By Charmaine N Clarke
He just can’t help it. Thirty-one -year-old Andrew Kim is a serial entrepreneur. And he’s good at it.
“I’m a dreamer. When a new entrepreneurial opportunity comes up, I obviously scrutinise the idea; but more importantly, I look at the individuals who I will be partnering with. I look to see if we share the same vision and outlook for the company. I look at who they are because their integrity matters to me more than the business idea,” he explains.
The Korean-Canadian studied law because he wanted to help Koreans living in Canada who had problems accessing legal advice due to language barriers. Born into a family of businessmen, he also knew that understanding the intricacies of corporate law would come in handy when he launched his own start-up. So far, he has had a hand in the launch of a lobster export company and he is the CEO of WOW Group of Companies which includes a restaurant franchise, an interior renovations company, and a more recently-launched bakery.
As if his plate wasn’t full enough, now he’s doing his MBA at CEIBS.
The third time was a charm for Andrew, who has been trying to get to China since 2007. He first tried to go on exchange to Beijing University while he was doing his undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia. That fell through because of bureaucratic issues. Then during his last year of university he successfully applied for a full scholarship to study Mandarin at Shanghai Jiaotong University. Unfortunately, personal reasons kept him from accepting the offer. Now he’s finally where he wants to be. “Being fluently conversational in Mandarin and getting to really know the Chinese people are my goals for the next 18 months. I also believe that no matter what business I get involved with in the future, the Chinese population will likely comprise a large portion of my customer base,” he says. "Therefore, understanding their culture and their language is key for me. CEIBS, being the #1 business school in Asia, with its large successful alumni network, and its location in Shanghai caught my attention.”
He made his decision after getting a taste of the CEIBS MBA during a boot camp in the summer of 2015. “I was attracted by the care and attention the faculty gave to the students. I was also impressed by the level of the professors and felt a good vibe with the school in general,” he adds.
It is obvious from the steps he has taken so far that Andrew is a planner. He has a knack for stepping back and looking at the big picture then mapping the path he intends to take. He is also very good at spotting business opportunities and, more importantly, has the skill to get the timing just right. While working at Canada’s largest law firm, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG), he and three friends were convinced there was a lucrative market in Asia for Canadian seafood. They were right. PNL International Trading Inc had CDN$240,000 in sales in its first year. Under the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement, there will no longer be any tariffs on lobsters as of next year. That will mean lower prices, which will make PNL more attractive in the Korean market than US competitors. The company also plans to expand its operations to include frozen lobster, opening up new sales channels. It anticipates anywhere between CDN$13 million to CDN$15 million in sales next year.
But Andrew, who invested CDN$120,000 to help launch PNL, won’t be getting a share of the profits.
He recently asked his partners to buy him out of the business so he could use the money as seed capital for another start-up, WOW Bakery Ltd, and focus on the WOW Chicken franchise. Plus he knew he would need time to study while doing his CEIBS MBA. “Hearing that CEIBS is an academic-intense institution, I was not confident that I would be able to competently juggle school work, networking, PNL and WOW simultaneously,” he says. The PNL experience has been a positive one overall. In fact the word Andrew chooses to describe it is “exhilarating”. He still keeps in touch with his former partners and would work with them again if an opportunity presents itself. For now, he is focused on making WOW Bakery a success. It opened this June.
“The planning alone took me just over a year, then testing of recipes and raw ingredient procurement took a few months,” says Andrew who is a huge fan of French, Japanese and Korean baked goods and pastries. “Calgary has a number of reputable European bakeries but not an Asian one. I saw a niche market in Calgary and wanted to make Korean/Japanese baked goods available to the Calgary community. It was also one of my dreams to open my own bakery.”
Including Andrew and his partner, the bakery has 12 employees. The concept is a self-serve, take-out only bakery that has a retail side plus catering and wholesale. His plan is to build WOW Bakery into a franchise, a place that Canadians automatically think of when they want scrumptious baked goods. It seems he’s well on his way. Two months after opening, WOW Bakery was named the best bakery by Heyscafes, a local rating system. As he watches the bakery grow, Andrew also oversees the three year-old WOW Chicken which is now considered one of the top chicken restaurants in Calgary. It’s a Korean-style fried chicken business and Andrew believes its authenticity in both taste and design is what gives him the edge over competitors. “When we began, there were already three or four other competitors already in the market. However, I felt that none of them really provided a true Korean experience,” he says. “I wanted to set up a restaurant where, as soon as our customers stepped in the door, they felt as if they were in Korea. Not only do I want to sell fried chicken meals, but also sell the experience to our customers.”
They now have two locations in Calgary: one is a dine-in, full-service restaurant and the other is a self-serve, mainly take-out style outlet. The business has grown from six employees to 20 and, since its second year running, has had sales over CDN$100,000 despite challenges in Calgary’s economy that have hit the food industry hard. They have had franchising inquiries from interested parties as far as from Arizona, but Andrew is being cautious. “We have turned down all offers to date, because I am currently in Shanghai and also because I am now working on the necessary documents to make it into a successful franchise, such as the master franchise agreement and our business information package,” he says.
WOW Group of Companies is rounded out by WOW Interior Ltd, which was born out of a need to design the locations for his restaurant and bakery. So far they have completed a number of projects for other companies. “After opening our first WOW Chicken location, we have received and completed a number of outside renovation projects for companies who were impressed by our design and execution. We are currently working with Quickly Canada (a Taiwanese Bubble Tea Franchise) in renovating their new stores in Calgary. Moreover, we will also likely see a joint venture project between WOW Bakery and Quickly Canada in the near future,” says Andrew. He has also tweaked WOW Interior’s organisational structure to make it more efficient, changing from a six-employee team to one full-time chief designer who works on projects with temporary workers as needed.
The same pragmatism that Andrew takes to running his companies guides his overall approach to what comes next. He has a lot of options on the table after he finishes his CEIBS MBA in 18 months. He can either devote himself to being the full-time CEO of Wow Group, get a job, or find a way to do both. “I am very open to trying new things. I believe that I will be able to continue supporting WOW while abroad even if I have another full-time job. I did it with PNL while being a full-time lawyer, so I believe I can do it again,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to my time here at CEIBS and I’m excited to see what new doors it will open for me in the future!”