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[On the Spot] A CEO who holds weekly reading discussions with all employees… This is the company that even former employees return to.

[Seoul=Newsis] Last month on the 30th, at the ‘One Heart Center’ of YoungLimWon Soft Lab in Gangseo District, Seoul, CEO Kwon Young-Bum  and employees were seen attending a book discussion meeting called ‘Young-Way(永-Way) Committee’. (Photo=YoungLimWon Soft Lab) *Resale and DB prohibited.

– Visiting YoungLimWon Softlab’s unique organizational culture, the ‘Young-Way(永-Way) Council’
– All employees, regardless of age or gender, are grouped together to present reading reviews and discuss
– Candid philosophical discussions on the meaning of life, vanity, and ennui continue
– After the discussion, they share a casual chat with the CEO over wine in the company cafeteria
– The goal is to establish a corporate culture centered on ‘Dignity Restoration’ and ‘Development Orientation’
– “People are the competitive edge,” says founder Kwon Young-Bum, “I will create a company everyone wants to work for”
– Welfare benefits such as a Sokcho ‘Workcation’, and an overseas trip for all employees to commemorate the company’s foundation, attract attention.

[Seoul=Newsis] Reporter Choi Eun-su = “I worked at YoungLimWon Soft Lab  for 22 years and did various jobs, but there was a sense of ennui. So, out of curiosity, I applied for a new cloud business and indirectly helped many customers. It seems like when you approach various periods of ennui in life through the word ‘curiosity’, you find something new.”

“When I was a novice in society, the company didn’t pay salaries, so I couldn’t quit and started using a credit card while living alone. Because of that money, I became a bad credit user. Every time I got a debt collection call from the credit card company, I felt my dignity was compromised because of money.”

On the afternoon of the 30th of last month, in the main conference room at YoungLimWon Soft Lab (hereinafter referred to as YoungLimWon) headquarters in Gangseo-gu, around 20 employees from various departments and age groups gathered for a heated discussion. Upon listening, it turns out to be a book discussion where they read the same book, each presented their impressions, and freely discussed.

However, the questions and topics of discussion are unusual. The first question was, “What is the value and importance of money in your life?” Followed by the question, “Regardless of the influence of the social environment, how do you think you should live your life?” In the discussion, they are made to look into the meaning of life from quite a philosophical perspective, such as “experiences of vanity in your life” and “how you felt about yourself as a dignified being during periods of ennui”.

YoungLimWon is a mid-sized software company that makes domestic ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) programs. Having a reading discussion during busy working hours on weekdays, rather than research and development meetings or sales meetings, is unusual. So what’s the story behind it?

“Weekday afternoon ‘reading discussion’ held in the conference room… YoungLimWon’s unique corporate culture ‘Young-Way(永-Way) Council'”

The event of the day is the ‘Young-Way Council’, a unique corporate culture directly supervised by the founder, CEO Kwon Young-Bum. Approximately 350 employees are organized into groups of 20 and have weekly reading discussions with the CEO every Wednesday. In the first session, they present their book review papers, and in the second session, they discuss from the perspectives of ‘philosophy of development’ and ‘culture of dignity’. This takes a full four hours.

Each group consists of a mix of individuals, from those in their 20s from the MZ generation to seniors in their 60s. In particular, groups are formed to facilitate integration between dispatched employees from outside and in-house employees. The company currently has about 150 dispatched employees.

The designated book for the discussion of the day is the novel “Teaches Shame” by Park Wan-Seo. The discussion atmosphere is serious and passionate despite concerns that the employees might find the high-level content and questions boring. Everyone confidently expresses their opinion without any omission, and even freely reveals some personal and heartfelt inner thoughts, regardless of their position.

Employee A, in his 50s working in the cloud business department, was visibly moved during the discussion about ‘boredom’. He said, “As I get older, I seem to cry more,” creating a humorous atmosphere.

One might wonder if it might be uncomfortable having a discussion with the CEO, but CEO Kwon Young-Bum takes charge of the proceedings rather than stating his own opinion. He listens to the stories of the employees, occasionally cracking a joke and leading the atmosphere.

The discussion isn’t the end. The employees move to the company cafeteria and divide into four groups to choose one of the assignments they wrote to talk about over dinner. It takes the form of free conversation over wine. And CEO Kwon goes around various tables, communicating directly with the employees and receiving feedback.

How do the employees accept these reading discussions? It is true that preparing for a reading discussion can be somewhat burdensome. The content of the book is difficult, and the level of questions is not easy either. However, the employees generally agree with the significance of this reading discussion and find it rewarding.

Employee B, in his 50s working as a consultant, said, “I was worried about writing a book review because the book is difficult, but it’s good to be able to talk about such philosophical topics as a mentor for young employees once I do it.” Marketing employee C, in his 20s, said, “It was good to have this as a topic, to communicate with each other, to unite, to listen to stories from various perspectives, and to have the opportunity to look back on the past.”

[Seoul=Newsis] On the 30th of last month, CEO Kwon Young-Bum and employees of YoungLimWon Soft Lab were seen attending the ‘Young-Way(永-Way) Committee’ book discussion at the ‘One Heart Center’ in Gangseo-gu, Seoul. (Photo=YoungLimWon Soft Lab) *Resale and DB Prohibited.

