Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Everything Korea, December 5 Episode: ‘tis the Season, the EOY Shuffle

Year-end Promotions, Re-structuring, and New Assignments: Korea's Corporate Culture 2016

Year-end organization wide promotions, re-structuring, and new assignments for teams are part of Korean corporate culture. Top to bottom within Korean companies they occurs sometime between early December and early January, with the changes to senior leadership happening first, and team level changes as a norm made known the week just before or between Christmas and New Year's Day.

After the Holidays, teams then report back to work. Some assume new roles frequently in departments they have little experience--requiring employees to acquire new skills--sink or swim. Meanwhile others are en-route to assignments in overseas operations; a challenge for those working outside Korea for the first time. In the days that follow those shuffled brief their replacements, as staff remaining in their jobs update new management teams on the status of projects and issues.

Some years we do see less re-organization of the teams, departments, and division---some years more. The later can be driven by leadership looking to “shake up” the organization to spur growth. All said, change is commonplace and an accepted side of Korean business.

This year’s concerns in the Korean economy had prompted the major Korean groups to initiate a November early start to the year-end re-structuring…. But no sooner than announced, the Korean Presidential scandals has required the Groups to re-consider, pushing off the early annual move. This said, LG, CJ and Kolon have finally started their annual shifting of staff...... Media reports Samsung and SK to do so very soon, too... with the Hyundai Motor Group planning to announce promotions of executives at the end of the month. 

So what to look for later this month.

The top Chaebol will post their promotions and provide some insight on trends. For example, we’ll see public announcements in the Korean language business media on a total number of the leading chaebol executives promoted--those advancing from General Manager (bujang) to Director (e-sa), and above. The Chaebol usually also comment on whether this year’s promotion number is more or less than in the past and “why.”

More recently the number of female employees who are made executives with a Group has been highlighted, a gradual move upward by women in the ranks. This is in contrast to a time when they were considered temporary staff and not long-term staff on track to be considered for management.

Finally, for teams below Director, time in rank promotions follow a model of 3-4 years for each of the first tiers up to Manager. For each upper managerial level—Deputy General Manager and General Manager-- 5 years in a common tenure between each grade level. 

For global teams, I suggest you congratulate those promoted, but also be sensitive to team members who were passed over… time in grade just one criteria for promotion.

Questions? Comments? Just ask.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Everything Korea: November 28 Episode, South Korean Impeachment, a Growing Likelihood?

Commenting on the impact of the Trump election on Korean trade for the past weeks — Korea-facing trade an area of my expertise — I have been hesitant as a Westerner to offer my views on the indictments against South Korean President Park.

Nevertheless, impeachment seems a growing likelihood. Politicos now predict the National Assembly will secure the required two-thirds majority vote needed to pass an impeachment bill. To this point, I feel the compelled to share what “next steps” we may see unfold. Pouring over scholarly updates including my longtime friend Professor Steph Haggard’s insightful “ Park Unraveling” series https://piie.com/blogs/north-korea-witness-transformation, I present a number of “If’s,” in short of President Park stepping down and resigning.

The “If’s.”

1. If the National Assembly moves forward and passes an impeachment bill, the Constitutional Court is then responsible for deliberating the case. In addition, President Park’s powers would be suspended with the Prime Minister charged to lead the nation during the interim.

2. The Court then has 180 days to make a ruling on whether charges against the president warrant impeachment. If the Constitutional Court upholds the impeachment bill, the South Korean Constitution stipulates a presidential election must be held within 60 days. That means if the Court takes the full six months to rule on the case, the election would be held in August 2017.

3. If the Court rules in favor of impeachment, President Park would be stripped of her post and could face criminal and civil charges. Under Korean law, presidents while in office are immune from prosecution short of treason or insurrection.

4. It is worth noting, the next South Korean presidential election is scheduled for December 20, 2017. In the event, the Court rules in favor of President Park, incumbent Korean presidents are limited to a single 5-year term in office, and President Park could not seek re-election.

5. With no clear favorite yet for 2017 presidential election along with if President Park is impeached triggering an earlier election, pundits do feel the current United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former Korean Prime Minister, positioned well as the front-runner amid a field of opposition party hopefuls.

All noted, with the situation subject to change and fluid, we’ll have to take a wait and see approach to what unfolds next.

Comments and questions welcome.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trump and Trade, Part 2

“Trump?”—a question that surfaced often while I attended the 2016 LA Auto Show Media Days. I fielded questions from both Korean and American auto industry leadership on the impact of the election. Many had been following my daily posts and recent commentary.

