Monday, May 18, 2015

Everything Korea, May 18, 2015 Episode: Embrace and Immerse

In this week’s Everything Korea my thoughts again turn to discussing why some Korean businesses do well outside Korea, while others struggle.
A caveat is tied to last week’s episode where although Korea entrepreneurs have and continue to launch some amazing new startup concepts—few ever gain the stellar funding and success achieved by similar startups the US in the past or now with concepts like Periscope, Meerkat or my favorite
Frankly what works well in Korea may not work well outside Korea and with regard to the Startup Model even work within Korea. Same thing goes for global brands, what works well in each respective country or region needs some if not substantial localization—localizations a catch phrase that everyone agrees to but few truly embrace.
In particular, I see with Korea brands looking outside Korea to often the same missteps re-occurring. In my recent case study “A Global Approach: For Korea Management Teams” I address many of the challenges. See the link below for a copy of the study.
So what are some steps in my opinion for 1) Korean brands already having a global footprint, or 2) brands that wish to expand outside Korea, or 3) domestic Korea startups, all need to take?
I’ll talk more on this in the next episode, but for a first step--embrace and immerse in the local culture, market norms and success model.
What is a poor idea is for an overseas team modeling practices after the Korea operations. This I know can be difficult--most Korean teams dispatched are most familiar with the Korean model, receive limited support to transition, or are subjected to pressure from their peers and seniors to limit the embracing of local norms over the mother company’s. The later situation a real concern.
Again in the next episode we’ll drill deeper to the core causes of the disconnects.
Oh one more thing…
Those struggling with some of the challenges I’ve mentioned, or have issues within your organization that need to be addressed….I have blocked out my availability to chat and discuss…. Just go to
Until next time, all the best.
And a very cool App, please join and follow me

Monday, May 11, 2015

Everything Korea: May 11 Episode, Startup Culture

Summary and Links
Just back from NYC, so I wanted to share the link to The Korea Society presentation.  Nikita Desai and the team did a wonderful job hosting and then professionally producing and uploading the event.  You’ll want to set aside some time to watch the recorded session.  I have included the YouTube link in week’s copy.

The topic of Korean startups seemed to come up lots last week.  We touched upon it in The Korea Society interview, but it was a subject of discussion in several of my high level meetings while in the City.

I feel it is a “talking point” that I will be elaborating more on in the next few weeks, but frankly entreneurialism and the roots of Korean style entreureurialism has long been a subject of my study, writing and work. 

In fact, my first book was titled, The Filleys: 350 Years of American Entrepreneurial Spirit

A second book Intrepid Americans: Bold Koreans—Early Korean Trade, Concessions, and Entrepreneurship

As well as Chemulpo to Songdo IBD: Korea’s International Gateway,
 and Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed all approach entreneurialism from different perspectives, historically and culturally.

So today, just as an introduction to the topic of Korean startups, I see the major challenge with Korean startup is culture.  Let me explain, what has evolved in America regarding startups is they tend to hub in cities like Boulder, Colorado, San Francisco, Austin, TX, and NYC, although more and more scenes are emerging like here in Golden, CO…

Within these communities I have witnessed an amazing synergy not only in day-to-day interactions and dialogue, but also in resources.  Actually spending an hour and listening to the chats and even pitches for funding in edgy Caffe Centro on a South Park  Street in San Francisco (the couple of blocks once referred as Ground Zero of the, where concepts like  Twitter were launched and scores of tech companies and startups now call home  ) one quickly sees why locating in one of these scenes is key ….

Noting this, where the gap between US and Korea occurs is primarily in mindset.  Today the entrepreneurs, angel investors and VC who launched Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and Shopify continue to look for, invest and provide mentorship and guidance to what they hope will be the next success story…. In most cases they are investing resources in multiple ventures…. 

This said they know and accept that failure is part of the process…. As Biz Stone (Twitter, Square, Xanga, Medium…and a bunch more) said at SXSW…  “the failure of one venture, Jelly, led to success at a venture, Super.”

So getting back to Korea the real challenge is not in lack of ideas, innovation, and talent, but in allowing and fostering a culture for an acceptance of failure. And this is where I will take up in the next episode of Everything Korea and share some an exciting developments, which may be the very answer…so stay tuned.

Until next time….

Link to The Korea Society

Link to Don’s Books

For some fun with your iPhone

Don Southerton's Interview on Korea Society Podcast

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Doing Business in South Korea: Contractual agreements

Contracts, legal agreements and negotiations go hand in hand with global business. I was once told that in Korea the purpose of signing a contract or agreement was essentially to formalize the partnership. Over time, terms would be subject to change and re-negotiation.
My Korea facing experience has been that the contract fundamentally solidifies the working relationship.  However, to maintain the partnership contractual obligations, the contract will require on-going changes to reflect business conditions. In contrast, a legal agreement in the West is immutable.
Major differences in how Korean and Westerners perceive legal agreements can surface during the negotiation stage and even after the contract is in place. In particular, requests by Korean teams for change after change and alterations to a Western company's standard agreements and contracts can cause considerable frustration, especially for their legal counsel. In the West some "red lining" of a document may take place, but legal teams may see unprecedented levels of questioning the most basic contractual language. Great patience may be required to walk Korean teams through the Western legal terminology and clarifications of what cannot be changed within the document to maintain compliance with international laws.
Finally, it is not uncommon for terms to be re-visited and questioned by other departments – often with limited or no international legal or business experience –  despite months of work between the Western and Korean lead teams! 
As the Ink dries
Perhaps of more concern is that terms mutually agreed upon within the binding agreement can be subject to re-interpretation. Most often, Korean and western senior leadership teams did a great job gaining mutual trust. Both negotiated well. The deal is signed and its time to perform.
Sadly, the honeymoon is over. Challenges arise, what appeared to be clear expectations could now seem murky with poor alignment and weak communications. 

