The Words of the Bang Family

Where Business Meets Faith - Interview of Young Sup Bang

February 10, 2009

This interview of Vice-chairman Bang Young-sup of the HSA-UWC Foundation, which manages the Tongil Group of companies, was conducted in his office on February 10. Subsequently, Mr. Bang reviewed the transcript and made valuable additions.

Before coming to the Foundation to Support HSA-UWC, what had you heard about Rev. Moon in a business (or other) context?

Forty years ago, I worked as a public servant for the government and my interest in the Unification Church was similar to that of the general public, which believed that the Unification Church was a strange nebulous, newly rising religion, and had little interest in it.

My interest in the church developed because of an incident in the United States between 1976-78 involving a Korean government agency supposedly dealing with members of the United States Congress and accusations of illegal lobbying activities. Second Lieutenant Tong-sun Park was one those involved in the Koreagate scandal. High-ranking Unification Church officials were also accused of involvement. These events facilitated the launching of an investigation by the Fraser committee into possible illegal activity by the Unification Church. It was both surprising and remarkable to see how the Unification Church overcame Fraser's personal, fierce discrimination and his resolve to obliterate the Unification Church at a time when racial discrimination was strong in America. At that time, the Tongil Group invited professors, reporters and politicians -- leaders and critics in a variety of fields from America and Japan who were of Korean descent to show them the activities of the Tongil Group. The people who came to these gatherings consistently conveyed the sentiment, I am proud to be born a Korean and proud to be of the Han race. They came away with a sense of pride and self-esteem.

It was astonishing to see that, regardless of his skin color and his race, so many believers were following and revering a Korean man as "Father." His followers went with him to Madison Square Garden [June 7, 1975] and New York's Yankee Stadium [June 1, 1976] rallies and especially impressive was the great gathering at the Washington Monument public square [September 18, 1976], where tens of thousands, no hundreds of thousands of people, came to hear and see him.

How could this happen? This mysterious ability possessed by Rev. Moon is what led me to respect him.

The history of the Korean race includes countless instances of invasion and control by other nations, politically, economically, socially, culturally, religiously and so forth. These were due to ideological subjugation and poverty; therefore the Korean people could not show their bright culture and their essence, which is love of peace.

However, in the 1960s the Korean people were able to overcome poverty and begin to extend her wings for the sake of spreading world peace. I felt that the central figure for that beginning was Rev. Moon. At that time, I did not know the Unification Principle; I respected and looked at Rev. Moon simply as a Korean hero who would make Korea and the Korean race shine in this era.

I believe that a nation's ideological structure and the type of person that leads the nation are determining factors in whether a nation flourishes or perishes. If I can give an example, under communism, especially in a nation with an absolute dictatorship, people do not live well compared to those in a humanistic, democratic society or in a country which has selected a capitalistic market economy. Moreover, the particular leader has a big influence nation on things.

From the late 1960s through the 1970s communism grew in strength and became cosmopolitan, causing a domino effect, bringing fear and terror to humanity. Right about that time, not only in Korea but also in Japan and America, the Unification Church launched great activities, such as the anticommunist movement Victory over Communism movement to counter atheistic influence and power. Because of this, even though Christians and the general public alike slandered and distorted the views of the Unification Church, the government could not help feeling grateful for the patriotic activities of the Unification Church, because the government also longed for their homeland to see the end of poverty and longed to modernize Korea. Eventually, I too could not help feeling respect for Rev. Moon and positive toward the Unification Movement.

Moreover, the Tongil Group is not just an abstract spiritual movement; it also consists of Tongil Industries such as Il Hwa, which produces ginseng products and beverages; it invests in industry and it became directly involved in the economic development movement. During that difficult time, they started the Little Angels School, Sun Hwa Arts School and other things and played a leading role in developing the educational and cultural areas, thus enhancing national prestige and causing the general public to feel a sense of awe toward the movement.

It was at about that time that my relationship with the movement began, when one of their companies had managerial problems. In order to fix the problem, which I saw as a small opportunity to help the Tongil Group, I met one of their overburdened leading executives. Who could have guessed that this small opportunity would lead to another meeting thirty years later, which was the providential seed for attending "True Parents" and working in the HSA-UWC Foundation?

After coming into contact with the Unification Principle, I realized that it was Heaven's Principle, which went beyond Korea's unification and peace; it was a worldview looking to eradicate conflict and disagreements throughout the world, and also involved the construction of heaven on earth connected to the spirit world.

