I was recently interviewed by Fortune.com—I often contribute to the media. They were looking into the success of Korean car brands Kia Motors and Hyundai Motor in the wake of the latest J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Survey (IQS). To the surprise of many, Kia ranked #2 just below premium brand Porsche and Hyundai ranked 5th, both well above longtime and formerly top ranking Japanese brands.
With much of my work over the past decade supporting Korean global business, especially Hyundai and Kia, and more so, the Korean carmaker has long been a topic of my research, study, writings and media commentary…. My answer on why the Korean brands have achieved such success is simple. Quality has been an almost singular career message by the carmaker’s chairman, Chung Mong Koo.
To share some insights…. I quote from my book Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed.
By 1999, Chung Mong Koo had assumed control of HMC in addition to his leadership role at Hyundai Precision [today known as Hyundai MOBIS]. Adding to his responsibilities, HMC had also acquired Kia Motors—an early casualty of the Asian financial crisis that ripped across the Korean economy. Having experience in the Hyundai Motor’s after-sale service early in his career, Chung Mong Koo was not without insights into the car division.
Since its founding in the mid 1970s, HMC had focused solely on growth. Indicative of Korea industry at that time, this focus was to produce as many cars as possible—as fast as possible. In turn, product quality and customer satisfaction suffered. From his experience working with consumers at Hyundai Motor’s After Sales division, Chung Mong Koo knew the damage shoddy products could bring to the Hyundai reputation, not to mention the high cost of warranty repairs.
When Chung Mong Koo began sharing his intention to turn Hyundai Motor Company into a top-five automaker, few outside the company took him seriously.
Hyundai, like many family-controlled Korean companies, was hierarchical and at times slow to change if there was a perceived risk. More significant, managers rarely cooperated with one another and division chiefs ran their operations as personal fiefdoms. It was a company of silos. "When a problem occurred, each division would blame other divisions," says Lee, Hyun Soon, former Hyundai-Kia Motors Vice Chairman and Chief Technology Officer.
Chung Mong Koo's first step was to replace the former top management with engineers and those with whom he had worked closely at Hyundai Precision. He formulated a strategy to challenge Toyota for quality. Extensive work with a number of top global consulting firms (e.g. J.D. Powers) and benchmarking of the world's best automotive companies followed. He also sent teams to America to study weather, road conditions and driver habits. Quality control staff increased tenfold to 1,000 and they reported directly to him.
Employees were encouraged to offer suggestions and were rewarded. For example, one worker reported the Sonata and XG350 Grandeur sedans had differently designed spare tire covers. Sharing a common cover saved Hyundai about $100,000.00 per year.
Chung Mong Koo quickly earned a reputation for an obsession with quality. For example, several years ago a new Sonata launch in Korea was delayed for two months with 50 issues that senior management wanted addressed. Employees in the Asan factory worked feverishly to correct these items.
One was a tiny error in the size of the gap between two pieces of sheet metal near the headlight. The problem was not visible to the human eye and was narrower than 0.1 millimeter. However, numerous managers and employees worked on the problem for 25 days before it was solved.
This obsession with quality continues today with the Chairman relentlessly reinforcing the quality mandate to management and teams globally as they strive for zero defects.
All said, for my work I drill deep. I look for and then share with clients the reasons behind Korea facing business, while over time mentoring, coaching and steering teams and C-level leadership to solutions.
If these unique resources can benefit you and your company, I have blocked out some times I’m available to discuss options. Just go to http://www.meetme.so/southerton
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