There are a number of reasons. Over time, as Korean team members are reassigned to the project, the new staff will be unfamiliar with previous compromises and understandings. This new staff, often in response to changing business conditions, will have different expectations and want to implement fundamental changes that alter the agreement.  This will require amending the original agreement with all of the associated time and costs. In the worst cases, Western companies will not be open to altering what they feel is fair and binding, resulting in seriously jeopardizing the relationship and creating potential legal action. 
In dealing with Korea-facing business partnerships ensuring success and sustainability will require well-communicated expectations and cross-cultural understanding. In particular, any business plan and strategy needs to take into account differences the cultural realities between the West and Korea.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Everything Korea, Week of May 4th Episode

Two topics, first I’ll be working from NYC this week. I’ll be sharing the Korea Society presentation once their very professionally team produces the video series and uploads to YouTube.  Please Stay tuned. 
That said, much of my professional work is providing strategy and consulting to the top Korean brands globally.  

This includes working with non-Korean firms, leadership and audiences to explain the dynamics and nuances in Korean business. During a long day that can often extend into the evening, I tackle client issues.

A common question both in media interview and by clients is “ Don, how did you get interested in Korean business?” 

My Korea focus and experience are actually rooted in Korean martial arts. I began martial arts in the early 1970s, receiving my Cho Dan (1st Degree Black Belt) by the mid 1970s, opened my first school in 1976 and tested for Sabom Master Instructor in 1987.  In 2013, I was inducted into the Taekwondo Hall of Fame.  

Outside my public image today of business consultant, coach, trainer, strategist, social commentator, and author.  I’ve continued to be a life-long student of traditional Korean martial arts-- now for 43 years.

I have added several complex Chinese forms to my repertoire of over 35 hyung—the traditional sets of combative movements martial artists’ practice to hone their bodies and minds.

I have always seen martial arts as not only a way of staying in shape through a wide range of stretching, kicking, and hand movements, but also a demanding mental regiment.

All said, I attribute my success in Korean business much in part to the discipline, “meditation in motion,” self-control, patience, and focus sharpened over a lifetime in the martial arts—not to mention the strong rooting in the cultural dimension of a traditional Korea art.

Just one more thing, in addition to my Korean facing Facebook pages, I just added a new martial arts Page.   It includes some articles I have written for both academic and the martial arts industry.

So until next time, this is Don Southerton wishing you all the best.

As in past Everything Korea, I will share links on topics discussed in the accompanying copy.
1. The Korea Society

Please Follow and Like:
2.   My Facebook Page ( lots of posts I see as timely and relevant)

3. Bridging Culture Worldwide Facebook Page  (Korea facing)

4. My Martial Arts Page (cool videos and articles)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Everything Korea - Korean Foreign Investment, Tennessee and Car Tires!

In the week’s episode I recommend some books, as well as discuss Korean Foreign Investment, Tennessee and car tires.  

A common question I get from Korean executives is “what books are you reading Don?” Two books stand out from my current bookshelf.  [Both titles are listed in the video].

Before I share why these two books are on my reading list, I need to step back the past several months.  Prior to my March trip to Seoul, I picked up a new iPhone 6 (and yes, I plan to get an iWatch Sport soon). Anyway, while in Korea and to take advance of the high speed Internet I planned to do the software update. Mid download, the phone locked up. 

Luckily I was heading back to the US the next day, and would be in-flight for much of the next day, so I “survived” without phone, text and constant email updates.  In the meantime, I was re-reading Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Workweek, and although cognitive to my addiction of constantly checking email, I finally came to recognize the time chewing up keeping an eye on emails, most all non-urgent, was impacting the quality of my work and life.  In particular, my creative thought stream was disrupted with a mix of updates, alerts and promotions. I wouldn’t even mention how many times I would check emails during the night.

So what’s the relevancy, well, after now implementing some rather cool email filter processes, and earmarking times to follow up on emails, I have carved out noticeable blocks of time I am now devote to additional reading and research…. And I’ve found “Those who read, have something to share.”   

Moving to my next topic, I’m in NYC at the Korea Society next week.  I’d happy to say the presentation will be recorded, available on YouTube and I’ll be posting the links.

BTW I have some time still available while in New York, so let me know if you have some thoughts who I should meet with while in the City.

One more thing-
In late May I will be in Tennessee as part of a panel discussing local foreign investment.  Specifically I was asked to discuss Korean foreign investment in regard to Hankook Tire’s new $800 million car tire plant.  Frankly, I’ve supported Hyundai and then Kia Motors’ manufacturing plants in Alabama and Georgia as well as teams from their other plants globally. I have also worked with Hyosung, which in their diverse product lines manufactures tire cords—the key component in tires.
I’ve been followed news of the Hankook plant since last fall, and hope to learn more about their plans for the US plant as well as help the local government and community support the new plant.

In turn it’s these experiences that provide the insights I share with you and others—all of us benefitted from this work across and supporting the many legs of Korean business: Manufacturing, Sales and Marketing, research and design.

 So until next time…


“Those who Read, have something to share.”

Hankook Tire

4 Hour Workweek (updated)

 A Curious Mind

Questions?  Go to