“Forever 21,” one of the leading fashion brands in the world, is probably familiar to quite a few Korean women by now. But if you haven’t heard of it, just go down the street called, Garo-su-gil in Shinsa-dong, as you’ll see many walking around with the yellow “Forever 21” bags.
Now then, where is this brand from? Most Koreans know that “Forever 21” is an American brand, as surely it is! A fashion brand that began as a small clothing store all the way back in 1984 in Los Angeles, California, is now a major chain of retailers with branches not just in America, but also in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. In fact, “Forbes” has listed “Forever 21” as one of America’s largest private companies, operated via 480 stores around the world. Certainly, this is one of those successful business stories! Isn’t it?
Yet, what is special about this “Forever 21” is not on how lucrative it has become nor is it its world-wide fame that I want to share with you, for the success of “Forever 21” comes from a man that works with a genuine desire to help those who are less fortunate.
And to introduce that man, his name is Chang Do Won, a Korean-born American CEO of “Forever 21.”
Immigrating to America at the age of 19, Chang Do Won’s first job was at a gas station, cleaning cars. While working, he would ask all his customers who drove nice cars, what kind of jobs they had, to which they all answered, “the garment business.” Taking that into consideration, Chang opened his first clothing store, originally named “Fashion 21” in a poor district called Highland Park in Los Angeles, California, which is now, “Forever 21” operating in major cities all around the world.
No one expected his business to do so well, as the fashion industry had serious ups and downs during that period. Yet, never giving up, Chang Do Won gave his all and made his American dream come true.
Like Chang, there are many other Koreans around the world who have achieved great success. One of my favorites is the story of Lee Ki Young, founder and CEO of a famous Korean franchise restaurant called Papas operating in 38 different locations in China. In fact, Lee, a middle school drop-out, has attained a medical degree near the age of 50, and is also an interior designer! What an amazing story?!
Yet while we love to see success on the business aspect, what I would like to emphasize here is not on the economic success of these two CEOs, but rather their visions despite the struggles, their pursuit to move forward, and their desires to help others and share what they have achieved with those in need.
During an interview with CNN, Chang stated, (in Korean, translated into English), “many people look for an easy life after success, but what I wanted was a life that help the lives of others, and that pushed me to work harder.” He is who he is now because of the passion he has to help others.
Even for Lee, naming the restaurant, “Papas” comes from his desire and vision to be a “dad” to children, especially children with heart disease, a vision embedded deeply in his heart after seeing a child die of a heart disease because his family could not afford to give him a surgery.
Indeed, both have achieved much, not for themselves, but for others. Chang has visited North Korea with corn to feed the hunger, and supplied assistance to countries such as the Philippines, Pakistan, and Japan after severe natural disasters. And Lee has provided funding for surgeries to over 40 kids suffering from heart disease as well as sponsored scholarships and later, offered jobs in his business. Certainly, their efforts to reach out and help others are admirable.
Nevertheless, the most valuable lesson here is…the meaning of “success…”
“Success” is not about making a lot of money… it is not about enjoying the life with luxurious goods… it is not about gaining fame in the world…but rather, success starts with a vision, not for yourself, but for your community, your society… it is about being able to recognize the needs of those around you, and striving forward to contribute and make a difference. Then at the end, you will find… “SUCCESS” already embedded in your heart and a step closer in realizing it!
Monica S. Jeong firstname.lastname@example.org
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