The MCM Group chair talks about being disowned by her family, becoming an entrepreneur, and how Asian women still have a long way to go in the fashion business
My father is the founder of Daesung Group, one of the biggest energy companies in Korea. I'm the youngest of six children and one of three girls. My job was to grow up and marry a rich man.
I went to Amherst and later Harvard, where I started dating a Canadian. When I asked him to marry me, I was disowned by my family. I dropped out and got a job at Bloomingdale's. My parents wouldn't talk to me. I had gone against their wishes, and there's nothing worse in Confucian tradition.
I accepted that I had failed them. But eventually my father reached out to ask me to help translate a negotiation when Daesung entered a joint venture with Bendix. They started arguing over who would be CEO. I stepped in—and the deal got done.
Later, my father asked me to his office to see if I needed anything. I asked for a $300,000 loan to start my own fashion business. I bought the Korean rights to Gucci and brought Marks & Spencer into Korea. I also became the licensee for a German luxury goods company called MCM Group.
By 2005, MCM was struggling. When it started to fail, I had a choice: I could move on, or I could own it. The business model was a disaster. My brothers were against me. But the artisanship was there, and I saw that the products could be better. Korea was opening to trade, and I didn't want to sit and wait for someone to come and get me. So I bought the whole company.
Even today, it's hard to get respect as an Asian woman running a fashion business. These European guys look at me like I don't belong. Yet it's Asian women who are buying luxury goods today.
My father, when he passed away in 2001, divided his company between my three brothers. At our last lunch together, he asked me for forgiveness for some of the things he had done. I told him that a lot of what I had learned about doing business I had learned from him. I didn't want his money. I wanted to show what a woman could do.