Big Boss Energy: Simon Kim, CEO, Gracious Hospitality Management and Founder of COTE Korean Steakhouse

by Portfolio Magazine
Portrait by Seth Browarnik
14 Feb 2024

What are the new rules of business that today’s generation of business leaders follow? In this month’s edition of PORTFOLIO, big bosses from various industries like technology, F&B, and hospitality dish leadership advise and reveal how they walk the talk.

What changes and trends are you anticipating in your industry for 2024? What kind of preparations are you making for it?
The pandemic brought about a lot of change within our industry and what I am seeing now is people desiring a dining experience that is far more comfortable, real, and of higher quality. Enjoying simplicity in its finest versus something more formal and stiff is also a new generational shift that we’re noticing as a company.

At Gracious Hospitality Management, we focus on our three “constants”: Quality, consistency. and value. This stands beyond trendsetting – once you have these three pillars, the trends invent themselves.

That being said, as an entrepreneur, it’s so important that we stay on top of the latest trends in technology, regenerative farming, plant-based diets, and other industry verticals that are paving the way towards a new way of eating, dining and providing world-class hospitality.

The main dining hall at COTE Korean Steakhouse, Singapore

Based on personal experience, what makes a good leader in today’s context? What kind of skills are essential to be able to lead a team now?
Between AI and the internet, there is more information readily available than ever before, so authenticity as a leader plays a critical role. The new type of leader is not the one with more information, but is the one offering a unique set of skills and experiences in order to best lead people with.

Compassion is one skill that I think is most important – being a leader that genuinely cares. My mentor once asked what is the best fertilizer for a fruit tree? It’s the footsteps of a farmer. You pay attention to the tree’s growth and needs. It’s important to challenge your team too. It’s not just about what they need, but also knowing when to push them past their own limitations, past where they think they can go. That’s growth, too.

(Related: Generation Next - New era of excellence)

What are the rules of business that you abide by? As a leader, what kind of rules do you set for yourself and your team?
Do the right thing. As an entrepreneur, there is always an opportunity to take the short path. Throughout my career, I have learned that I don’t have many regrets, but the ones that I do have are because I compromised in some way.

Do you have a mentor? If so, what did you learn from them that has proven beneficial in your professional journey?
I call him Captain Park. He was the chair of the chamber of commerce for the Republic of Korea and a true entrepreneur. I learned from him something very simple: Put people first.

Steak omakase at COTE Korean Restaurant, Singapore

As we move into the future and navigate constantly shifting trends and mindsets, what is the best way to keep up and stay informed?
Information flows through so many channels these days, whether trade shows, industry events, social media, networking, and so on. It’s so important to stay connected through direct conversations with your employees, especially those on the floor working the restaurant, and reviewing data reports. I’ve found that the best way to stay connected is to show care and to be open. Spend more time observing with an open mind.

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