Pay attention to the differences and utilize them, said Itzik Yona, an Israeli businessman who has made a career of encouraging business ties between Israel and South Korea. “The way Israelis and South Koreans approach life and business, from the jobs each aspire to to the way they park their cars, speaks volumes about each society.”
Those differences tell an important tale about entrepreneurship and the economy in Israel and South Korea, as well as other Asian countries, Yona said at a business conference in Tel Aviv that drew dozens of Israeli and South Korea executives looking to make deals. “The kind of start-up ecosystem we have in Israel just doesn’t work over there. On the other hand, there is no way Israel could ever develop the kind of precision-driven heavy industries, like automobile manufacturing, that the Koreans are very good at,” he told The Times of Israel.
Yona, whose Yonaco Business Group has been facilitating business deals between Israel and South Korea for over a decade, said that Israel has been missing an opportunity in not paying more attention to South Korea. “They have the 13th largest economy in the world, yet our trade with South Korea is less than our trade with Switzerland.”
That’s a wasted opportunity, Yona said, because the Koreans would very much like to tap into Israel’s innovations: “They see us as top technology suppliers. They especially are interested in our capabilities in electronics and environmental and energy technology, both areas that they intend to dominate on world markets.”
The Koreans realize they are not going to be able to develop a start-up ecosystem where people learn to think out of the box because they need that box, which is responsible for much of South Korea’s industrial and economic success. “In order to build a car which has a million parts, you need to follow the rules precisely, and to have a clear set of responsibilities, benchmarks, regulations, etc.,” said Yona. “You can’t just throw together something and say, as they do in Israel ‘trust me’ that everything will work out. That’s why South Korea has a company like Hyundai, and Israel never will.”
On the other hand, Israel does have thousands of small start-ups with great ideas on how to do things better, and even large multinationals like Samsung have been opening key research and development facilities here, Yona said. Most of them, though, are quiet about cooperation with Israel. “The second they see that politics is invading the business space they get nervous. Samsung, for example, has interests in many countries — for example, the company built the Burj Dubai tower,” currently the world’s tallest building. “I know that some divisions of Samsung are blasé about politics, and some others are very nervous,” said Yona. “Most prefer to stay out of the headlines.”
That the nature of Korean and Israeli society is so different is fully evidenced by what Yona calls the parking test — how people in both countries park their cars. “In Korea you would never see anyone park their car over the line,” invading the parking space next to them. “Over there, they stay very precisely within the lines when they park, while in Israel, as we know, they park any which way, without paying too much attention to the lines,” he said.
There are other differences between Koreans and Israelis, with the former’s reserve contrasting with the latter’s loud brashness, the Koreans’ quiet acceptance of rules and regulation compared to the Israelis’ constant questioning, and so on, according to Yona. But somehow, many of the Koreans who come here focus on the parking, to the extent that “just recently a new diplomat fresh from Seoul confided in me just how uncomfortable he was with the way Israelis park,” Yona said. The ambassador told him he had gotten used to the shouting, the confrontation, and the questioning, “but somehow he just had a hard time dealing with the parking issue.”
Regardless, the Koreans realize that the differences between the way residents of both societies park means that Israelis have something they need. “It’s symbolic of the Israeli’s questioning of the rules, always looking for a new and better way to do things,” said Yona. “The Koreans may have a hard time doing it themselves, but they appreciate that questioning, and are trying to benefit from it themselves.”