By Kim Rahn
Setting up a company in a foreign country is a tough job ― from getting an office and recruiting workers to consulting local lawyers and getting a telephone line.
Such difficulties opened Mee Kim’s eyes to the potential for a one-stop business solution company, like her CEO Suite.
CEO Suite is a serviced office operator, offering offices and clerical appliances to businesspeople who need such facilities for any period of time ― hours, days or maybe months ― just as they would stay in hotels on business trips. But office rental is not the only service the company offers.
“When you plan to open a branch in a foreign city, you not only need an office but also have to do all the chores. You have to do everything from registration to employee recruitment, which take three to five months.
“This is where we come in. You check into one of our branches and we’ll get you an office, phone, secretary and name card in five minutes,” CEO Suite President Kim said.
”We also help you get legal advice, accounting services and the best connections in the new environment so that you can start your business right away,” she said.
The company now has 650 offices, sizes of which vary, in 12 cities in eight countries, including Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Manila and Bangkok. The latest one was set in Kyobo Building in downtown Seoul in March, with 45 offices and conference rooms.
“We are the only company offering tailored business service. If a customer calls CEO Suite, our team will deal with everything, from pickup at the airport and hotel booking to arranging meetings with local businesspeople. Our service helps customers do business in the most efficient way,” the 49-year-old said.
There are other companies providing serviced offices, but Kim said her 23-year experience in the industry and consequent network in various cities makes CEO Suite special.
She broke into the sector through Servcorp., an Australian company she joined after obtaining a master’s degree in Australia because “no Korean firm wanted to hire me.”
“I was stressed out from racial discrimination. At that time, the firm opened a Bangkok branch but totally failed because it didn’t understand the Asian market’s unique culture. I insisted on going there, pointing out to the management that as an Asian, I had a better approach to the market. Experiencing trials and errors, I learned a lot _ how to respect other culture, do business in a foreign market and manage staff. In one year, the Bangkok office became the No. 1 among the firm’s worldwide operations,” she said.
Kim married a Chinese businessman in Jakarta and started CEO Suite in the Indonesian capital where she had a strong network, and the country, with a big market and abundant resources, had huge potential for foreign investors.
“I started the business in Jakarta and expanded it mainly in Southeast Asia, because in Korea, it was and still is not easy for a woman and a medium-sized company operator to achieve big success,” she said.
Kim said in Australia, as an Asian and a woman, she was a total minority. “If it’s not easy to change society, you can instead find a market where you can be a majority, where you can do well. Knowing yourself and promoting plans according to the way you understand yourself is the key,” Kim said.
Regarding the Korean market, where it is still difficult to find serviced offices, she said the culture is very unique. Foreign investors usually work with local companies rather than set up new businesses on their own, whereas Korean firms prefer to own facilities and don’t want to share offices with others.
“But once they try services like ours, they’ll find them efficient and cost-saving. Korean firms like Samsung and SK began to use our Southeast Asian branches while multi-national firms used to be our customers in the past,” she said.
Kim, who spends half of the year on business trips, plans to spend more time in Korea than before along with the opening of the Korean branch.
She said she has received inquiries from international companies’ Japanese branches seeking refuge until the neighboring country recovers from the recent catastrophic earthquake, adding CEO Suite’s service is also suitable as such backup offices.
“We can offer any types of service customers want, from just office rental to one-stop business solution. We are a ‘buffer’ for customers who have to adapt themselves to a foreign environment,” she said.