Monday, August 14, 2017

Everything Korea August 14 Episode, Korean Business—Tempering Intervention

In this final segment in the series on Korean business intervention, as promised, I will provide some proven workarounds—in particular, tempering Korean teams’ pressing for immediate results.  

1. Foremost, to soften the Koreans’ inclination to jump into implementing a plan with hopes of producing immediate results, look to minimize the anxiety for both the local Korean team and the headquarters team.  Show confidence that the challenge can be overcome (I can coach you on specifics).

2. Acknowledge your high engagement and insure the teams that action will be promptly taken.

3. A next step upon receiving a directive from Korea is to have an informal discussion with local Korean teams to brief them on possible action steps that enable the team to work through what needs to be explored more deeply.

4. Follow up with email correspondence confirming what was discussed verbally.  

5. Allow a day or two for the Korean team to review. In many cases the Korean teams are not familiar with local practices and the vocabulary used to describe Western technical nuances.

The local teams may also want to report back to Korea on progress.

HQ leadership are ultimately responsible, so the better informed they are, the more trust they will have in local teams—Korean and Western—that the project will progress.

6. Remember you may not receive any immediate feedback.

7. Conducting informal daily updates to the Korea teams and sharing the steps undertaken with the local Koreans can also be helpful.

8. Even better is reporting any positive accomplishments in your review process.

9. It is particularly important to address the potential trade-offs and risks as action steps leading to solutions and ensuring the team that this step will not impede the project and may, in fact, avoid costly setbacks.

10. Finally, having said all this, maintain trust through strong relationships between the Korean and Western local organizations is essential.

In the next commentary on Korean business, I will discuss turn-around steps when the relationship between Korean and western get rocky…

One more thing….

I’d be happy to discuss and share my suggestion for a Korean business workaround…

Stacey, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet or chat by phone.  

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

For more information on my work….

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Everything Korea, August 7 Episode, Consequences in Korean Business

Korean Business with Don Southerton

In my last commentary, I noted the huge challenges surfacing because of the current disruptive Korean business climate.

In particular, I shared the “why” behind Korean expatriates intervening in the local decision process. In some cases, these decisions are one-sided, lack collaborative and mutual engagement and have consequences.

In turn, western team see themselves consulted only to validate preconceived ideas or to implement directives from Korea.

Drilling Deeper

This has lead to local management seeing their input and expertise being marginalized-- more so with complex situations and long-term planning “drilling deeper” may uncover ramifications.

More specifically, Korean teams under pressure are driven to take immediate action. This can result in little joint discourse related to potential trade-offs and risks in projects assigned to the local subsidiary.

Particularly with a narrow and reactive workplace approach, one can draw an analogy to jigsaw puzzle building.

The pieces to a puzzle have many unique sides. There may be different ways to place them into the puzzle. What is required is to look diligently at all possible options.

Like all challenges, one needs to explore the different possibilities to find the right solution and how the piece fits into the overall puzzle—essentially one needs a reflective mindset.

As a Korean colleague once pointed out, their society beginning with grade school does not promote reflective thinking and instead looks to promote a thought process that leads to more immediate results. In fact, Korean high school students spend more than 14 hours a day studying, memorizing and preparing for exams—a model that stifles creativity. 

I also see a cross-cultural aspect with many Korean decisions the result of a team workplace’s collective thought process, and in contrast, reflective thinking stems from an individual’s core consciousness.

Bottom line - reflective thinking requires taking acquiring knowledge and then calling upon one's own experience, utilizing evaluative skills and admitting personal bias.

The result is a broader perspective and a better view of the bigger picture.

Without working through a robust analysis of a problem from multiple angles and considering potential repercussions a solid evaluation can never arise.

All this said, by allowing one to think outside the box through a reflective and conscious lens, the time invested in analysis will lead to effective solutions—required in times of high stress.

All noted, in my next commentary I will provide some workarounds to soften the Korean reactive inclination to jump into implementing and producing immediate results—something we find dominating the current Korean business climate.

More on Korean business at

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Everything Korea, July 31 Episode, Korean Business “Intervention”?

I was recently asked to address a Korean Business concern by local management.

Before sharing, I would like to state I work closely with Koreans daily.  Many serve as expatriates, many on overseas teams.  Like all individuals, no two of us are alike --same goes for Koreans…each with their own unique strengths, skills, experience and personality.

All said, the challenge I was asked to address is the company’s Korean expatriate partners (commonly referred to as Executive Coordinators) were intervening in what should be broad local decisions.

Probing deeper, local management felt based on their long experience in the market and industry that these decisions were often short-sighted, reactive and not aligned with their well thought out strategy.  Of greater concern were decisions were one-sided and not a collaboration.

In any case, local management felt their input and expertise was being marginalized.

Frankly, this intervention is very cyclic.   

Most recently pressure to meet Sales Targets had grown, so too, do we see more intervention by the Korean teams.

Add that Koreans expats who’s DNA are rooted in a collective society and mindset where they feel not only the local stress, but also the Group’s broader pain (China and domestic sales down).  

I find two drivers in the spike in recent intervention.

1.  In recent years, overseas branches have had considerable success.

In turn an expatriate working in an overseas branch could take credit for this success and they would see a boost their career when they returned to Korea...  Many assigned, for example, to the U.S. and top markets in the EU and the Middle East move upward on to higher positions within the company.

Respectively, when sales are down  ... and they perceive that their careers will suffer if numbers are not met... it forces them to engage more and more...

2. The second driver is Korea leadership pressuring their Korea teams to engage, come up with a plan, take immediate action and push themselves.  

In some cases this has translated into serving less of a collaborating liaison with the Korean HQ and advisors—to now, the key decision maker.

Some background

Most Korean overseas subsidiaries have Korean management assigned to the host country.

The general term for these representative employees is ju jae won. Within the local overseas organizations, they may be called Coordinators, Executive Coordinators or Executive Advisors.  

Some, expatriates also can hold a line managerial position with day-to-day responsibilities alongside western managers, while others hold key management C-level positions, such as CEO, COO, or CFO.

The Korean expat model has a rotation cycle in which teams and executives are assigned to overseas divisions for 3-5 years. They then return to Korea for reassignment with a replacement expected to take over—often with little preparation.

Strengths, skills and experience can vary, too.

For some, this is their first overseas assignment. This means it is also the first time newly assigned Korean expats may be required to directly participate in the decision making process.

In Korea, senior management makes decisions and their teams execute the plan.

Roles vary with each company, but most often, as I noted, a coordinator’s primary role is to act as a liaison between Korea and the local subsidiary.

So where is the challenge?

Ju jae won are skilled and accomplished in Korean style business operations, norms and practices.

However, they have now been assigned to an overseas subsidiary where norms, practices, expectations, and laws differ.

Moreover, their responsibilities and assignments in the subsidiary may be in a department or specialty, in which they had little or no experience in Korea.  

Layer on stress and we often see reactions ranging hopeful second-guessing to risk-avoidance and holding back on any decisions.

More so recognize that expatriates are cognitive that local markets and management styles differ from Korea.  

This said, under stress we see a reverting back to what working well in Korea.  

This is often tackled with Korean colleagues as a team pondering over a challenge and developing a plan of action.  

Where the disconnect may occurs in overseas operations is when they defer to their own or the Korean colleagues (locally and in Korea) in decisions over collaborating with local management.

Workarounds,  I do have them…  

That said, and not trying hold back or avoid sharing but some details are best known as every situation needs to approached differently…

I’d be happy to discuss and share my suggestion for a workaround…

Stacey,, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet or chat by phone.  

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

For more information on my Korean business work….


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

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