Monday, July 24, 2017

Everything Korea, July 24 Episode: Sneak Peek--Tesla Korea: Behind the Mystique

In 2008, I was living in La Jolla, California. On Sunday mornings an automotive upstart would bring their red Roaster to the beach town’s popular oceanfront park for folks to test drive the car.

I recall it caught my attention as it quietly zoomed up the hill.  It was an electric car. For one working with OEM design teams, I felt the Design was sharp. It was cool, too.

Torque was considerable and acceleration immediate with no lag-- something l would learn came with an electric powertrain. The car was a Tesla.

Fast forward nearly 10 years, and Tesla has challenged the automotive business model not only here, but also internationally.  Here is my preview on forthcoming article at Tesla Korea 2017.

In crafting the article, my lens is Cultural.  I stop short of how I would sustain their unique position in the Korean market… although as consultant I do have that strategy and roadmap. It's what I do.

Tesla Korea: Behind the Mystique By Don Southerton

In my recent Branding in Asia article, I made the point that in the wake of the car trade imbalance one American brand may break the Korean preference for imports now held by German automakers.  That brand is Tesla.

Why Tesla?

One, Korea customers are increasingly looking to buy “green”, environmental-friendly vehicles.  Substantial government incentives have driven up sales both in domestic Korean carmakers’ hybrid, plug-in and electric vehicles and well as in imports.

Two, the demand continues for the more luxurious class of import cars. Top brands have included BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Audi, Jaguar and Porsche. Additionally, a number of “supercars” are also popular -- Aston Martin, Maserati, Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti.

From a cultural perspective, consumables can tell us much about a society.

The demand for luxury, premium goods and products has gone hand in hand with the upward mobility. In fact, these (most often Western) lux items have taken on the role of status markers.

Although some Koreans have shown concern over this desire for pricey goods, in the eyes of many Korean customers, the more expensive and rare, the more desirable the brand. These consumers equate value with a high price tag.

All in all, Tesla captures what we see unfolding as an ever-growing demand for upmarket goods and product in Korea.

My third point about Tesla is that in a culture often seen as conformity embodied, many feel the need to differentiate themselves.  It is this need to differentiate that Tesla captures so well, as it does in their home market -- the U.S.  

That said, with customer interest high and up to 6-month waits on test drives, and 3 months on delivery, Tesla’s mystique may be what is needed for an American automotive brand to truly thrive in South Korea.

To learn more, go to

Friday, July 14, 2017

Everything Korea, July 17 Episode: Always Timely, Always Korea Facing

Short update this week, and more an opportunity to share my series of articles in Branding In Asia.

I cover a number of topics—always timely, always Korea facing. Take a few moments and peruse.

American Car Brands in Korea

South Korean Conglomerate Restructuring

Best Practices for Market Entry

Creative Culture vs. Process in South Korea

Korean Corporate Culture

Globalization Requires a Better Process For Korean Car Makers

Inside Look: Korean Market Entry Barriers

Creativity Drives International Expansion of Korean Food Scene

Trump and Trade

South Korea: Gazing back, Looking forward


Branding in Asia Magazine is a leading source for News, Creative Work, Profiles and Insight on branding, marketing and advertising in Asia.

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Thursday, July 06, 2017

Everything Korea--Creativity, Décor and Cuisine

Bistro Seoul, Mad for Garlic and Modern Nulang

In my 2016 article “Creative Culture vs. Process in South Korea”

I discuss the challenges and gaps in a creative workplace culture between the West and South Korea. 

That said, I have also shared “Change.”

I see huge leaps in the culture that nurtures an emerging “creative class.”

One can sense the change just strolling down a trendy Seoul urban district undergoing gentrification such as Hongdae or Sinsadong where streets and alleys are dotted with vogue shops and hip cafes. Likewise, adjacent neighborhoods, Yeonnam-dong and Sangsu-dong, for example, have become home to Korean hipsters and young artists.

In particular, this emerging Korean creative class has generated a demand for and furthered the appeal for chic design, urban art, indie music, and hip, smart fashion as many look to stand out as individuals within a people once depicted cross-culturally as high in conformity. 

