Category Archives: Industry Insights

The Evolution of Private Equity in Korea

chulmin-leeChulmin Lee is a co-founder and managing partner at VIG Partners, a private equity firm in South Korea that invests in mostly mid-sized firms across multiple industries in the Korean market. A 2001 graduate of Fuqua’s Daytime MBA program, Lee is also president of the school’s Korean Alumni Association.

Lee shares some of his insights on the Korean economy and the investment challenges and opportunities in this Fuqua Q&A.

Describe the private equity climate in South Korea. What are the most exciting investment opportunities?

Private equity is a very young industry in Korea, one that has only been around since 1998, just after the Asian financial crisis. Market dynamics at that time were such that Chaebols (South Korean multinational business conglomerates) and other major local companies were swamped with bad debt and therefore looking to sell assets. The who’s who of the global private equity industry swooped into the market to take advantage of this opportunity. Everyone from TPG to Lone Star and Carlyle broke into Korea as the system lacked the necessary capital to push ahead. Then 2005 was another watermark year. That was when the Korean government established the legal frameworks for its own private equity industry.

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Turning an Idea into a Business

Mark Lee Ford, PhD and Global Executive MBA ‘08, is the President of The Moneo Company, a management advisory firm based in Tokyo that has a physician’s enterprise practice. In this role, he learned the ins and outs of Japan’s healthcare market and saw the potential of bringing U.S. medical devices into Japan. But it wasn’t until he was in the Global Executive MBA program that the dots connected and an idea became a business.

Leveraging Global Regulatory Differences

“In a global market, there are opportunities to exploit differences in regulatory environments,” said Mark Lee Ford. “For example, a regulation that is almost insurmountable for non-physician owned companies can serve to shield—even promote—physician-owned companies.”

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Creating Cleaner Coal in China

Classmates Dave Piejak, Andy Welch, and Will Latta (from left to right) on one of their annual ski trips; they decided to found their engineering company during a similar trip to Vancouver.

Classmates Dave Piejak, Andy Welch, and Will Latta (from left to right) on one of their annual ski trips; they decided to found their engineering company during a similar trip to Vancouver.

Will Latta (Weekend Executive MBA ’02) moved to China in 2005 to work in the power plant industry. While living there, he noticed that the beauty of the country was being spoiled by air pollution that would engulf many Chinese cities.

As his knowledge and interest in the country grew, he learned that China was beginning to seriously address environmental concerns in a five-year plan focused on the nation’s emerging challenges (China’s 12th Five-Year Plan starts in 2011).

Latta says he was drawn to the dynamic, sweeping changes that were rapidly transforming China, and he decided that he wanted to be involved directly. He started thinking about a new business opportunity to create greater efficiency, and by default less pollution, within the coal industry.

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