Assessing what next to share, I see several actions by the incoming U.S. administration.

First in contrast to the president-elect’s bold statements to take on NAFTA, I find the U.S. is less likely to purse extreme actions such the withdrawal from or a major renegotiation of the KORUS FTA.

That said, the U.S. is likely to strengthen “policy” measures that could restrict imports by imposing anti-dumping tariffs or countervailing duties. This is not new. For example, after a repeated pattern of pricing below cost by Samsung and LG on clothes washers over the years the Korean brands now pay hefty anti-dumping duties to offset margin and price advances over manufacturers and threatening American manufacturing jobs. The incoming president could direct the U.S. Department of Commerce to aggressively purse similar actions against Korean importers where local jobs are impacted.

The incoming president may also demand its trading partners revalue their currency, starting with those nations that we recently placed on its currency watch list. In April, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a list of countries on its watch list that includes South Korea it would closely monitor for any unfair trade practice. Weakening a currency can make goods produced for export more attractive however it leads to a trade deficient especially if the host country has a stronger currency as is the case with the Strong U.S. Dollar. 

In recent days, the U.S. Dollar has continued to surge in value against currencies around the world following the election. Again, this may be good for American consumers buying foreign goods but makes U.S. manufacturing less competitive for export. As for the South Korean Won it has finally begun to strengthen against the Dollar following the shock U.S. election results.

More an issue than the Dollar to Won is if the U.S. targets and designates China as a currency manipulator and slaps up to 45-percent tariffs on Chinese imports to America. Korea will as a ripple effect suffer since their economy is increasing dependent on its export trade to China, which would slow.

Well-Stated Korean Concerns …

My longtime friend Yun Won-sik, who serves as the executive vice president for the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) recent statements capture the mood in Korea. He notes how major Korean exporters could potentially face increasingly unfavorable business conditions in the United States.
"Although it is too early to say what steps the Trump administration will take at the moment, it is certain that Korea will face greater pressure to open its legal and other services industries, and curb its shipments to the United States," 
Yun said."It is unlikely that Trump will nullify the KORUS FTA but will instead choose to revise it in favor of U.S. companies. He will certainly raise trade barriers to keep out foreign goods to revitalize America's faltering steel and other traditional manufacturing industries as he promised to marginalized blue-collar workers."

Oh, one more thing…

On the encouraging side, earlier this year the International Trade Commission (ITC) showed the KORUS FTA did have a positive effect on the American economy and improving the trade balance.

The report pointed out that the KORUS FTA led to a $15.7 Billion improvement in the U.S. trade balance in 2015. The U.S. posted a $28.3 billion trade deficit with South Korea that year, but it would have been $44 Billion without the bilateral free trade pact

Building on this and to counter the fallout of Trump's protectionist trade policies, last week the Korean government has begun to mobilize resources in an effort to sway the incoming U.S. administration that the KORUS FTA is mutually beneficial and, in particular, how South Korean investments in the U.S. has stimulated American jobs over the years.

I, too, see this as a strong argument as one only has to travel Route 85 South from Georgia into Alabama to see the growth spurred by the Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia and Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama plants. The rise of Tier One and Two providers along the corridor and the boost to the local economy is hard to ignore. More so, for those of us who visited the area prior to the opening of the car plants.

Stay tuned to my updates as new developments unfold. Questions and comments welcome. Questions@Koreabcw.com

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Everything Korea: November 14 Episode: Trump and South Korea Trade

Everything Korea: November 14 Episode:  Trump and South Korea Trade

I would not be fitting without sharing my thoughts on the recent US presidential election and its potential impact on US Korea global business. To many in Korea the election results are troubling… another layer of stress and concern amid a downturn in Korean exports.  

Trade agreements, US military support for South Korea and dealing with North Korea top the list.  On the trade agreement front, I was a supporter of KORUS FTA both prior to its ratification and contributing a number of high profile articles on the benefits of the treaty.

From 2012

From 2013

From 2014

More so, I’ve commonly referred to KORUS FTA is news articles, interviews and speaking engagements.

My clients Hyundai Motor America, Kia Motors America and well as Mobis Parts America benefit from the treaty…  although I’m told 60% of the two OEMs finished product sold in America are made in US plants. (Some engines and a number of Tier 1, 2 and 3 components are still imported, but much less than when the plants were established).

Frankly I am more concerned with trade agreements with Mexico. Korean Groups, Hyundai, Samsung and LG operate plants across Mexico for local demand and export to America.

