The former vice chairman of one of South Korea's giant family-run conglomerates is going back to school after the group's collapse - to learn how to be a waiter.

Wearing a waiter's tuxedo, Suh Sang-rok, 62, on Wednesday was learning how to carry a stainless steel tray at a training course for waiters at a large hotel in Seoul.Suh was the vice chairman of Sammi group, whose core company, Sammi Steel, was South Korea's largest manufacturer of stainless steel.

Sammi Steel applied for court receivership in March 1997 after failing to honor promissory notes worth 1.1 billion won.

It was among the first in a chain reaction of corporate and bank failures that led to last year's debt crisis and forced Seoul to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a record $58.35 billion bail-out package.

Sammi got into trouble the same way a lot of Korean conglomerates did - rapidly expanding in a domestic market plagued by overcapacity and forays into unknown markets.

Suh's tumble from corporate chieftain to humble waiter is especially shocking to Koreans, who give great deference to their elders and the educated.