[KC101] Young H. Lee, Pioneer of Korea-Canada Economic Partnership


Young Lee (1942 – ) Hamilton, ON. Angel Investor and Importer, Exporter.
First Pioneer of Canadian Market, Godfather of Korean Torontonian.
One of Great Korean Entrepreneur of All Time in International Trade History.

Previous article, but not released on KorCan50years.com due to guidance :
[KC101] This City Needs Me, But I Can’t Afford It!

Daejeon ─ “As we sing, Canada is our home and native land. But, Remember this: your originality comes from Korea. My fellow young Korean Canadians. This is who you are and which is your natural born advantage. I thought up order-today-delivery-today, which I called OTDT. And such an approach has been one of my cornerstone assets in doing business over the past decades. Think about good things of Korean culture: OTDT, good restaurant services without tip. I believe that is competitiveness of our nation,” Lee, honorary president of World-OKTA, insisted.

A Diamond Jubilee Medallion of Queen Elizabeth II is given to him in 2012

Chairman, Mr. Lee is born on August 17, 1942. Lee, Young-hyun crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1966 with only hockey stick and his ambition to become famous hockey player in the powerhouse of this winter sports. Aftermath of the Korean war from 1950 to 1953, nothing had left on Korean Peninsula in 1960s. During that dark ages, Young H. Lee graduated from Kyung-bok Secondary School as high school league hockey player in 1962. You might think how can be able to play ice hockey in 1960s Korea, but winter season, either frozen Han river or poured water on the road became hockey field.

He served as a military assistant for United Nation allied force. Canadian sergeant in UN allies recognized his passion in hockey, and asked him that: “Why don’t you come to Canada? My country is always open for hockey players.”

It was the tipping point of his life. Sergeant wrote a letter of recommendation to Embassy  of Canada in Japan. In 1960s, Canada doesn’t have its embassy in Korea. Therefore, the embassy gave a note of immigration to Lee. Lee brought the note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – all migration was under control by government at that time – , but it had been denied because MFA hadn’t seen such a form before. So, MFA thought this note might be fake.

On the other hand, Canadian embassy was afraid because they didn’t receive any response from Lee. Deputy head of mission in Japan explained what happened to MFA Korea, then he was able to board on airplane finally. Today, we can take direct flight from ICN airport to YYZ (takes around half day), but his days, he should transfer 4 times at Japan, Hawaii, Western Canada and US. Entire flight time was more than 48 hours.

Unfortunately, Canada proved to his ill-fated decision because an 143 pounds Asian could not beat up Canadian hockey stars, who weighed almost double of him. He was depressed, and decided to go university despite his poor english fluency.


Lee got his bachelor’s degree of the English literature from Ryerson University in 1970 and after graduation garnered a decent job at IMB. However, he quitted IMB in just a few months and decided to do his own business. The legend of entrepreneur had been begun.

Young Lee Trading Co., Ltd. (YLT) is established in 1971. From the beginning until today, relies upon the successful importation and export of products, services and technologies import to and export from the Republic of Korea. YLT is dedicated to creating and bringing to our clients innovative, advanced product and technological solutions that will enhance the quality, convenience, simplicity and enjoyment of life for the benefit of all individuals.

His early business was based on importing goods from Korea to Canada. Meanwhile in 1970s, still South Korea was one of LDCs (Least Developed Countries). Almost nothing had been introduced to market on advanced countries.

He imported the well-packed chamber pots hit shelves of Canadian stores to sell as candy boxes at $189 and the innovative products won the hearts and minds of users there who had no idea on the purpose of the candy boxes. Lee watched the piss pots on sales in bulk at a price tag of at around $ 2 per pop, then he snapped up 850 of chamber pots and wrapped them up with fancy boxes.

Actually, ancient Korean used chamber pots, a bowl-shaped container with a handle and a lid, which was kept in the bedroom used as a urinal at night before present flush toilets were introduced. These are that chamber pots.

