Monday, June 04, 2018

Similar brings us together

By its very nature, Korean facing business is the interaction of worldwide teams.  

This necessitates colleagues of different cultures working together on a daily basis.  How we see others culturally is often in the differences and similarities.  (I like to focus on the later; as differences pull us apart and similar brings us together. More effective, too.)

Most old-school cross-culture books and program content dwell on sharing differences… so be wary.

Particularly for U.S.-based western teams engaged in Korean operations, I believe in the importance of learning about the workplace in Korea—the 2018 norms, practices, and day-to-day life. These insights allow us to better understand our Korean teams and their expectations. Recognizing can dispel stereotyping, prejudices and ethnocentrism. 

Recognizing similarities is one of the most powerful cross-cultural bridges. In other words, to what can you relate in routine day-to-day life?  This requires identifying the local beliefs, values, expectations, traditions, and culture. 
BTW   They are ever changing. 

Although there is bound to be friction between home and host country cultural values, a successful model accomplishes:

Awareness and appreciation of both the home and host country with the ability to gain an insight into one’s own personal traits, strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, and interests.

Realization of similarities and shared values, along with an awareness of and respect for the cultural differences. 

Noting the 2018 generational differences. ( if you missed my recent article on Korean generational in the workplace, let me know and I’ll get you a copy).  Lots vary in how Korean generations see and do business. 

In closing.
How do you see this applying to you and your own experiences as well as working with Korean teams?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.


Monday, May 28, 2018


Happy Memorial Day…. some thoughts for a holiday read.
Contracts, legal agreements, and business plans 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 agreements fundamentally solidify the working relationship. However, to maintain any partnership contractual obligations will require on-going changes to reflect business conditions. In contrast, a legal agreement in the West is immutable.
This week, I’d like to elaborate and bring into a broader cultural dimension.
This Culture (with a big C) lesson is Koreans in the workplace and business see and prefer most things as “ gray” ever-changing and subject to revision. What’s set on paper matters, but as just as a Roadmap.
This ties into the “balli-balli” mindset, too.
In fact, Koreans in contrast to the Japanese see this “ flexibility’ as a competitive advantage…. They do craft elaborate and thoughtful business plans, organizational charts, job descriptions, and workflows — often crafted by junior and less experienced teams, but in reality, feel these are subject to change as circumstances shift. In the Korean workplace, the reality is all is ever evolving — shifting and adjusting daily.
In contrast western (US, UK, the Germans, AU) business feels most comfortable when we think through all the potential issues (often based on years of first-hand experience by senior executives) and then set things firmly on paper. In turn, any changes to for example, to a business plan, are subject to considerable scrutiny and critical thinking before altering.
As an option and best practice to working with both Cultures, first and foremost building the relationship and communications matters most. Misunderstandings will surface, but when both teams better understand each other’s mindset, we can move to collaboration and compromise.
In mentoring, I strive to build this understanding, pulling apart the issues to their cultural core, and sharing how to best build bridges and close gaps — something which is more art than science ☺ and not without its challenges.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Generational influences in the Korean workplace 2018.

Over the year, I share my thoughts on Korea-facing business.... sometimes the topic overlaps with issues I see during the week.., other times it's something in the news. LG's heir's rapid succession caught my eye this week and well as the implications for their Old Guard. Generations is also a topic I have covered often in my books and articles...

My weekend read.... Generational influences in the Korean workplace 2018.

Today we are witnessing an increasing generational divide in the Korea workplace.  Many firms are adapting to this change, as the workforce is increasingly a younger generation.

Much of the change is driven by the Old Guard vs. the New Guard.  The Old Guard, people in the 60s and 70s, holds to values and norms once common business practices in Korea. With the rise of the New Guard, the older generation is increasingly marginalized as well as their influence.

This marginalization has accelerated with the latest round of Chaebol family succession well underway.  As before with succession of the Chaebol Founders to the second generation of family control, which mostly occurred in the mid-1990s, all now is moving into the third generation These heirs in the 40s are at the helm at Samsung, Hyundai Motor Group, and LG (as recent as this last week), etc.

In fact, as a prelude to the recent successions we’ve seen the exiting of older senior management, most stepping down and into retirement.

In turn, key management and trusted advisors surrounding these Chaebol heirs are now of the same generation, too.  Few of this new Gen of leaders look to the past taking on more progressive norms and the future.