This leads me to my thought for this week. As I shared in the previous post, I am supporting three Korean concepts in their U.S. and Americas expansion. 

I see strong ties to creativity behind the brands. First in design style and décor of the restaurants.  

Bistro Seoul, Mad for Garlic and Modern Nulang

And, secondly in the artisan cuisine—both in savor and presentation.

Oh, one more thing.

Regarding the three food brands, we’re eager to meet with potential development partners to share the concepts—each as shown with their unique appeal.

For more information on the brands, please contact Stacey my assistant at, and she can schedule a time to meet or chat by phone. 

For all urgent matters, text me at 310-866-3777

Learn more...


Everything Korea - South Korea, Land of Change

Starbucks Korea Reserve

I was sharing with a firm investing heavily in South Korea the considerable opportunity but one that comes with some challenges. Top on my list, I feel it’s a land of change. More than most foreign companies operating or looking to launch in Korea realize.

This translates in deals and agreements more as frameworks, a roadmap and subject to change. It’s rare to see a long- term strategy… 2020 now a common target for planning purposes.

 So what am I getting at?

Regardless of where a foreign company today sees their project in 3-5 years… it will need to evolve. The team on the ground needs to focus 100% on the construction deadlines and milestones—but senior overseas leadership need to develop contingencies…

For example,

in one for my project where I served as an advisor, Incheon’s Songdo International District it evolved over the years.... the current model differs lots from the early 2000s original plan and even at midway point 2007.

1000 plus strong Starbucks Korea, too, is evolving more in Korea than even the US... Now with 60 plus “coffee forward” Reserve café, and more are opening monthly—the brand adapting to the Korean upmarket demand for premium goods and services.

So when looking at 2020 and beyond… as my work takes me…

I consider:

What will be seen as new and different in 5 years?

What other projects, product and services in the works or being considered might better target Korea in 5 years?

Finally, as caveat is with regard to local partners… What are the plans if the local partner shifts and alters their focus?

Many do and have exited projects as their goals change. This is common and not an exception.

Again, all said, advising on best practices, workarounds and a sound plan is where I provide a framework, context and strategy.

As always, we open to discussing your needs and concerns.

Stacey,, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet, or chat by phone.  For urgent matters, Text me at 310-866-3777

Learn more...


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Everything Korea: Korean Global Dining Leader Looks to the Americas

This week, I’d like to share three popular South Korean chef-inspired restaurant concepts that are moved into the second phase of international expansion. Successful launched in South Korea and Asia, Seoul-based SUN AT FOODS now plans to bring their handcrafted artisanal cuisines to the U.S and the Americas.
Mad For Garlic
One of my longtime personal favorites, which I have talked about often, is Mad for Garlic that first opened in 2001. They are known for their garlic-specialized Italian cuisine served in rather unique restaurant settings.

I feel their secrets are Mad for Garlic’s method of removing the garlic’s pungent smell and unique way of cooking Italian cuisine with a Korean twist. In Korea and Asia they have won the hearts of both garlic and non-garlic lovers.

Building on the success of Mad for Garlic are two new concepts Modern Nulung and Bistro Seoul.

Modern Nulang

Modern Nulang

Inspired by 1930s Shanghai Renaissance era, Modern Nulang is the combination words of ‘Modern’ and ‘Nulang’ –the latter meaning ‘woman’ in Chinese. They have reinterpreted the era’s ‘modern women’ in their dishes, which guests describe as ‘Sophisticated’ and ‘Romantic’ Chinese Cuisine.

Best of all, folks love indulging in an exotic Shanghai dining and cultural experience captured so well in Modern Nulang.

A third concept is Bistro Seoul.

Here they offer authentic Korean cuisine made with fresh ingredients and seasoning prepared in a traditional but modern interpretation. Savory dishes include Grilled Short Rib Patties, and their ever popular Korean style pancakes that include Kimchi & Seafood pancakes, Crispy Potato pancakes and Minced Shrimp & Seafood pancakes.

SUN AT FOODS plans are now underway targeting top regional U.S markets as well as meeting with industry leaders and potential regional developers. In fact, I am their market development consultant and we’re eager to meet with potential partners to share the three concepts—each with their unique appeal.

