On Quora I was asked:
“Two generations ago, Jews were beginning to occupy positions of power in law, finance, medicine, and politics. Are Asian Americans next? In 2050, will we see a disproportionate number of Asian Americans in powerful positions, like we see Jews today?”
This was my response:
There once was a time, a few decades ago, when Downtown Los Angeles was filled with businesses owned by Jewish people. Most specifically, they owned the jewelry businesses.
A group of Korean businessmen decided to open up a jewelry shop on the block, since they saw how much money the Jewish business owners were making. They wanted a piece of the action, so they set up shop.
The store did well and excelled.
The Jewish business owners were scared. A group of brilliant people just hopped into Jewish territory to run a business that they weren’t familiar with and was doing quite well. The Koreans actually ended up having the know how on how to compete and take over the market share.
The Korean partners who had built that one store together then decided that they wanted more. They wanted more money. They wanted more stores. They wanted to do better than their respective business partners. The greed bug hit them, and it hit them hard.
So, the Koreans dismantled their partnership. They each opened separate stores in the district. Then, instead of working together, they competed with each other. The price wars started, and the businesses were ready to compete. They competed hard with the intention to drive the other party out of business.
At the end of the day, the Korean businesses took swipes out of all the profit margins of their businesses. They were at each other’s necks. Now, the Koreans were each running a business that was barely turning a profit. Some even had to close.
The Jewish owners sat back and laughed. They watched a race of business people who came into a market, had the raw potential to conquer the territory, but ultimately went in and destroyed each other instead.
The funny thing about living in Koreatown is that I get to see, first hand, that the Koreans didn’t stop doing this decades ago. They continue to do it today.
So, now back to your question. Let me tell you what my answer is, based off my experience with the Korean community.
The answer is…
Jewish business owners work together to help each other excel. They hold a strong sense of community and loyalty to each other. They will group together to create, conquer, or defend. I can’t speak on behalf of other Asians, but Koreans only unite on one occasion and one occasion alone: the FIFA world cup. At other times, they tear each other apart and compete with their friends. They are shady, backstabbing, conniving, selfish, and greedy business people who are only out for themselves and will claw you in the back the first chance they get, only to excel their own personal goals.
This won’t ever change unless the Korean business owners change their philosophy and culture and decide to work together as opposed to against each other. However, culture hardly changes, and if it does, it takes decades, or even centuries to achieve.
Maybe the answer will be different for Chinese and Japanese owners. However, as of now, not for the Koreans.
Originally posted on Quora.
Leonard Kim consults startups and writes books like