Between these groups, we find a layer of managers and executives described by the term “sandwiched” -- used to denote a generation now in their late 40s and into the late 50s.

This age group has social, workplace and political views influenced by western education and work abroad that differ from those of the older generation of people in their 60s and 70s.

But in many ways, their values, which emphasize the importance of collective organizations such as work, nation, and society, are still similar to those of the Old Guard generation.

As a result, the “sandwiched” group’s mentality often clashes with the younger generation whose top priority is individual freedom.

As one “sandwiched” executive shared “When I was a rookie, I didn’t have any choice but to be quiet when I had an issue or I disagreed with my superiors. But nowadays, the younger generation boldly express their opinions in the workplace.”

A Changing Workplace
The introduction of the “team system” and western norms by many Korean companies to address issues of a hierarchy system and to improve efficiency has increased the difficulty for the Old Guard to give direct orders to younger workers.

As noted a veteran manager, “Many young workers don’t recognize the authority of their seniors. They often say ‘we are all members of a team. No more, no less’.”

In turn, this younger generation now expects management to emulate this norm of open discussion and expression—a behavior that Old Guard also find unacceptable and improper.

Other Concerns
Adding to the challenge, the younger generation sees many faults in both “sandwiched” managers and well as the Old Guard.

For example, the younger group argues that both older generations often erroneously blame others for problems. “They don’t realize the real problem. They are really stubborn and pigheaded. They are not ready to listen to younger workers even when the facts may contradict their decisions.”

“They keep saying that we have to do this and that, but they never set a good example for us. Naturally, we don’t respect them at all,” said a young Seoul professional.

An Internal Challenge
Similar to today's organizations in America, Korean organizations are presented with the internal challenge of creating harmony and cohesiveness among multi-generational employees.

Individuals from each generation (i.e. traditionalist, baby boomer, Generation X, or Generation Y) bring divergent values, beliefs, attitudes, and expectations based on their life experiences.

These multi-generational labels may not be used exactly the same in Korea, but the issues that Korean organizations face caused by the gap between different generations are the same.

Individuals of each generation group grew up in the same time period witnessing and participating in common historical events as well as political and economic changes.

Therefore, these individuals with similar frames of reference have an easier time building bonds and working together in harmony than working with individuals from other generation groups.

The particular characteristics of each generation deeply influence how employees think about many aspects of organizational behavior, such as motivation, satisfaction, creativity, innovation, loyalty, commitment, and teamwork.

This accentuates the importance of understanding the distinctive characteristics of each generation group in order to engender successful outcomes.

Bottom line when working with Korean teams and leadership look to their generation as a lens to better understand their life views and mindsets-- the New Guard leading the way.

Questions? Comments?



Saturday, April 21, 2018

Globalization and Trustworthy Management

Each weekend I turn my thought to sharing topics on Korea business. This week it's my article on Globalization and Trustworthy Management  from Korea Herald titled:

'The Tall Man’ and the Globalization of Hyundai Construction

Hotel Architect Bill Swank opens Chaebol to West through Trustworthy Management

Bill Swank The Tall Man

Bill was the first westerner hired by the Hyundai Group.

The story was written in 2013, but still timely.
Bill passed away in February 2014.  It was an honor to know him.

Bill was a huge advocate for my work.

Article Link

Questions, Comments, Thoughts?


Friday, April 06, 2018

Hyundai Motor Group and Chaebol Reform

As a follow up to news on Hyundai Motor Group restructuring, we are seeing some interesting developments.  First Samsung is one of the few Groups yet to reform their shareholder structure.  That said, I feel they will adopt one similar to Hyundai's recent plan-- a hybrid from the traditional Korean Holding Corp. model.

For starters and some clarity regarding the spin-off and merger within Hyundai Motor Group, Hyundai MOBIS, the new de facto holding company still plans to further beef up its core auto parts business. That said, operations for both domestic Korea modular and A/S parts will move over to GLOVIS as announced—overseas operations will remain under MOBIS.

In particular, MOBIS as the Group's nerve center will focus more on R&D, and investing in future growth drivers like autonomous vehicles and connected cars.

Next… and getting lots of media coverage and in my opinion nothing that radical.

On Wednesday, Elliott Advisors, a hedge fund sponsor subsidiary of the U.S. fund, called on Hyundai Motor Group to step up its efforts to overhaul its governance structure after announcing it had acquired more than US$1 billion (1.05 trillion won) worth of stocks in three key affiliates of the Korean automotive group.