With your business background, you could work anywhere. What impelled you to come to the HSA-UWC Foundation, especially when -- as was true in those days -- many of its companies were in poor condition?

Coming to the foundation was also serendipitous. In 1979, when Chun Doo-hwan came to power, I quit my government post and became first a business executive employed by the government. Then I worked for Ssangyong Motors. After that I was the representative of the Daehan Chosun Construction's building division and finally I worked for the Hanjin Group for ten years. At the beginning of 2000, around the time I was about to retire from the Hanjin Group, I was asked if I would take on the responsibility of resurrecting one of the weak companies that were in court receivership.

In Korea, in 1998, they faced the so called "IMF" situation, where many weak companies fell into bankruptcy. In order to resolve this, the government enforced a policy of court supervision to revive them. In the past, from what I'm aware, creditor banks sent administrators to manage bankrupt companies, but the courts felt this was an inefficient system, so they chose specialized managers from the respective fields and asked them restructure the management systems.

The Tongil Group had lost its right to manage key companies including Ilsung, Il Hwa, Tongil Heavy Industries, Ilshin Stone and Hankook Titanium, which had gone bankrupt. I received a proposal from the legal management officer, and although there were other large companies to choose from, such as Shinhwa Industries -- perhaps because of my deep, lasting relationship with Tongil Group -- I wanted to resurrect Ilsung Construction, which was part of that group. It seems to me that some providential element related to True Parents was involved here. From a secular point of view, I would have wanted to manage a larger company, but I went to a company where the manager that the creditor bank had sent had given up. I still don't quite understand how I was assigned to that position.

That first year I was there, I could show some profit as a result of my management. The Tongil Group successfully acquired the Ilsung Construction Company. When he was made the foundation's president in 2005, Moon Kook-jin saw that result. According to him, Father gave approval for me to work in the foundation because Kook-jin nim saw that thirty companies were all running at a deficit and the only company, Ilsung Construction, was making a profit.

Kook-jin nim has publicly expressed admiration for your abilities. How much have your abilities been forged by the periods of economic hardship Korea has experienced during your working life?

Well, more than having any particular ability, I have tried to live my life with integrity. So no matter what work I have been given to do, waking or sleeping, I thought about how to accomplish everything, how to find the way to develop. When I think about such matters night and day, solutions come. When a solution becomes apparent, I boldly drive forward and in this way I am usually successful in solving problems. For about thirty years, since I retired from public office, I've served as an expert manager in a class of CEOs who are in demand and who are employed by the owners of large enterprises. It was especially second-generation owners who requested my help. I've never tried to seek out a position. I was always scouted out and recommended for a position.

Even at a young age, while working in public office, I was recognized for my abilities and promoted. The networking contacts I made during my time in public office became helpful in my work with the private enterprises at the level of CEO, and I could apply the knowledge and experience I had gained in managing private enterprises over a period of thirty years to reviving Ilsung Construction.

I could accumulate more knowledge and experience while managing Ilsung Construction as an insolvent enterprise because an insolvent enterprise has more problems than a normal enterprise. Many situations present themselves for study.

I believe that having the foundation of these experiences will be helpful to me in running the foundation. Interestingly enough, I have always been successful in areas of work not related to my major. I was successfully able to export jeeps to Libya without any knowledge about automobiles, and when I was put in charge of the construction division of the Daehan Shipbuilding Public Corporation, which had been running a deficit, I was able to make a profit. When I belonged to Hanjin Construction, I enhanced its market value with many large projects -- whether through gaining orders or carrying out construction -- such as the runway at Yeongjong-do Airport. I also revived the Ilsung Construction Company.

I'm not a specialist in the religious field but I think that every organization has similar principles. In order to manifest True Parents' ideal, I think we have to increase the amount of people who understand and follow the path True Parents have laid down.

What would you say are the most significant changes that have taken place in the companies since you first arrived? What factors were most instrumental in causing these changes?

