to do with the company's difficult situation and were endless. I miss those days when the country was united in its desire to escape poverty, and people worked day and night like fighters for independence. Even though they worked in much worse conditions, were treated much worse, had no proper equipment, and did almost manual labor, they had a sense of duty and pride in being an industrial force that played a role in the country's economic development. Their hard work should not be sacrificed to collective selfishness, which has made this country worth living in. Do we want to return to the poverty of the past? Without a country, there are no people; without companies, there is no workplace.

Temporary Hardships may Exist; but never a Complete failure.

Try your best until the end, when there is nothing more to do. No matter what Jung does, Jung has never had the habit of quitting. He believes it is essential not to give up halfway through, even in the face of difficulties and trials, and emphasizes that it is linked to the company's and the country's development.