Why does the CEO initiate reading discussions, from selecting the book to leading the process?

The reason for CEO Kwon Young Bum’s passion for reading discussions is not simply because he is a ‘bookworm’. He firmly believes that it can elevate the dignity of each employee and form a corporate culture.

CEO Kwon said, “The best way to create a corporate culture with the goal of restoring dignity and development orientation is reading.” He added, “We must have discussions through reading, and changes in thinking should occur for culture to be formed.”

He emphasized, “Having a reading discussion during the day and drinking wine mixed with men and women in small groups in the evening makes the conversation go well. A sense of community is revived, which is essential for settling as an organization that creates synergy.”

Even before YoungLimWon Soft Lab went public, he held a ‘One Mind Consultative Body’ and conducted reading discussions for three years. His participation was so enthusiastic that he devoted his time to this consultative body twice a week for three years.

As a result, various age groups from 20 to 60 in the organization came together and harmonized, and Younglimwon was able to grow rapidly and list on the KOSDAQ market, he explained.

The ‘Young-Way(永-Way) Council’ is an extension of this. CEO Kwon said, “Due to COVID-19, the isolation of individuals has deepened, and we judged that a good corporate culture must be established to become a company that continuously produces results.”

Initially, his goal was to hold the Young-Way(永-Way) Consultative Body every quarter, but reflecting the opinions of employees, he plans to hold it once a year from next year, choosing one of the three designated books.

He emphasized that he does not propose management topics in the middle of the council or force his opinions. CEO Kwon said, “My role is to write good questions and throw them, and it is not that employees have a direct conversation with me.” He added, “We hope that employees will securely embrace their dignity as a flat organization and autonomous management are the basic ideologies, and the direction of life will develop.”

CEO Kwon Young-Bum is focusing on the role of Chief Culture Officer (CCO), prioritizing the establishment of organizational culture over direct business management. His belief is that “people are the competitive edge.”

Kwon Young-Bum, CEO and founder of YoungLimWon Soft Lab, started his career as a software engineer at Samsung Electronics’ computer business division. After founding YoungLimWon, he has been devoted to the ERP field for over 24 years, growing his company to become a representative ERP company in Korea. He valued research and development so much that he served as both CEO and Chief Technology Officer (CTO). This is perhaps why many people still refer to him as the “Dean” instead of “CEO.”

In 2020, YoungLimWon successfully went public on the KOSDAQ and is expanding its presence in the ERP market in Asia and beyond. Last year, the company’s annual sales reached 47.7 billion KRW, showing rapid growth.

After going public, Kwon has been serving as both CEO and Chief Culture Officer (CCO), focusing more on establishing a corporate culture than managing business operations. His philosophy is that to attract talented individuals and become a workplace where people want to work, a supportive and robust corporate culture is essential.

As a CCO, Kwon has implemented initiatives such as company-wide reading and discussion sessions, creating an environment where employees from various age groups can interact freely and openly. He believes that cultivating such an organizational culture is a crucial element in improving both the company’s competitiveness and employees’ job satisfaction.

In conclusion, Kwon Young-Bum, with his unique approach towards the CEO’s role, is making significant strides in not only business development but also in fostering a unique and productive corporate culture. His example is proof that the CEO’s role can go beyond mere management to impact the company’s culture and values.

“Enjoying a workcation with ocean views and hot springs, going on an overseas workshop with all employees… A company that even former employees seek to return to.”

YoungLimWon Soft Lab boasts a variety of enviable corporate cultures and welfare beyond reading discussions. A representative example is the ‘Sokcho Workcation’.YoungLimWon Soft Lab has purchased the Sokcho Chichester Hotel overlooking Sokcho Cheongcho Lake and uses it as a vacation spot for employees. They provide a week’s hotel accommodation, meal expenses of 250,000 won, and transportation fees. Four employees, two per room, stay in a room with a bathroom attached. The popularity of this program is so high among the employees that there is a scramble for applications every month.

The company cafeteria is also an area that CEO Kwon Young-Bum pays meticulous attention to. The nutritionist and cooks working in the company’s cafeteria are all full-time employees. The rumor is that they were directly hired with the intent to pay more attention to the health of the company’s employees. As a result, the company’s cafeteria is known as a ‘healthy and scenic restaurant’. They bought it as a company restaurant when a restaurant with a good view in the building was on sale during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lunch is collected at a fixed rate (2,000 won per meal) due to legal regulations, but dinner is all free.

YoungLimWon Soft Lab will be celebrating its 30th anniversary next year. In 2013, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the founding, all employees visited an overseas workshop in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Plans are under discussion to visit a workshop in Okinawa, Japan with all employees next year.

This corporate culture is why YoungLimWon Soft Lab, among domestic software companies, has many long-term employees. There are quite a few cases of re-employment even after leaving the company.

CEO Kwon Young-Bum said, “If a company wants to continuously achieve results, it must establish a good corporate culture,” and “In order to respect others as a human being, one must first restore their own dignity, and the development of the company naturally follows through the development of individuals.”


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