I cannot say the remarkable changes that took place were because I came to the foundation. It was because Moon Kook-jin came and showed leadership that these changes occurred. When he was installed as chairman of the foundation in 2005, there were thirty companies, small and large, and overall, there was a lot of debt, $50 to $60 million per year. Kook-jin nim's management skills are outstanding. He hired CPAs, lawyers and other professionals and dissolved companies that were beyond recovery. Some companies were merged, and in companies where a turnaround was possible, he enforced a strong level of restructuring and trained the management of each company by instilling the spirit of entrepreneurship. Within just a year, by 2006, we broke out of the money-losing pattern. By 2007 we made a $50 million profit, all a result of Kook-jin nim's management. All I did was make sure that his management philosophy was implemented. In 2008 we still made about $30 million profit, excluding Central City and Ilsung Construction, which had the best profit structure but are no longer under foundation management as of 2008.

To take an example from one of our companies, Il Hwa had never made money in thirty years, but in its first year under Kook-jin nim, it made several hundred thousand dollars profit, and in 2008, seven million. Even the losses incurred by the Segye Times were cut by two thirds in two years. Not only were the people at Segye Times startled at the results, people in the Korean media world were also startled. The credit for this remarkable achievement belongs to the chairman, Moon Kook-jin.

What is Kook-jin nim's special ability?

First, he is gifted with numbers. Whether he is looking at a balance sheet, calculating profit or loss, or looking at the cash flow, he quickly understands where the sickness in the corporation is, where the problem lies. This is not just because he studied economics at university and got an MBA at graduate school. He actually founded his own company and has the experience of succeeding as a CEO. Because he has ten years' experience, he could take the theory and practice it. He also works hard. He modernized and raised efficiency in operations by bringing in an IT-based management system. He personally reviews all the proposals that require his approval and signature. Sometimes three times a week he eats pizza in his office for dinner as he works. He does not show preference for shared geographic ties, family relations, or fellow alumni when dealing with personnel affairs.

He manages his staff based on their ability and never fails to reward a job well done or let a fault go unpunished. Thus, the organization can exert a good influence. That Kook-jin nim, a True Son, came to the Tongil Group is a great blessing.

In simple terms, how much exposure do the companies managed by the foundation have to the present financial crisis?

The HSA-UWC Foundation is experiencing difficulty in the current economic crisis. The question is what is the best way to keep going. It is strong companies that survive in these circumstances. We are therefore checking all of the funding plans. It is actually fortunate that Kook-jin nim does not overinvest for the sake of growth. He makes a thorough analysis and does not invest in anything that is not clearly advantageous. Nevertheless, the companies in our group still have problems; they are working effort to survive by restructuring and cutting costs.

What has been your experience working with Kook-jin nim? Does anything about his method of operating or philosophical outlook differ from those of others you've worked under?

Kook-jin nim is the fourth person I have worked under who is the son of a conglomerate founder. Kook-jin nim's character is different from the other sons, however. Most second-generation entrepreneurs took over their enterprises, whereas Kook-jin nim started one from scratch. Most second-generation business group owners have not gone through difficulty; rather, they inherited the business as it was. All these second generation entrepreneurs I worked under were wonderful people, but Kook-jin nim is a little different. He, by contrast, has the experience of founding a company. And when he was given responsibility for the foundation, it was really a huge headache. Everything was in the red, but because he had gone through the difficulties of launching his own company, he had experience with the difficulties involved in building up a business. For this reason, he is able to guide the HSA-UWC Foundation during this crisis. He is different in that respect.

Also, as I mentioned, he has applied the main principles of his economic doctrine, such as transparency, accountability, reporting results and productive discussion. Under those management principles, nothing has been hidden. Everything to do with the business foundation is available to the public. When we implemented this, some people in the companies were very worried. They asked if we were actually going to publicize such closely guarded information. But Kook-jin nim went ahead with it, saying that if we are transparent there is no reason we cannot publicize information. We were able to dispel concerns by showing how much more effective and productive this has made us.

We have disseminated this culture to all our companies, and it is translating into results. Kook-jin nim combines his intellectual ability with his management ability. He has decision-making sense and drive. Therefore, I have hope for the HSA-UWC Foundation. And the results are visible.

Kook-jin nim has said the Korean language was initially challenging for him. From your observations, are there other points of Korean business culture that Kook-jin nim has had to adjust to?

When Kook-jin nim received his appointment, he was very unfamiliar with the Korean language, but he has improved to the point that he can now give speeches in Korean.

He was at first dismayed at the lukewarm culture and opaque patronage system within the business group, but he adhered to a principled and transparent management style. As a result, he has made improvements where there were weak points. Kook-jin nim is very humble compared to the other second-generation business owners who don't like to humble themselves to others.

