Tag Archive for Korea consulting franchise

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



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.



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: https://bridgingculturekorea.blogspot.com/2012/05/korea-facing-business-2012.html

From 2013: http://www.uskoreaconnect.org/blog/2013/04/trade-in-ideas-a-hidden-benefit-of-korus-fta/

From 2014: http://www.uskoreaconnect.org/news-events/newsletter/newsletter-3-2.html

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.

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.


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.


Everything Korea October 17 Episode: “That wouldn’t work in Korea”

Old fortress gate with light trails at downtown

Old fortress gate with light trails at downtown

This remark can be heard often.  I personally have experienced it pop up in discussions while at working for Korea companies. It surfaces often in chats with my Korea facing international clients.  In particular, it’s an issue when Korean firms promote themselves as “global, “ but push back with few wanting to move beyond the standard response “That wouldn’t work in Korea” or the caveat “That’s not how we do things at [insert company name] – most often this is when international teams seek to share their global approach to business.

Frankly they are right–things do work well in Korea, but this is the very root of the problem for a list of reasons.  For one, if global brand or company enters the local Korean market with a new product or service they bring an international model, which needs to be followed A-Z.

I’ve seen brands and projects falter when they do not embrace fully or the local partner picks and choices what they see fitting well, dismissing what they see as “different.”  At times one has to question the motive behind this pick and choice, especially when drilling deeper –Control or Openness to Change– becoming the real issue.

On another level, asking global team to follow Korean corporate norms outside Korea is a huge and growing concern. Policy developed in Korea which works well in Korea, rarely translates internationally. More so, when this means decisions for what should be local have to come from teams Korean HQ.

Of course working through these issues is where I come in… mentoring, giving perspective, providing context, sharing workarounds and facilitating the change we seek.


Everything Korea, October 10 Episode: Just Back from Seoul


I’m just back from Seoul. With “Meet and Greets,” more than once casually bumping into few longtime friends in the hotel and at the airport, a number of high level presentations, a VIP tour of Hyundai Card’s two newest venues—the Music Library and the Vinyl and Plastic retail store, and an even a day trip to PyeongChang, home to the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, the days and nights stayed busy.

Amid all the travel, I study the corporate Korean workplace.  It’s the sub-culture within the different Groups and their affiliates—nuances– that capture my attention.  Marketing teams, for example, dressing ever more casual, ties less and less commonplace, meetings in coffee shops adjacent to corporate offices, not to mention many teams working Remote in the cafes with easy to access Wi-Fi.

Still often we see some constants—older senior executives in their company car, usually black Mercedes, BMWs or Hyundai Equus (now Genesis G90, but badged in Korea as EQ 900), the exchange business cards, although less formal in how they are presented, the dominance in the local market of the top Groups—Samsung, Hyundai, SK, LG and Lotte, as well as annual strikes underway—on this trip Hyundai Motor Company’s union and the subway and railway unions.

All said, what continues to linger in the workplace is rigid canons in the Day to Day — hierarchical top down management and communications, risk avoidance and zero-sum mindsets, and although companies boasting their globalism, few wanting to move beyond the standard response “That wouldn’t work in Korea” when international teams seek to share their global approach to business.

Of course this is where I come in… giving perspective, providing context, sharing workarounds and facilitating change.

Care to discuss?

My personal assistant Stacey at stacey@koreabcw.com can coordinate a time for us to chat by phone, meet or handle by email.


Everything Korea, October 3 Episode, The HOW


A respected colleague shared their thoughts on last week’s commentary “Hit the Target”—noting is was “a timely topic!” “… Especially as we enter the fourth quarter…”

Several readers also chimed in– lamenting that local leadership and teams receive little guidance in HOW to hit the target.

To add some context, HOW has considerable to do with Korean workplace culture norms. Leaders give directives, and teams execute in a top down manner. In some cases, well meaning leaders withhold detailed instructions to empower their teams to work through it themselves…. In other cases, some in less progressive management feel there are being paid to do a job…. And teams need to struggle like they themselves had earlier in their careers… While others recognize providing direction may be efficient, but hope their team will find new and better ways to tackle the challenge. In particular, some form of “hail Mary” that drives sales and even better at a low cost.

Frankly, demands today on Korean export driven business have pushed and stretched teams. Many feel they are operating at maximum with little room for additional market share or sales.

Risk avoidance adds another layer when new ideas are presented, too.

Under these circumstances I have two recommendations.

  1. Present multiple and alternative ideas and countermeasures… vs. selecting one idea. I know a common response is “we do this, but to little avail.”  This does take some cultural savvy… the best teams in Korea do find ways to get their message heard. I can help here…. in providing you with a best approach.
  2. Couple with suggesting a trial or pilot approach to minimize risk and investment— with the ability to roll out fast. Again, this takes some savvy in how best to share and present…. Something I do often….