He also brought Korean wash boards, available at around 50 cents in Korea. He sold them as hundreds of loonies traditional wooden crafts at the Sears. Still, those wooden boards would be demonstrated in Canadian households whose owners would firmly believe that they are Oriental charms, not ones for washing clothes.

“In the 1970s, Korea has few items to sell overseas and people hardly know much about Korea. Accordingly, I almost begged consumers to buy Korean products,” he recollected.

When he made a success in his area, built some buildings for Korean immigrants nearby the cross section of Younge and Finch Streets, North York. Because He wanted to share all his glorious moment with his compatriots. This is the starting point of Korean Canadian society and nowadays his districts are becoming two biggest Korean Town in Greater Toronto Area.

One day, YLT got an offer from Canadian major retailer, they suggested that YLT import electric fan for their department store. His counterpart, Samsung C&T hadn’t made fan yet until then. In 1970s, Samsung Electronics was a OEM repairing centre of US or Japan products in Korea. So, they decided to reengineer fan which was made by others. They got a good news and another bad news, good one was Samsung learnt about electric motors from the reengineering. Bad news was their fans are not fit for shipping container. They made wrong estimation about its size. Delivery date was coming, and budget was not enough to make new one. Suddenly, one of Lee’s companion suggested: “Bring a saw.”

He sawed one of electric fans, then plugged. It luckily worked. All employees cut plastic parts of fans to put into container boxes. When all cargo arrived in Canada, they assemble all parts to complete fan again. This was the beginning of DKD (Disassembled Knocked Down) export form in Korea trade history.

“I was able to quit, but I didn’t. I made net loss from this occasion, but I had a promise. To me, trust is the most important component to run one’s business.”

Back to 1980s, due to relationship with Samsung C&T, YLT took in charge of exclusive distributor for Samsung film cameras in North American market. Canadian camera market was dominated by Japanese companies such as Canon, Nikon. Comparing to Japan camera, Samsung was merely entry-level manufacturer. The matter worse, its products didn’t work properly often.

Since he realized it took almost half a month of Canon and other Japanese firms to repair cameras, he vowed to fix all Samsung cameras right after requested. Whenever customers visit their customer service centre in person, he pledged to do the jobs at just half an hour, which even his partner insisted “implausible.”

Chairman was suffered from financial damages due to C/S policy. It almost took 10 years and sacrificed for the step to bear fruit. In the late 1990s, owing to OTDT strategy of Samsung and Young Lee Trading, Canadian started buying Samsung cameras, which took a double digit market share. His patience is painful for a long, but steady wins the race.

Lee’s strategy for market supremacy in digital cameras was not limited to just after services. He also tried to find niche markets where his competitors are not interested.

All the story is written on the book, Dynamic Power of After Service.

“I asked my employees, who thought gas stations were just the place of filling gas, need to think about selling digital cameras at service stations. I found the potential customers in there,” Lee mentioned.

In 2007, YLT made turnover of about $120 million. Throughout his entrepreneurial career, he only export and import all good from South Korea. Every year, he gives a speech about his entrepreneurship and patriotism for young generation of Korean immigrants all around the world. Now He returned to Hamiliton, ON. Still working as an angel investor to stimulate overseas Korean entrepreneurs. He is mentor for future generation and anyone can ask his help whoever they want.

The most thing I impressed was his taxi driver license. Whilst he studied at Ryerson University, he worked as part-time taxi driver for 3 years to pay tuition fee. He was barely afford to pay, and always suffered from immigrants poverty. To remind himself, he always puts his old license into his pocket. Because of his mindset, he could be a successful businessman in Korean Canadian society

*Source: Facebook (Young Hyun Lee)
Milestones of His Career
  • Established YLT (Young Lee Trading Co., Ltd) in 1971.
  • Member of the Toronto Board of Trade since 1975.
  • Elected as 12th president for World-OKTA(the Overseas Korean Traders Association) in 1992.
  • Honorary Member of the Board of Samsung Electro-mechanics from 1997.
  • Honorary Member of the Board of Samsung Aerospace from 1998.


Ryu, Sungyoung

                     Researcher ( http://www.tipa.or.kr )
@ Technology & Information Promotion Agency


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