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.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Everything Korea, May 22 Episode a Korea Perspective

Culture plays the dominate role in the Korea workplace and in overseas operations.

This week we’d like to share my book that tackles many of the issues that surface…. as well as providing workarounds.

The title is Korea Perspective

Follow the links or just ask, and we’ll forward a PDF copy.

My goal is for you to “move forward within the Culture. “

To discuss about more a Korean facing business question, Stacey, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet or chat by phone. 

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Everything Korea May 15 Episode: Immersion, Where to Begin?

To qualify, specifically when working with teams outside Korea,
I fall back on to 3 fundamentals with regard to Korean business.

Hierarchy—place and order
Hierarchy is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of Korean culture and deeply embedded in the Korean workplace in Korea and overseas.

Reaching back to Korea's Neo-Confucian past, social stratification is apparent in Korea's top companies like the Samsung, Hyundai, Kia Motors, LG and SK. More so, South Korea’s authoritarian military regimes of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s reinforced the model.

For Koreans hierarchy brings place and order to society and the workplace. Unlike the West, within this hierarchy no two individuals have the same place within the social matrix--age, education, family, employment and title /position with a company or organization determining where one stands within this matrix. So deeply does it impact Korea that rankings from one’s academic class standings to consumer rating of the major Group global brands can matter considerable.

Status—upmarket and Lux
Traditionally Korea was a status conscious society. For the elites this manifested in a wide range of status markers from treasured Celadon pottery, refined behavior, ritual robes, distinct cuisine, and table manners. Today a former rigid class structure no longer dominates—class distinction and status more determined by one’s education, employment, job position, and personal income. More so, we have seen considerable upward social mobility within Korea—a direct results of the nation’s economic successes.

Going hand and hand with the upward mobility has been the demand for luxury and premium goods and products. In fact, these (most often Western) lux items have taken on the role of status markers. This list can include designer eyeglasses, handbags, and watches, as well ties, scarfs, belts and name brand clothing.

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

All and all what we see unfolding is an ever growing demand for upmarket goods and product in Korea—this consciousness driving a repositioning of Korean brands globally, too, -- Korean brands wishing to be seen as premium and among world’s leading consumer goods from cars to home appliances to electronics.

Generations—shared experiences

South Korea’s dominant age groups have great impact on Korean business culture, so there is value in understanding the differences in Korean generations. In South Korea, a generational group is defined more by its shared experiences than by a specific number of years.

For instance, older Koreans (60:70ers) who lived through the Korean War and its aftermath are more conservative, strongly allied with the U.S., and uncompromising towards North Korea.

In contrast, a group called Generation 386 (a phrase coined more than a decade ago,) are comparable in some aspects to American baby-boomers).

A third generation of South Koreans, those in the age group of 26-35, is commonly referred to as the New Generation or Shinsedae. Many of this group have studied abroad, worked most of their careers on overseas support and projects, are fluent in English (and often another language or two), and have a global perspective.

This group grew up after the 1997 economic meltdown in Asia, which strongly impacted South Korean culture. This younger generation of Koreans is less concerned about ideology and more pragmatic. Their primary concern is finding a job. They are also a strong “gotta have it” consumer class and individualistic as a result of the impact of globalization, the Internet, television, and the high percentage of students who attended U.S. schools and universities.

All three noted, I see hierarchy, status and generations as a lens to better understand the Korean mindset, both within their society and in the workplace across their global organizations.

Questions, comments, thoughts?

Monday, May 08, 2017

More than once, actually frequently….

A firm looking to enter Korea or one doing business with a Korea-based company contacts me and inquires on best practices.

Forthcoming, I provide a roadmap.

After some deliberation, the firm decides they will initially handle the launch or project themselves… and when time is right seek out my assistance—their team quite savvy.

In my experience organizations hoping their team will adapt quickly to Korea business rarely works.

Even if the plan includes hiring Korean or Korean heritage staff, which is helpful in language issues, it has little impact on dealing with more complex issues.

In the long run not fully comprehending Korean company culture, practices, norms and expectations will be costly, not only in fiscal terms, but in poor productivity, stress and frustration.

All said, there are positive options.

Provide immersion support across your organization to all those involved in the ventures. This includes offering your home office as well as the lead teams immersion training and then mentoring /coaching.

It will produce results, and is much less costly than the consequences that can include lawsuits, employee turnover, missed goals and low productivity--not to mention mounting tensions over missing expectations.

At minimum, key management need access to high level mentoring /coaching and someone to answer their questions on topics ranging from strategy to the impact of routine management changes at their Korean partners. They also need frequent updates on Korea and the market.

Here if you want to chat…

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Everything Korea, May 1 Episode Korea Immersion—Still the Best Practice

Immersion. It’s my approach when working with new executives, team members and their partner--service providers.

It’s not only a best practice followed by top Korea-facing companies, but a lesson-learned over the years on the consequences of not providing this support.

More than a few clients, for example, offers up to 18 hours of my Korea 101 ℠ programs, not to mention ongoing mentoring to the executives. We also provide immersion with New Employee Orientation and even for their summer intern programs.
Bottom line “Immersion” gives teams the skills to “work within the Culture.”

Oh, one more thing. 
All partner-providers, account representatives, and their support teams should receive immersion training…. 

Often overlooked these teams, too, need to “work with the Culture.” Korea facing clients differ greatly in nuance and practice from the other American, European and Asian brands they may support. To learn more, Stacey my personal assistant ( can schedule a time for us to discuss on how best to offer Korea 101 ℠ immersion programs for your team.