Care to discuss solutions? My personal assistant Stacey at stacey@koreabcw.com can coordinate a time for us to chat by phone, meet or handle by email.


Everything Korea, September 19 Episode, Sub-cultures Matter


As many of you know, I work between Korean affiliates and companies. What stands out is how sub-cultures vary even within the same Group. Perhaps moving among affiliates sometimes in a single day, I see and experience the subtle differences more than most.  This can range from the tangibles like building design, workspace layout, dress code and amenities to intangibles such as what one can sense in day to day employee engagement, morale and comradery.

In fact, there are sub cultural differences:

1) in Korea between divisions and affiliates

2) with Korea and their own overseas divisions and

3) as I noted between the local overseas affiliates.

So, sub-cultures do matter.

Digging deeper, I feel recognizing what is common between the companies’ counts, too. This can include intrinsic Group values and norms shared across the organization, or even more common general Korean business practices and expectations.

To add to the complexity, often the local sub-culture of an affiliate has evolved over time, and very independent of the mother organization in Korea.  BTW We’re seeing as Korean Groups have expanded their global organizations into many markets there has been greater effort to now align the overseas operations with the HQ corporate culture.  (I’ll provide some more on this in one of my next Vodcast)…

This means when a Korea related issue surfaces in local operations we have to look at with several colored lenses.  Candidly, that how I pull apart situations and provide a solid work-through when supporting clients as a mentor and their Korea business strategist.

Learn More

Have a question or want to learn more about how I support and mentor clients? My personal assistant Stacey at stacey@koreabcw.com can coordinate a time for us to chat by phone, meet or handle by email.


Everything Korea September 6 Episode: an Intangible Corporate Culture

One more resource– this week it’s my 2014 book  Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed. In it, I tackled the often-raised question, “What has made Hyundai so successful?” The book also looks to capture my ongoing pursuit to define and share Hyundai corporate culture, which by nature is an intangible.


Chapters in the book then explore the ties between Korean and Hyundai heritage with deeply rooted culture and tradition that still strongly impacting the modern workplace.  After sharing this background on Korea, I look at the rise of Hyundai under its founder Chung Ju Yung and the current chairman Chung Mong Koo.

Next, the focus is on Hyundai corporate culture, old and then insights into the notable company management styles. The final chapter shares my opinions on a question many outside Korea have asked of this enigmatic system: “Is Hyundai business model globally sustainable?” Again, I tackle this question from the cultural perspective.

To Dig Deeper

Here’s a link to Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed
http://unbouncepages.com/hyundai-way/  or you can request a PDF from my personal assistant Stacey at stacey@koreabcw.com.

As Always….

Have a Korea-facing situation that needs addressing?  Need some insights into Korea-facing challenges?  In many cases, we can provide solutions and workarounds.Questions@koreabcw.com



Everything Korea August 15 Solution-Based Korea Facing

To follow up on last week’s popular commentary, I’d like to also share another resource….my highly regarded book from 2013, Korea Facing: Secrets for Success in Korean Global Business. In particular, it provides solid hands-on solutions to the many challenges in the global workplace.  Working with so many of you, I, too, see the issues…daily.


The book’s focus was an ever-growing number of people employed by a Korean-based company outside South Korea.  We know the challenges and, in particular, business norms, practices, and the decision-making processes vary across cultures. Expecting teams to “get it” seldom works. Hoping new employees and management can recognize and grasp Korean corporate norms is like throwing someone into a pool and assuming they will swim, not sink.

Who else will benefit?

Likewise, if your firm provides services or products to a South Korean overseas subsidiary or operations the exclusive coaching and consulting service will be beneficial and offer tactics to strengthen and maintain the relationship.

Finally, if your company has significant business in Korea, but leadership and headquarters are located in the West, we offer key management with coaching on how best to deal with pressing issues and challenges that surface.

Frankly, in all three cases I have had extensive experience. In each case I have seen people and companies both fail and succeed.  Our coaching service will provide a roadmap to avoid the pitfalls, navigate around the roadblocks, and thrive.

In many cases, Korean leadership and teams have openly shared their challenges and pressing concerns along with the inner workings of the company with hopes I would “assist” in educating their overseas teams in the firm’s vision, values, procedures, and methods.

In sum, I have offered hundred of hours of coaching, consulting, and training to both leadership and team employed by Korean firms, and to firms providing key services to their Korean partners.

To Dig Deeper

Here’s a link to “solution-packed” Korea Facing in a Complimentary PDF copy:http://unbouncepages.com/korea-facing/, or you can request a PDF from my personal assistant Stacey at stacey@koreabcw.com.

As Always….

Have a Korea-facing situation that needs addressing?  Need some insights into Korea-facing challenges?  In many cases, we can provide solutions and workarounds. Questions@koreabcw.com