Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed Article Series Overview
This week’s Part 2 will explore the ties between Korean and Hyundai heritage with deeply rooted culture and tradition still strongly impacting the modern workplace.
After sharing this background on Korea, an upcoming Part 3 will look at the rise of Hyundai under its founder Chung Ju Yung (1915-2001). With changing times, by the late 1990s, Hyundai Motors’ would witness a new era of leadership and renewed direction under the founder’s son Chung Mong Koo. Most significant was the new chairman’s hands-on approach to management and issues including quality and global expansion.
Next, Part 4 in the series will focus on Hyundai corporate culture, new and old—values that link Hyundai heritage, the Founder Chung Ju Yung, and current chairman Chung Mong Koo. Then, in Part 5 we look at the Hyundai Way through notable company management styles via interviews with current and former Hyundai and affiliate employees. In case you missed Part 1, there are a number of Hyundai management styles. Those working with Korean teams from Hyundai, Kia, MOBIS, and the affiliates will quickly recognize these methods and practices—once they are pointed out!
Part 6 will explore the Hyundai Way manifested in its achievements and Brand image—including the emphasis on constant forward leaning and thinking. "Conclusions", the final article in the ‘Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed’ series, shares the author's opinions on a question so many have asked of this enigmatic system: “What makes Hyundai so successful globally?” Your comments and questions are appreciated.
Part 2 Korea and Its Culture
It is not surprising that many Korean firms, Hyundai included, draw upon inherent ethnic strengths and talents. Although diverse and global organizations, at the core they are very Korean in their mindsets and practices. Culture does play a strong role. The same could be said for Italian Gucci, German Bosch, Japanese Honda or America’s Apple and Starbucks. Part 2 provides background on Korea, its people, and how during the last decades of the twentieth century the nation modernized. In particular I will discuss how Hyundai has incorporated traditions and values that not only supported their early development, but also contribute to present day successes.
Koreans share a rich heritage, a prospering economy, and a vibrant society. We will first look at some interesting background on Korea: past and present.
Land and History: Korea is located in northeast Asia. Its neighbors include China, Japan, and Russia. South Korea has a land area of 98,500 sq. km. (38,000 sq. mi.) with a population around 50 million people. In terms of size the combined landmass of North and South Korea is similar to the state of Utah, with South Korea about the size of Indiana or Kentucky.
Geography: Korea is a diverse land of scenic coastlines, rolling hills, rugged mountains, and picturesque valleys. With a temperate climate, Koreans experience four distinct seasons. Spring and autumn are rather short, summer is hot and humid, and winter is cold and dry with occasional snowfall, especially in the mountainous regions. The autumn season also finds various folk festivals rooted in ancient agrarian customs.
People: Reaching back to the Neolithic Period before 6000 BC, inhabitants on the peninsula have been a distinct endogamous ethnic group. Clan-based communities that formed walled towns and villages characterized ancient Korea. By the first century BC an era of confederated kingdoms emerged, eventually unifying the peninsula by 688 AD. Over the next 1300 years Korea maintained its identity even against a Manchu invasion in 1627, a series Japanese invasions from 1592 to 1598 and the Japanese colonial rule and annexation (1904-1945).
Tradition: Reaching back centuries, traditional Korean music, architecture, cuisine, and clothing are unique to the country and although they share similarities with their East Asian neighbors Japan and China, there are, for example, differences in language and foods like kimchi. Philosophically, Korean tradition is rooted in Confucianism and manifested in a calm but dynamic and disciplined approach to life.
Despite modernization and globalization, this distinct culture still thrives and has a powerful effect on contemporary Korea; we find these traditional influences shaping modern design and architecture. Other aspects of this traditional mindset can be seen in Koreans’ strong emphasis on education. In the workplace, norms and customs rooted in Korean tradition include respect for seniors and an emphasis on group harmony and teamwork.
Achievements as a Nation: During the last decades, South Korea has become a global leader of industrial innovation. For example, Korea is the world's largest shipbuilding nation. In addition, Korea controls a sizable global market share in the semiconductor sector, in particular in digital flash memory and Dynamic Random Access Memory. Other top sectors of industrial innovation include consumer electronics, such as smartphones and home appliances. In more recent years, South Korea has emerged as the one of the world’s largest car manufacturer boosted by Hyundai Motor and sister company Kia Motors’ contributions. Similar to Korea’s society, the country’s economy is vibrant and trend setting.
Modern Korea: With bright lights, high tech buildings, world-class fashions, and a fast pace, Korea is an evolving society embracing the future. Predominately urban, nearly half the population lives near Seoul, one of the largest cities in the world. Seoul hosted the Olympics in 1988 and the opening of the World Cup in 2002. In 2010, Seoul was designated a World Design Capital, joining the ranks of Paris and Milan as a globally recognized center of design. Looking forward, South Korea will host the XXIII Winter Olympics in 2018.
In a 1996 interview management guru Peter Drucker pointed out that the South Koreans are among the top entrepreneurial people in the world. Drucker noted that the setbacks of the Japanese Colonial Period, the post-World War II split of the country, and the Korean War were obstacles to Korea’s development; however, Koreans must possess inherent tendencies towards innovation and entrepreneurialism in order to have gained so much in recent decades. Related to this, contemporary western economists find multiple reasons for South Korea’s economic success. Among the explanations are government policies, a well-educated and disciplined work force, the dae kieop (large-scale business) model, and the relentless drive of the family-run conglomerate founders.
An additional strength recognized by observers today is Korean Neo-Confucian culture—the peninsula’s dominate social-political force for over six centuries. Neo-Confucian culture’s respect for authority, emphasis on education, loyalty to the family and harmony within the group are often cited as key elements in post-Korean War South Korea’s economic rise. Korean Neo-Confucian pro-education leanings created a ready workforce adept at learning modern technology at both the operational and management levels.
Another Confucian value, loyalty to the family and group, has allowed Koreans today, as in the past, to align themselves toward achieving a collective task vital to industrial society and productivity. Together with the Korean Neo-Confucian importance of inhwa (harmony), we find a large workforce well suited to tasks requiring cooperation and team-effort.
In conclusion, Hyundai is a very modern company but the role of Korean culture still strongly impacts day-to-day operation of the Group and its subsidiaries and cannot be under estimated. Culture matters. This then raises a question, “As Hyundai continues to move into new markets, will the company retain its ‘Korean-ness’ or will Hyundai become adept at assimilating other cultures to succeed and mold the Hyundai Way as needed?”