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A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom


A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom Cover

ISBN13: 9780804844390
ISBN10: 0804844399
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Business in North Korea: a paradoxical and fascinating situation is interpreted by a true insider.

In 2002, the Swiss power company ABB appointed Felix Abt its country director for North Korea. The Swiss Entrepreneur lived and worked in North Korea for seven years, one of the few foreign businessmen there. After the experience, Abt felt compelled to write A Capitalist in North Korea to describe the multifaceted society he encountered.

North Korea, at the time, was heavily sanctioned by the UN, which made it extremely difficult to do business. Yet, he discovered that it was a place where plastic surgery and South Korean TV dramas were wildly popular and where he rarely needed to walk more than a block to grab a quick hamburger. He was closely monitored, and once faced accusations of spying, yet he learned that young North Koreans are hopeful — signing up for business courses in anticipation of a brighter, more open, future. In A Capitalist in North Korea, Abt shares these and many other unusual facts and insights about one of the world's most secretive nations.

About the Author

Felix Abt co-founded the European Business Association as well as the Pyongyang Business School in North Korea. Prior to this, Abt worked in Europe, Africa and Asia as a senior executive for F. Hoffmann-La Roche and the ABB Group. In 2002, ABB appointed him as the Resident Country Director in North Korea. He went on to become a point man for Western investments in the country, representing several multinational corporations and even founding a business of his own. He currently lives in Vietnam, and remains a shareholder in various North Korean joint ventures.

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kbroder9, November 25, 2014 (view all comments by kbroder9)
There are many who, on a relentless diet of Western condemnation of all things North Korean, cannot stomach any view that does not unequivocally vilify the country. It seems to those with this mind-set that anyone, even if they roundly criticize the country’s governance, are characterized as having been blindly taken in by propaganda or labeled as a stooge or apologist if they attempt to cast an accurate light on the actual, contemporary state of affairs in the country rather than unconditionally trashing everything to do with it.

Felix Abt finds himself in just such a position; labeled by detractors as a ‘regime supporter’ for his work “A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom”. But, such a label is not merely inaccurate, but shows that those who are leveling it have missed the point of the book and read it unwilling to challenge their pre-conceptions. If one was to try and put a single label on Mr Abt, it would be far more germane to use John Feffer’s ‘agent of change’. Mr Feffer, as a widely respected writer, is undoubtedly better informed and less tendentious than the average reader and is able to recognize Felix Abt’s role in helping to bring responsible capitalism to North Korea and to try and improve safety and conditions for ordinary workers.

The business school that Mr Abt co-founded in North Korea taught putative business executives to build companies which would in themselves bring about positive change by creating jobs and generating income for workers. But it went a lot further, imbuing the students with the social and ethical responsibility which goes hand-in-hand with good business practice: paying decent wages, doing away with child labor, ensuring workers’ safety, protecting the environment, respecting contractual obligations. Several years on, the growth of private enterprise and associated job creation can be clearly seen in the country along with the implementation of the good practices taught at the school. Some of the school’s graduates also introduced truly pioneering business concepts. One, a bank director, introduced the first debit card and another became the CEO of the first advertising company. The latter might not sound that remarkable until one understands that formerly advertising had been banned as “anti-socialist” and is, therefore just one very tangible example of Mr Abt’s role not as a ‘regime supporter’, but an ‘agent of change’.

As those who have read the book will know Felix Abt was also president of the first foreign chamber of commerce in North Korea. This became a significant forum for change as he lobbied decision makers for reforms and the establishment of a level playing field for all businesses. The organization was increasingly listened to and changes implemented by those in power helped facilitate the development of businesses and all the associated benefits.

“A Capitalist in North Korea” contains many further examples of how Abt helped bring about change in the country; not to help line the pockets or enhance the power of the elites, but to improve the lot of workers and ordinary residents of the country:

He sold equipment, specifically safety gear, to mining concerns to modernize and improve the working conditions of the workforce and as the CEO of the first foreign-invested pharmaceutical factory the enterprise was the first to achieve an internationally acknowledged quality standard recognized by the WHO. Strange to many, and counter to the cynical, hard-nosed, profit driven image of foreign capitalists he shared the knowledge with his local competitors to help increase quality standards generally.

Neither of these two examples in any way helped the regime in itself; either its members personally or in terms of control of the populace: members of the elite weren’t in danger from dying from working down mines nor were they likely to suffer from the consequences of treating illness with poor quality and ineffective medicines (they had ready access to expensive, imported brands). Doubtlessly people’s lives were not only improved, but also many lives were actually saved.

Labels are not always helpful, they are by definition simplistic, but if one has to allot one to Felix Abt is ‘regime supporter’ fair or accurate for someone who is critical, tried to bring about many changes and did nothing to benefit the members of the elites? Or in the light of what he actually did in North Korea is not ‘pioneer’ or John Feffer’s ‘agent of change’ far more pertinent and, indeed, factual?
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Product Details

My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom
Abt, Felix
Tuttle Publishing
World History-Korea
Edition Description:
Hardcover with Jacket
Publication Date:
203.2 x 130.302 mm

Related Subjects

Biography » Business
Business » International
Engineering » Civil Engineering » General
History and Social Science » Asia » Korea
History and Social Science » World History » Korea

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