JY Lee (W’13) interned at Pyung Gang Botanical Garden in Seoul, Korea

THE 2010-2011 AMBASSADOR OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board Intern Fellowship recipient:

When I was searching for a job, I wanted to work for a small company with clear social mission statements, and Pyunggang Botanical Garden’s goal of environmental conservation and education seemed to perfectly match my interests. I worked as a marketing assistant and while working on several marketing campaigns targeting churches, schools and nearby resorts, had an opportunity to also learn about some of the management issues.

 

When I learned that the company has been in the red for the last four years since the opening, I wondered why and tried to find reasons that the company was in such financial quandary. I knew from my marketing class that startup companies take years to break even and regain their investment, but the company was still losing money every year and it did not seem to be improving much.

 

The owner was a rich doctor who has been putting his own money into building this botanical garden, and although he was a visionary and philanthropist, it seemed like having a sound business model had not been a priority. The garden made money through the admission tickets, the restaurant, and the gift shop, and most of the garden’s revenue came from the gift shop, which was added recently to the garden. There were many pensions surrounding the garden, and those pensions seemed to be profiting more form the construction of the garden then the garden itself. So I asked why they had not built a similar pension within the garden but was told they did not have money to make another major investment now.

 

Another big problem seemed to be communication between the owner and the employees. Although the owner lived in Seoul 1.5 hours away from the garden, he still wanted to manage the garden personally and commuted every Sunday when he did not go to his clinic to work as a doctor. Thus there was no clear management during most of the week the owner was absent thus there were difficulties in prioritizing work and responding flexibly to new changes in the environment. As the owner was busy, the wife also got involved with the garden and the two often had disagreements regarding the direction of the garden which left some employees confused.

 

During my time there I saw some government officials and also academic and religious administrators come visit the garden, which reminded me that businesses do not just operate in the private sector but often interact with the public sector and the civic groups. Some MOUs were signed and although the garden did receive some government funding, I thought the garden did not adequately take advantage of these newly forged partnerships with academic and religious institutions.

 

Overall although the garden was not the most efficiently run organization, I learned a lot from the mistakes that they told me they have made and the problems that employees and management saw in the organization. It seemed like the botanical garden industry is not a profitable one as many of them received government funding and depended largely on private donations. I wondered if this garden would have been better served as a non-profit with a foundation but the owner was optimistic that within few years down the road the garden would be profitable. It also seemed like the owner had overestimated people’s enthusiasm for botanical gardens such as this one but as people’s environmental awareness rises, he was hopeful that the revenue would also increase.