For more information on the brands, please contact Stacey my assistant at, and she can schedule a time to meet or chat by phone.

For all urgent matters, text me at 310-866-3777


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Everything Korea June 5 Episode: Chung Ju Yung, Hyundai Founder

I was pleased to see Hyundai Motor America recently highlight a quote attributed to Hyundai Group Founder Chung Ju-yung. It shared the Founder’s “Desire for Better.” Born in November 1915, the Korean entrepreneurial businessman passed away on March 21, 2001. 

I’ve also been asked to share more on Chung Ju Yung.

Chung Ju-yung—Hyundai Founder and Honorary Chairman

Growing up in rural Korea during the Japanese Colonial era, the future founder of Hyundai, Chung Ju-yung, exhibited entrepreneurialism early in life. Breaking free from Korean agrarian tradition that the eldest son remain at home to tend the family lands, young Chung’s desire to enter business led to his operating a rice store and then an auto repair business while still a young man. Following the liberation of Korea from Japan in 1945 and unshackled by draconian Colonial rule, Chung Ju-yung re-entered the auto repair business and soon after formed a construction company. He named these businesses Hyundai, which means Modern.

The Early Years

After several years of prosperity and capitalizing on expansion opportunities, Chung Ju-yung was suddenly forced to abandon the Seoul-based auto repair and construction companies in 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. Along with thousand of other refugees, Chung Ju-yung and his extended family fled to the last bastion of resistance, the southern coastal city of Busan. There an opportunity to provide housing for the American military surfaced and soon Chung Ju-yung was back in business as a contractor. No construction job was turned away—big or small.

In the years following the end of the Korean War in 1953, Chung Ju-yung and Hyundai established themselves as a reputable construction company. Working mostly for the Americans and the South Korean government, Hyundai struggled with extremely limited resources to restore Korea’s war-battered infrastructure. A key project drawing considerable public attention was the rebuilding of Seoul’s single bridge spanning the Han River. To thwart the advancing North Korean army, the bridge had been destroyed by the South Koreans on the third day of the Korean War. In the spirit of nationalism, Chung Ju-yung repaired the bridge “at cost.” This drew strong local accolades, while establishing the previously little known Hyundai as a major Korean construction company in the eyes of the public and the government.

Hyundai and the “Miracle on the Han”

Fueled by a wide spread perception of post–war government mismanagement and corruption, in 1961 South Korea witnessed a military coup led by General Park Chung-Hee. In the wake of the coup as South Korea struggled to recover from the devastation of the conflict and an ever present and looming threat from North Korea, the new regime saw the need for rapid social and economic development. To spur this rapid economic development the authoritarian South Korean government teamed with a number of the Korean family-run businesses commonly referred to as chaebol (chae= wealth, bol = family). The new regime managed in a quid pro quo relationship, providing the chaebol with subsidies, cheap credit and protection against foreign competition. This arrangement also limited Unions, which kept labor cost low. Korean chaebol that met the authoritarian government’s bold mandates gained additional work. In a climate where failure was not tolerated and success rewarded, Hyundai was among the most successful. Moreover, Chung Ju-yung gained a reputation for iron-will, determination, and a “can-do” spirit where “even the impossible was possible.”

By the 1970s and 1980s, the South Korean economy began to focus on export-driven heavy industry. Chung Ju-yung continued to diversify the company by entering key sectors, including shipbuilding and auto manufacturing. In many cases, Hyundai divisions were the preferred suppliers to others within the Group—ranging from concrete to steel. By the 1980s, Hyundai was South Korea’s largest and most successful conglomerate with projects across Asia and the Middle East. To many Hyundai symbolized South Korea’s rapid economic growth often referred to as the “Miracle on the Han”—the Han River bisecting the greater Seoul area. Interestingly, and rightfully pointed out to me after one of my lectures, most of Hyundai’s operations were centered in Ulsan on the southeast coast of the peninsula.


