SEOUL — The national best seller is written by the founder of one of South Korea's largest conglomerates, an unabashed workaholic who says he shaves and eats breakfast in his car to save time.
Kim Woo-choong heads Daewoo Group, maker of products ranging from Leading Edge computers to Pontiac LeMans exports to the U.S. market. Kim says he wrote the book to tell young people how to find inspiration and direction in life. Or as the suggested title for the English version suggests, "Work!!!"
In South Korea, one of the fastest-growing Asian countries, the drive to succeed and make money is a passion. Kim's position as head of a conglomerate with 1988 sales of $17.2 billion hasn't hurt his credibility as an author.
"Nothing comes free in this life and nothing is accidental," writes Kim, 53-year-old father of four. "The more you dig, the deeper the hole. And the deeper the hole, the more water from the well. That's what it's all about."
More than 900,000 copies of "It's a Big World and There's Lots to be Done" have been published since it came out last August. In January the book was in its 89th printing.
South Korea's largest bookstore named it one of the five best sellers of the decade. Daewoo says it has even sold the rights to a professor in China for a Chinese version.
Although the book has been translated into English, Daewoo is looking for a U.S. publisher, and negotiations are under way for publication in other countries.
The 211-page paperback sells for $4.50 and features 39 essays with pithy fatherly advice on school, working women, choice of jobs, relationships and making money.
His commentary is full of personal anecdotes ranging from his school life ("not exemplary") to religion ("better than not having one") to observations on why nations in southern Europe waste so much time napping.
Kim says he doesn't exercise, takes no vacations, sleeps five hours a night and spends the rest of the time working and making business deals. He wrote the book nights while waiting out a shipyard strike last spring.
"My generation didn't eat well and couldn't dress well, but look at the Korea that we've built," he says, advising young people not to become smug by the country's new consumerism and leisure time.
"Days are too short for me," he writes. "I wish they were 30 or 40 hours long. I sometimes shave and wash with a towel in the car on the way to work. I even occasionally have breakfast in the car."
He holds staff meetings before or after the regular workday and prides himself that at Daewoo, which means "Big House" in Korean, a 9-to-5 workday can mean 5 a.m. until 9 p.m.
"Wasting time is worse than wasting money, for you can always make more money," says Kim. "When it comes to making money, I'm an expert."
As founder and chairman of Daewoo, Kim oversees 70 overseas offices and 93,000 employees involved in trade, construction, shipbuilding, the manufacture of cars, industrial robots, telecommunications, consumer electronic products, textiles and home appliances.
The book skips over the ways that Daewoo rose from a small textile exporter to the world's 46th-largest industrial company in 22 years, omitting mention of its ties to past authoritarian governments, low wages, easy bank credit and protectionist barriers that allowed Daewoo and other conglomerates to grow.
"There's a frantic trend nowadays to think only in terms of immediate profits," Kim writes. "People are looking for comfort and satisfaction rather than having a fighting spirit to overcome difficulties and succeed in the long run."
He advises Korean women to stamp out sex discrimination by considering a job professionally, not "a bus stop on the way to marriage."
"You have to find places that people have never been to and you have to do things that people haven't done before," he advises both sexes. "Of course, there's danger in pioneering. Pioneers take paths that haven't been paved."
"There is too much egocentrism," he says. "If everyone's an egoist, then there's always going to be trouble."
He recommends forming close lifetime friendships, a code followed closely among Korean businessmen who often judge each other by the schools they've attended.
Although Kim exalts nonstop work, he encourages day-dreams. "Dreams are like the rudder of a ship setting sail. The rudder may be small and unseen, but it controls the ship's course."