As an example, a new Kia Motors Mexico plant opened earlier in 2016 with plans to supply up to 80% of their capacity for export. A heavy trade tariff on Mexican goods exported to the US would be troubling not only to Kia, but a growing wave of Korean Tier providers. On a side note, opening a plant in Mexico for an OEM is not only about labor costs and savings, but eliminates a heavy tariff on vehicles the brand also wishes to imports into Mexico.

In addition and less know as another example is Hyundai Motor Group affiliate Hyundai Translead, who I have also supported. First developed under the maquiladora program, trailers made in the Mexico plant currently are sold in the US---check out the back of a Wal-Mart trailer you see on the highway for the Hyundai logo… or this Hyundai Translead video. https://youtu.be/aTbl0D5T42o

As for Samsung Electronics, since the 1980s, with the construction of an electronics complex (SAMEX) in Tijuana, where TVs, color monitors, and mobile phones are currently being produced. Samsung Electronics Mexico (SEM), a local sales subsidiary, was established in 1995, and now the operation has been expanded to include refrigerator and air conditioner production. Samsung Electronics also has local production of side-by-side refrigerators, front-loading washing machines and other high-end appliances.

All said, Detroit's Big Three automakers -- GM, Ford and Chrysler -- all have production plants in Mexico, and any hefty tariff would impact them as well. In addition, GM’s Korea plants produce cars for the US market.

With more questions that answers, I’ll be revisiting the impact of the elections as it unfolds over time. So stay tuned.

Oh one more thing
Regarding North Korea, I see with President- elect Trump's unpredictable, and aggressive way of thinking it may make Pyongyang more cautious about its military provocations.  

Questions and comments welcome.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Everything Korea November 7 Episode, Traversing the Challenges

One of my passions is mountain trail running—the more demanding the terrain--the better. It’s the same in my consultancy –I enjoy tackling tough challenges – and providing sound solutions and a work through.

Over the past few days, I’ve had inquiries on resources to help western managers and teams better work with their Korean counterparts. As I’ve mentioned, for example, we’re seeing local teams increasingly in daily correspondence and on calls with Korea HQ teams, so practical skills and insights can help traverse the cross-cultural challenges.

In addition to my weekly vodcasts, now with more than 100 videos on the BCW YouTube Channel and over 20,000 views, I'd like to share another web-based resource –Issuu—where I’ve uploaded 22 publications.

Subjects are wide ranging from my 10 insights into Hyundai Motor Company culture to articles in Forbes, Chief Executive (Korean language), The Economist, The Korea Herald, Yonhap New Agency, FSR Magazine, and US Korea Connect to name a few.
Link to Issuu -


Oh, one more thing -

Have a subject you’d like me to discuss or comment on in an upcoming episode?

Just email the request to questions@koreabcw.com

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Everything Korea October 31: Collaboration

Collaboration. We hear the term promoted both as a core value and expectation in Korean global business. For me, it’s building a solid relationship with Korean teams—one by one.

In fact, whenever I take on a new Korea facing project, I seek out a team member, first as a point of contact and then someone I can strengthen the relationship building trust and mutual understanding. This can include daily chats by phone, email and Kakao.

In most cases, over time I add layers of support … understanding they are in a tough place… at times having to relay requests and demands they themselves may not clearly agree but nevertheless need to communicate.

In particular, I’ve found they may not be familiar with the project nuances—in contrast the experienced Western team. In my role, and to build the relationship I work as the go-between, mentoring and even share (confidentially) how to best frame their company’s issues and avoid if handled poorly what could result in an impasse.

Collaboration, all said, is about relationships, nurtured over time, and built on seeing a project through for both sides mutual benefits as well as the individual tied to the undertaking.

Thoughts, questions, comments? Share at questions@koreabcw.com

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Everything Korea, October 24 Episode: Deconstruction

As I have shared before, supporting clients and their challenges requires getting to the core issues. It’s distinguishing between what may be, for example, a local organizational, or what may be tied to the Company in Korea. It then requires probing for any cultural impasses before providing a practical solution and a work through.

Much of this work is first listening carefully to clients and their challenges. Equally valuable is walking around the corporate offices, observing and capturing multiple viewpoints. Nothing beats being onsite. Nothing beats getting face to face.
Too often, I find challenges as murky, complex and layered with frustrations, so a deconstruction is needed.

In most cases, I bring a fresh perspective—one rooted in years working with Korea-facing business. I’d like to share that in addition to mentoring, my work also involves directly supporting specific and very select high profile projects with clients. 
Next Steps

As a next step, I suggest we set a time to discuss how we can work together. My personal assistant Stacey at stacey@koreabcw.com can coordinate a time for us to meet or chat by phone.