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Clark International Chairman - Baik Sung-Hak

Chairman of Clark International Baik Sung-Hak Chairman Baik Sung-Hak

In today's society, success is often measured by the amount of wealth one has accumulated and one's position in society. In this context, Baik Sung- Hak, chairman of Clark International, Young-An Hat Company and Daewoo Buses, to name just a few of his enterprises, would indeed be regarded as a success.

But the shy and self-effacing entrepreneur takes a different view, judging success in terms of resilience and faith in the face of adversity as well as helping others less fortunate.

Sung-Hak's life reads like a work of fiction. He was born in Heilongjian Province, China in 1940. His grandfather was a Christian minister who was forced to flee to China after participating in pro-independence rallies in Korea. The grandfather started a number of successful businesses in China, leaving the family financially well off.

However, that security was not to last, and in 1944 his father died of typhoid fever. The next year, the newly formed communist government of China began confiscating private enterprises. The Baik family was able to dissolve their businesses quickly and made a hasty return to North Korea. But the grandfather's attempt to replicate his Chinese success and set up businesses in North Korea failed as Korean communists soon confiscated any enterprises.

The post-World War Two years were turbulent ones in Korea. The country was in political disarray after a lengthy occupation by the Japanese and severely depleted by war and famine. In 1945, the USA and USSR had, summarily and without consultation with the Korean people, divided the country between their jurisdictions along the 38th parallel. To add further distress, by 1949 there was the looming possibility of conflict between pro-democratic forces in the South and communist forces in the North with thousands of North Koreans, particularly Christians who feared retribution from the communists, attempting to escape the inevitable conflict by heading south.

Baik Sung-Hak's family was among a group of Christian refugees waiting in Wonsan to evacuate by boat to South Korea. Days before they were due to leave, his elderly grandfather was hit by a truck and the family was forced to stay. However, through misadventure, Sung-Hak, aged just 10, found himself aboard the departing boat and unwittingly joined thousands of Korean refugees separated from their families and thrown into a precarious and unknown future.

Chairman Baik Sung-Hak

Life for Sung-Hak over the next few years was a series of hard, hungry and lonely days, begging for any job he could find or for food when times got really tough. Eventually, he landed a job as a 'shortie', an errand boy with the US armed forces. It was this time in his life, Baik says, that made him appreciate the small kindnesses in life and helped form his firm ideas on philanthropy.

Baik Sung-Hak's first business venture was the Young An Hat Company which he started in 1959 with just 70 hats. By 2007, annual sales reached USD1.5 billion. Diversification is a key element in Baik's business empire. He has invested in everything from communications to organic farming and his ventures are spread throughout Korea, South East Asia and the USA.

In 2003, Baik acquired a controlling stake in Clark Materials Handling. Unfazed by Clark's poor performance at the time, Baik tells Forkliftaction.com News that it was "Clark's strong brand name and solid roots, coupled with my philosophy that good businesses are ones developed over a long period of time and through good times and bad" that influenced his decision to buy into the forklift company.

Baik also believes that an organisation should "not be solely driven by profit and that each staff member has a responsibility to be good stewards of the company and the brand that they represent". It is a homespun and humble philosophy that Baik applies not only to business development, but also to his role in society. He encourages the idea that a corporate organisation should be at the forefront of helping the needy. "When the corporate profit is returned to society, the corporate organisation can truly grow with society," he says. And Baik is as good as his word. Through his business interests, he has helped many disadvantaged people both in Korea and around the world in practical and long-lasting ways. He says he is not interested in arbitrary hand-outs, but in realistic goals, such as medical and educational facilities, believing that a good education is the path out of poverty and to self determination.

During his years as an orphan, Baik desperately missed his close and loving family, so today spending time with his wife, four children and 12 grandchildren is his greatest pleasure. He likes nothing more than to go to church on Sunday and then afterwards to have lunch together. Many summer and winter vacations are spent together as well.

Baik has lived by a simple philosophy of "giving back what gifts one has received through life". Asked how he would like to leave the world, he says: " I would like to think of a harmonious, peaceful world which provides all men and women with fair opportunities to find their place in society and, by doing so, strengthens it".