The extended Chung family, which included Chung Ju Yung, his brothers, in-laws, children, and nephews, oversaw a considerable empire. Over time some of the brothers and brothers-in-law eventually formed their own Groups. These included the Halla Group (cement, construction, auto parts), the Sungwoo Group (cement, auto parts, accessories, batteries, resorts), Korea Flange (flanges, forging, auto parts), Hyundai Industrial Construction and Development (housing construction), Hyundai Oil Refinery, and the KCC Group (auto paint and glass). In turn these affiliated Groups provided products and services as preferred or exclusive suppliers.

These Chung family business ventures actually follow Korean norms with the eldest son (jang ja), in this case Hyundai, assuming responsibility for younger siblings and their families (the affiliated family owned companies). This norm still impacts business as the Hyundai Motor Group continues to support and nurture the smaller companies.

Nation-Builder to Philanthropy

Late in life, with his family members and a loyal team of experienced managers running day-to-day operation of what had grown into a business empire, Chung Ju-yung’s interests shifted from nation building to philanthropic activities.

The above from my book Hyundai Way—Hyundai Speed.  ( Link )

To close, within the Hyundai Founder’s nation-building / philanthropic work, three efforts stand out…

First, the Seonan Land Reclamation Project--In the 1980s, Chung Ju Yung carried out a massive land reclamation project in Seosan, South Chungcheong Province, to help the farming industry.  I see parallels to Henry Ford’s support for agriculture research and development later in his life…

Next, the Asan Hospital / Asan Foundation-- The name of the foundation comes from the village of Asan-ri in Tongchon County, Gangwon Province, which was the hometown of Chung Ju Yung.

And finally, the 1988 Olympics – Despite many in Korea who felt it “impossible,” beginning in 1981, Chung began pursued the IOC to secure the 1988 Summer Olympics over Japan and other contenders. He eventually convinced the IOC that Korea had the resources and the ability to host the international sports event, at times relying on heavily on Hyundai’s extensive overseas network.

Questions, Comments, Thoughts…. Just ask.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Everything Korea, May 30 Episode, South Korea and Moon Jae-in

South Korean President Moon Jae-in

The new Korean President Moon Jae-in finished his third week in office...with high public ratings fueled by a strong willingness to communicate and seek out the middle ground. More impressive is Moon started his term immediately upon election without a transition period.

That said, his appointments of “activist economists” to key government positions has draw concern... the appointees outspoken in the past with regard to Chaebol… at the core, public demand for holding company structures and measures that support minority shareholders.

The challenge is that President Moon's top priority in labor issue, jobs and employment... and the large Groups needed to generate better-paying jobs.... vs. small to medium size business often offering lower wages and benefits. In particular, how to do this without the Blue House (Korea’s White House) past practice of the putting pressure -- direct and indirect – on Samsung, Hyundai, LG, SK and Lotte business executives to create jobs?
One more thing... Disclaimer—shameless promotion ☺

I have been getting a number of inquiries on coaching and mentoring....
My passion is sharing Korean business culture and, in particular, strategies to succeed within the Culture.

Don Southerton, Bridging Culture Worldwide

Since 2003, Bridging Culture Worldwide programs and mentoring has been offered to thousands across America and internationally. Our flagship Korea 101 program as well as well as sister Korea 201 workshops have served as the core for this Korean business culture mentoring.

A proven strength of the training and coaching is that it builds upon current experiences of the teams, while providing new understandings that lead to solutions.

Ideally the programs are held over 4 to 6 weeks—each class an 1.5 hour session, plus mentoring. That said, we have a number of options including half and full day immersion programs.

Presented both on-site and through web-based programs, it has benefitted teams, not only in America, but also in Canada, UK, Belgium, Germany, Russia, AU, India, South Korea, and the Middle East. Customized versions have been professionally recorded and distributed worldwide to organizations and incorporated in their in-house programs.

Korea 101 and 201 programs are also an integral part of on-boarding and mentoring for key executives and management.

The key to the success of our Korea 101 and 201 programs has been the strong endorsement of our partner firms’ CEOs, senior American and Korean management, and across their teams.

As organizations they realize that their teams need support. Expecting employees to “get it” without training and coaching rarely works. We are proud to work with our partners and their teams.

Pricing upon request.