The Words of the Fielder Family
The Decline of European Saeilo
February 25, 2001
The investments in Germany were part of the ‘Machine Tool Providence’ thing that was providential flavor of the year sometime in the 80s (don’t remember the year). The master plan had a majestic harmony to it. Saeilo imports machine tools from Tongil, and brings the economic miracle to the 3rd world, as well as revenue from the developed world. Tongil imports engineering expertise from Germany, to improve the products to be world beaters through combining advanced technology at an affordable price. Rev. Moon went ahead and established Saeilo in Europe with considerable personal involvement and consequent fervor from the membership, many of whom were absolutely delighted to have heavenly permission to dive into something which was both as down-to-earth as you can get, and central to the providence. Rev. Moon also went ahead and added the final crucial element by buying three machine tool factories in Germany, say, H., H. and W.
Well I say the final crucial element inaccurately, one final crucial element was either missing or mutated (or what is it that elements do when the become other elements?). Tongil was apparently unaware of, uninterested in, or unbelieving of the plan and had devastatingly different objectives. This disconnection snuffed out whatever small chance Saeilo had to come to anything until it belatedly woke up to the situation, and left H, H and W without much of a ‘reason to be’ in the whole scheme. Writing this is making me wonder what was going on between Rev. Moon and the industry moguls who ran Il Hwa, Tongil, MaCol and the rest of that stuff. Were they really trying to buy in to Rev. Moon's vision? Were they even told about it? Did they have their hands tied? Were they just uncomprehending? Whatever it was there is a pattern here which was reflected in both the machine tool and ginseng projects, perhaps even the soft drink one.
Anyway, with Saeilo, the result was a dream deflating reality that took a long time to wake up to, because the dream had been so wonderful for those involved. The stark truth was Tongil was concentrating 99% of its efforts on the domestic market in Korea, which was probably entirely right from a business perspective, since they had a monopoly (the country did not allow foreign imports). They had scant time nor concern for the dozens of Saeilos being set up outside Korea to bring the company into world markets. Saeilos who, by definition and belief were totally committed to Tongil products. The result? Poor delivery times. Stone deaf ears to the feedback from Saeilo on market requirements. Poor and variable quality. Wrong model for the markets. Wrong pricing.
The notion that Rev. Moon is not in the forefront of responsibility for this fiasco is not sustainable. He set it up. It was his vision. He chose personally to kick it off. He should have ensured that it was working according to plan. Or if it was not, he should have personally intervened and changed things to limit the damage. Anyone who knows anything about managing organizations of any size will tell anyone that this is axiomatic. Would it not be fair to say that anyone who has a vision of something practical, but cannot execute it is just a dreamer?
So Saeilos withered, and the moribund machine tools companies limped and lurched on until, years later, financial plug was pulled. The losses were severe financially and in terms of member’s time, effort and moral. I was a Saeilo salesman for a while, and I learned something of the inside story. The most heartbreaking thing for me was to see the brave but eventually futile efforts of some seriously talented people, who non-the-less had their successes in spite of it all. There are some hilarious stories too. Thinking of a couple of people I know who were involved from the early days of Saeilo is guaranteed to bring a lump to my throat. Enter Nigel Barns, Tony Parkins, Ron Chandler. These three managed to start to move some products and win some respect in the industry despite the madness. God, I hope one of them writes a book one day. Nigel is a northerner from the industrial heartland of the UK. For any Brits around, he was a Blaster Bates sort of character with a strong northern accent. Born with an oily rag in his hand, he probably built his own steam engine when he was twelve. He just seemed to be surrounded by a cloud of practical engineering know-how and had an ingrained love for anything mechanical. In the UK it was these people, with their character, knowledge and intuitive feel for this world who could connect with and win potential customers. They were sadly let down however, and in the end could not prevail.
But the funny stories! I wish I could remember more of them. One that comes to mind was from Tony, another northerner with typical dry wit. Once he was out doing cold sales calls to engineering companies. He only had an old motor bike to travel around on, which of course the customers could not be allowed to see, so he always parked it around the back, spruced himself up as best he could and made his call. On one such call the customer asked him where his car was. He answered "round the back." After the call he tried to start his aging bike in vain and had to resort to hitch hiking to get home. Who should stop, but the very guy he was just pitching. For quite a while they drove in silence. Eventually the guy turned to him and said, "How big did you say your company was?"
Presiding over the fledgling UK Saeilo was a fanatical Japanese guy whose name I forget. He was a three-hours-sleep-a-night man, who insisted his team became the same. His main idea was to bring the victory through laying tough spiritual conditions and following True Father’s instructions to the letter – certainly a challenging call, even for the toughest. I think one of these was to visit a huge number of companies in a day (a figure like 400 comes to mind). They achieved this by sending Japanese sisters around to introduce the products – well it certainly raised some eyebrows and did get some notice.
In time, the engineering orientated on the team realized what they were up against with the problems of the products and tried to do something about it. All Tongil machines went first to the main Saeilo branch which was in Kaarst in Germany. (They must have had some excellent engineers, though I only know a couple of them who specialized in software). In Kaarst each imported machine was stripped down and rebuilt, inferior parts replaced, to make them presentable to the European market. In Britain Ron Chandler designed a NC lathe (computer controlled) and tried to get Tongil to build it, since there was not a great market for the basic mechanical ones. All dealings with Tongil were intensely disappointing and frustrating. I remember Ron telling me of the time he visited Tongil with one of his biggest UK customers. The customer was so frustrated by the attitude and inflexibility of the Korean management lost his temper and ended up holding one of them against a wall by the throat.
Well it’s all water under the bridge now. Some remnants of Saeilo still exist pursuing more modest targets presumably. But the cost. It makes me think of the Battle of the Somme, or Gallipoli in the First World War to find an apt comparison.
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