"While this step is encouraging, more needs to be done to benefit the companies and stakeholders," Elliott said in a statement.

The hedge fund sponsor also called for a detailed roadmap to further enhance the Korean auto giant's corporate governance, optimize balance sheets, and enhance capital returns at Hyundai affiliates.

Elliott Advisors said in the statement it looks forward to engaging with management and other shareholders directly on these issues and offering recommendations regarding the proposed plan.

In response, Hyundai said it will make continued efforts to enhance shareholder value and the worth of its affiliates while focusing on better communicating with shareholders.

I’ve also seen HMC sources note they plan to meet with Elliot teams during an upcoming investor event.

Again foreign investment in Korean publically held companies is nothing new.

For example, HMC’s total foreign ownership is about 46% of the Common Stock. Kia is at about 38%.

Elliott Advisors is estimated to own only a combined 1.4 percent stake in  Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors and Hyundai MOBIS.

One more thing…
Did you have an opportunity to review my detailed 5 Page Report on Hyundai Motor Group restructuring…. If not I please contact me…  as has been very well received.

I’m also available to comment and answer questions as always…


Saturday, March 31, 2018

No one does does what you do: Korean business advisor

As a trusted friend constantly reminds me, “Don, no one does what you do,” providing solutions as a highly respected Korean business advisor.

Don Southerton Korean business advisor
This noted…Contracts, legal agreements, and negotiations go hand in hand with business. I was once told that in Korea the purpose of signing a contract or agreement was essential 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 terms in legal agreement in the West are seen as 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 changes 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 Korean departments—often with limited or no international legal or business experience— despite months of work between the Western and Korean lead teams!

Oh, one more thing
Ensuring success and sustainability in dealing with Korea-facing business partnerships will require well-communicated expectations and cross-cultural understanding. In particular, any business plan and strategy need to take into account differences in the cultural realities between the West and Korea.
It’s here I can help as a Korean business advisor proving solutions., and echoing my opening statement. “Don, no one does what you do.”


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Korean Business Speed: Real Fast

For those with ties to Korea as well as popular brands like Hyundai, Kia and now Genesis, we realize Korean business speed is critical — a competitive advantage used to leapfrog past more established rivals.

Kia Motors' Stinger… one fast car

Korean business speed means things need to get done today and now, not tomorrow.
Others, too, have observed similar, and as Automotive News Asia Editor Hans Greimel pointed out in his 2017 article, “Hyundai Motor Group employees pride themselves on a frenetic corporate cadence dubbed Hyundai Speed, a kind of pedal-to-the-metal obsession with doing everything fast. Real fast.”

I, too, have long found it as the driving force in Hyundai’s DNA. In fact, when quizzing seasoned Korean executives on wording for the title for my 2014 book, the term “Hyundai Speed,” was came up often and was strongly recommended.

I noted in my book’s Forward…
In the wake of the recent accomplishments of the Hyundai Motor Group and respectively the Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors brands a question is often raised, “What makes Hyundai so successful? As author, I tackle this question from a cultural perspective, leaving aspects of such as sustainable production networks, ever-changing consumer appeal and brand image staying power for my colleagues in the industry.

My objective for Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed is simply to share insights into the Hyundai Motor Group — a unique inside view of a unique corporate culture. In addition to the growing number of Hyundai and Kia Motors enthusiasts wishing to learn more about the carmaker…

Moving fast — a common trait
To answer my own question on what makes Hyundai so successful, as well as Samsung and other successful Korea brands, I’d say moving fast — real fast — was a common trait.

That said, moving fast to many Koreans and Westerners working with Korea, means balli balli, a defacto core value impacting everything from immediately responding to email requests for data to launching major projects.

[For the pros- and- con’s of balli balli see my article. PP. 3–4 ]

As for moving fast, here are my 3 takeaways…
  1. With short timelines, the focus is then on identifying the critical tasks that contribute most and with quickly moving on to execution.
  2. The longer the deadline, the more time gets spent in analysis and discussions with an ever-lessening focus on the task.
  3. Noting the Korean decision process can be time-consuming when a decision is made, all come together and move forward
All said when working with Korean leadership and teams understanding their perspective is key…. and allows us to, in turn, “ work within the Culture,” and then provide alternatives. The later, something I strive to provide as a trusted advisor.

Here as needed…Call, Text, or Email… all work.