In 1984, South Korean conglomerate Daewoo built a headquarters in Seoul for its financial services subsidiary Daewoo Securities.
In those days, Daewoo was fast-becoming an icon and symbolic of South Korean aspirations to top the global economic stage. In 1986, the company formed a joint venture with General Motors to export more of its cars to consumers around the world in the greatest show of its strength.
To immortalize that success the company developed the 16-story Daewoo Securities tower in the Yoido Business District of the South Korean capital, Seoul.
However the ill winds of th€1990s that blew into Asia hit the Daewoo parent company, and almost put paid to the Securities arm too. Daewoo, it discovered, had expanded too fast and taken on too much debt.
By July 1999 the parent company owed creditors more than $50 billion. The end for Daewoo was as brutal as the crisis. Although Daewoo Securities survived, the securities arm didn't escape the fallout. A few years after being nationalized following the crisis, Daewoo Securities found the Korean government was ready to sell the business, a move that heralded in a period of stability for the firm.
And as the firm steadily recovered, so too did the value of the company's headquarters. In 2001, Goldman Sachs purchased the building for 48 billion won ($41 million), only for the Wall Street investment bank to resell it two years later for more than 68 billion won to Australia's Macquarie Bank.
As the main tenant, Daewoo Securities provided a strong covenant for Macquarie's investment. At the time, vacancy rates in Seoul were under four percent and rents were rising. By March last year, Macquarie took advantage of the strength of the market by selling the building to Deutsche Bank's RREEF for 112 billion won. Office rents in the city were still rising, and, along with the health of Seoul's real estate market, Daewoo Securities was flourishing too. It had the highest market share of Korea's brokerage business – around nine percent – and employed around 3,200 staff in 122 branches and five overseas networks.
The coup de grâce though for Daewoo Securities arrived in August this year, when, sealing itself for its definitive comeback, the company bought back the building from RREEF Alternative Investments for 181 billion won.
Daewoo Securities' real estate asset has certainly made money for its three previous owners over the past two decades. The passing of the years has been less kind to Daewoo's founder, Kim Woo Choong, who, in 2006, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and forced to repay 21 trillion won after being found guilty of fraud and misusing corporate funds.
The good news for Choong since then is that his jail time is over. At the end of December last year, he was granted amnesty by South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun.
The Daewoo Securities business he started in 1970 though is alive and kicking. Its majority owner is now the Korea Development Bank. And with such a powerful backer, it appears the Daewoo Securities building will remain in the family for a little while longer.