By Dong Sun-hwa
At first glance, David Yong, 34, CEO of the Singapore-based Evergreen Assets Management, may seem irrelevant to K-pop. However, the entrepreneur is not only a big fan of K-pop, but also has plenty of good ideas that can connect it to the vast, fast-growing Southeast Asian market.
Born into a family that owned a lucrative timber trading company, Yong worked as a trainee lawyer at Baker McKenzie before joining the family business in 2014. Since then, he has walked in his father’s footsteps ― as well as taken many of his own. Today, Yong runs more than 15 different business, which have an annual turnover of about $85 million.
When his business was taking off in the mid-2010s, Yong naturally came across K-pop that was sweeping Southeast Asia off its feet. Soon, he fell under the spell of K-pop boy group BIGBANG and began studying the K-pop industry. His in-depth research led him to conclude that his next move should be about K-pop.
“K-pop is a leading cultural item in the world and I am seeing a lot of opportunities in the market,” Yong confidently said during an interview with The Korea Times, Monday. “Although the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the industry to some extent, I think now is the best time for Evergreen to get ready to jump into the K-pop world, because there should be a huge uplift in the coming days once the virus situation normalizes.”
His biggest ambition is to further export K-pop to Southeast Asia.
“K-pop has been in vogue in Southeast Asia, but most K-pop record labels still do not have the right partners to cooperate with,” he said. “They have staged numerous performances in the region, but many of them did not turn out too well, largely because the Korean companies lacked the networks … For them, Evergreen can give a helping hand to target the Southeast Asian market, which brims with potential.”
The music markets in Southeast Asia are very “young,” Yong added.
“It also has been heavily influenced by K-pop,” he explained. “Given that K-pop is currently hitting high notes around the world, I believe it will be a dominant cultural force in Southeast Asia, at least for the next five to 10 years. Hence, we want to team up with Korean entertainment companies and establish joint ventures to facilitate the export of Korean content.”
But there are stumbling blocks on his path to achieving his goal: the language barrier and cultural differences. Yong, who recently set up an office in Jamsil, southeastern Seoul, added that he feels K-pop labels are still quite “traditional” in many ways. Nevertheless, he is more positive than negative.
“Honestly, it is taking a lot of time and effort for us to build the networks and infrastructure,” he said. “But still, we are sailing smoothly in general. We are currently in talks with a few Korean partners over possible collaborations. However, it would be great if more Korean companies got to know about Evergreen’s competitive edges. Although the music markets in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia are all distinct from each other, we have run businesses in these countries for more than a decade. We have the infrastructure, networks and know-how, which can enable K-pop stars to reach new heights.”
But this kind of collaboration is not the only thing that Yong wants. The passionate and well-rounded businessman is also seeking to introduce Southeast Asian musicians to the Korean music scene, helping them develop and demonstrate their musical prowess on a global scale.
“I also want to bring some talented Southeast Asian artists to Korea, so that they can experience the K-pop system and set foot into the Korean music scene,” he said.
Singaporean rapper ShiGGa Shay is one of the musicians that Yong thinks has a great deal of potential in Korea. The rapper, best known for his smash-hit, “LimPeh” (2013), collaborated with Korean-American rapper Jay Park on his February release, “uRight.”
“There are a plethora of gifted musicians,” Yong said, naming more singers. “I think it would be nice for them to have more exposure in Korea, which has a different system.”
Yong, a singer on his own right, is planning to put out his own album in Korea and Singapore later this year.
“When I started getting interested in the entertainment business, I thought that I should be involved in music production instead of just making investments,” he said. “To have a better understanding of the industry, I have been making music on my own and collaborating with diverse artists. In fact, I recently worked with the Korean ballad group, 4MEN, to release a soundtrack for the upcoming KBS 2TV drama, School 2021, which stars Kim Yo-han of K-pop boy group WEi.”
The CEO wrapped up the interview by talking about his dreams and goals.
“I want to make Evergreen a multinational company that focuses not just on a single business,” he said. “A business can be done in different countries in different ways. And I think the key to success is to work with the right partners who are honest and transparent.”