When Kook-jin nim is meeting the presidents of newspapers or prominent leaders in other groups, he visits them personally, and politely asks for their advice. Then they develop a close relationship and help him with the information he is asking for. He has received a lot of praise for that. So I would say that even compared to other second-generation entrepreneurs in Korea, he has swiftly adapted to Korean business culture.

What is it like to work for a business organization that exists for religious, spiritual and idealistic purposes? To be frank, I face many difficulties because I work at the foundation of a religious body. There were times when the executives kept me at a respectful distance because it had not been so long since I had come to work here. Whenever I went somewhere, I usually went alone. But people cannot work alone, right? That's why I received help, but I still encountered many difficulties.

After I began working here, I took the initiative to set an example of working transparently based on management principles. I gave my ideas and took initiative, so naturally this distance disappeared. However, I still faced a lot of difficulty in communicating with church leaders. The purpose of the foundation is to make money and manage companies to help religious activities. Secondly, it is to manage the religious body's assets and make sure they make profit. The general membership viewed the foundation as not being able to make money. It had that kind of negative image. The burden is on us to show that we are making money and helping our faith activities.

After Kook-jin nim's arrival, we began to make some money, though not a lot at first; we began supporting the churches, which is what the companies were originally supposed to be doing. When I was working at a company I rested on the weekends; now I go to church on Sundays and do service activities, so I have practically no days off in my work! Saturday is the only day that I have off during the week.

Could you describe what it was like to go through the Divine Principle sessions, which expressed the founder's vision?

Actually, now that I'm working in a church organization, of course I wanted to learn more about it and also about the Unification Principle. I believe the foundation can do much better when it is aligned with the providential perspective. I wondered what all the frenzy was about when it came to Reverend Moon's Unification Principle. I had many misgivings about whether or not they could possibly have a worldwide foundation.

Interestingly enough, when I worked in Ilsung Construction Company, not one member that I met asked me to become a follower of the movement, suggested I read the Principle, attend a Principle workshop or even tried to witness to me. However, as a result of meeting Kook-jin nim and by his invitation, I received Principle education and also the marriage blessing.

I was curious about the Unification Principle, so I had read Truth Is My Sword by Pak Bo-hi, and some other Unificationist books. It was at Kook-jin nim's suggestion, though, that I was able to attend a four-day workshop for the first time and learn the systematic contents of the Divine Principle. I then finally received the blessing. But of course can one say that he knows the Principle after a four-day workshop? Since I believed deeper knowledge of the Principle was necessary, I asked the Headquarters to prepare a series of Divine Principle lectures for two hours a day, over the course of a month, for all the foundation workers including those with specialized responsibilities.

Actually, from when the foundation first came into existence, not all the company personnel have been church members, but the members themselves had little pride in being Unificationists and did not actively try to witness. They had little self-pride and seemed close-minded, which I absolutely believe is a fundamental problem in developing a church and it's an even more fundamental problem in developing a business.

Immediately after I consulted with Kook-jin nim and started the "Founders Education" workshop. I felt that our company personnel needed to know exactly the purpose for which this company was founded, and that as true Tongil Group members, they all needed to have pride and dignity in order to help in their group synergy.

Right now, True Parents' Unification Principle is being taught at four-day workshops. We set up an education program that explains the pure essence of the Principle without secular content. Hundreds of employees have attended the various sessions, and a good number of them are becoming members at the Headquarters Church.

The Unification Principle is a continuation of the Old Testament and the New Testament, with Rev. Moon having come as the new savior to fulfill and complete the mission of Jesus Christ. With the purpose of establishing a religion to unify all religions and races, Rev. Moon has come to substantiate God's ideal through the Unification Principle and has advanced the providence to bring peace all throughout the world. As we are alive, we should have pride in this fact and oppose statements made by passersby in the street that we are heretics. We must let people know the historical, biblical and geopolitical perspectives that indicate why Rev. Moon had to come as the savior. They must come to understand and be moved by this scientific principle that explains why we were born, God's purpose of creating, the importance of the family and the source of true love.

I am amazed and feel such pride in the fact that our faith has gained a global foundation during the life of its founder.

We understand that you have been working for some time as the treasurer of the Headquarters Church in Seoul. How do the changes being implemented affect the church side?

After his appointment in 2005, Kook-jin nim visited a hundred and twenty churches to see how they were managed. I came to understand that some churches were not run transparently at that time, and sometimes members did not have complete trust in the church leaders. Leadership and money management were not always carried out based on clear principles. Thus, the church had considerable difficulty developing.

Moreover, in certain of the large Christian churches, there have been problems of the type seen in ordinary society. Thus, immorality has sometimes led to a lack of transparency in managing churches.

Kook-jin nim and Hyung-jin nim, however, are implementing a policy through which things must be done in a thoroughly transparent way, so that the members can maintain trust. If we are trying to bring about unity and peace among religions and ethnic peoples and to globalize True Parents' Divine Principle, we must first ask ourselves, Can't we take the initiative and set the example? Can't we be transparent and worthy of trust?

At the request of Hyung-jin nim, who is the senior pastor of the Headquarters Church, I make public and announce (every two months at the end of the Sunday service) the new membership figures, how much offering money has been collected and how it is being used. I do this in my position as treasurer of the Headquarters Church. Over a period of time there have been many press releases and interviews with Hyung-jin nim, and we have seen journalists respond by reporting that the Unification Church is more ethical and transparent than the large mainstream churches.

In particular, as the reporters learn about this true church leader who wears traditional Korean clothing, works by day in a tiny room, personally serves these journalists tea, offers devotions in the early hours of the morning, is greatly acquainted with the principles of each religion, knowing the Bible, the Koran and the Buddhist scriptures, and who prays while walking around the Jogye Buddhist Headquarters Temple, the Catholic Cathedral in Seoul and the mega churches, they cannot suppress their admiration.

In coming to know about the recent miracles connected with the helicopter accident and the achievements of these two sons, society is showing increasing interest in True Parents and the Tongil Group, and is holding them in higher esteem.

How do you view the very ambitious projects our movement undertakes, for example, the construction of the World Peace and Unification Temple or the Bering Strait Tunnel project?

Because I am not directly involved in the Bering Strait project, I cannot say so much about that. But I feel it is a project that symbolizes True Parents' philosophy of peace, for the sake of inter-religious unity, interracial unity, and world unification. It seems that interest in Korea in the tunnel between this country and Japan is at a new height.

The World Peace and Unification Temple, Cheon Bok Gung, is an emblematic and important project that, representing the victorious inheritance of True Parents' realm of victory and tradition, constitutes a focal point for the Unification community as well as for the world's religions. As such, it will foster unity in both the political and religious spheres, and thus contribute to peace.

Looking at history, it is no exaggeration to say that almost all wars have been based on religion. All religions serve God, and they all want to realize the ideal God created in order to fulfill. Whether religions call God Allah or God, He is one being. Even so, religions tend not to acknowledge other faiths or even other races and obstinately think only about themselves. Thus they end up in conflict with each other. Only True Parents can bring unity and peace.

Korea has passed through a course of indemnity like that of the people of Israel, and has kept to a peaceful way in its ethical and moral stance. The country has depth of faith such that Christianity could flourish more here than in most of the world's countries. Even though most of the world's religions coexist here, they do so peacefully. Moreover the Korean Peninsula is host to a mixture of political ideologies. It is also the nation of True Parents, who are the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and returning Lord.

Hyung-jin nim explains that it is according to God's providence that the third temple should be built in Korea for these reasons. At the temple, Cheon Bok Gung, people from all religious and political persuasions, and from all races, will expand the sphere of peace, harmony and unity in worshipping God. It will certainly accomplish God's ideal of peace, and foster unification. This great effort will create important momentum worldwide. Rev. Moon Hyung-jin is setting the internal [conceptual] direction to head in, while Moon Kook-jin is the foundation chairman providing the driving force for actualization.

We will make continuous effort toward successfully building the completion-level Cheon Bok Gung. Not only with the passionate effort of the Unification Family but with that of people contributing from all walks of society we will build a growth-stage Cheon Bok Gung in the central Seoul district of Yongsan. That will be a great success for the worldwide Unification family. The names of those who have contributed will be recorded in the growth stage Cheon Bok Gung and also will be eternally remembered in the completion stage Cheon Bok Gung. If we, the adherents of the Unification faith, maintain our dignity and make effort to encourage many other people from around the world to participate in the project, the final victory can come more quickly. True Parents' victory will be recorded in history and will shine brightly ever more. 

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