Everything Korea, May 18, 2015 Episode: Embrace and Immerse


In this week’s Everything Korea my thoughts again turn to discussing why some Korean businesses do well outside Korea, while others struggle.

A caveat is tied to last week’s episode where although Korea entrepreneurs have and continue to launch some amazing new startup concepts—few ever gain the stellar funding and success achieved by similar startups the US in the past or now with concepts like Periscope, Meerkat or my favorite Super.me.

Frankly what works well in Korea may not work well outside Korea and with regard to the Startup Model even work within Korea. Same thing goes for global brands, what works well in each respective country or region needs some if not substantial localization—localizations a catch phrase that everyone agrees to but few truly embrace.

In particular, I see with Korea brands looking outside Korea to often the same missteps re-occurring. In my recent case study “A Global Approach: For Korea Management Teams” I address many of the challenges. See the link below for a copy of the study.

So what are some steps in my opinion for 1) Korean brands already having a global footprint, or 2) brands that wish to expand outside Korea, or 3) domestic Korea startups, all need to take?

I’ll talk more on this in the next episode, but for a first step–embrace and immerse in the local culture, market norms and success model.

What is a poor idea is for an overseas team modeling practices after the Korea operations. This I know can be difficult–most Korean teams dispatched are most familiar with the Korean model, receive limited support to transition, or are subjected to pressure from their peers and seniors to limit the embracing of local norms over the mother company’s. The later situation a real concern.

Again in the next episode we’ll drill deeper to the core causes of the disconnects.

Oh one more thing…
Those struggling with some of the challenges I’ve mentioned, or have issues within your organization that need to be addressed….I have blocked out my availability to chat and discuss…. Just go tohttp://www.meetme.so/southerton

Until next time, all the best.

Case Study http://unbouncepages.com/case-study-fb/

And a very cool App, please join and follow me https://super.me

‪#‎Koreanculture‬ ‪#‎bridgingculture‬ ‪#‎koreanbusiness‬ ‪#‎globalstartups‬‪#‎Koreanstartups‬ ‪#‎koreanbrands‬ ‪#‎globalbrands‬ ‪#‎localize‬ ‪#‎localization‬‪#‎globalfootprint‬


Everything Korea: May 11 Episode, Startup Culture


Summary and Links:
Just back from NYC, so I wanted to share the link to The Korea Society presentation. Nikita Desai and the team did a wonderful job hosting and then professionally producing and uploading the event. You’ll want to set aside some time to watch the recorded session. I have included the YouTube link in week’s copy.

The topic of Korean startups seemed to come up lots last week. We touched upon it in The Korea Society interview, but it was a subject of discussion in several of my high level meetings while in the City.

I feel it is a “talking point” that I will be elaborating more on in the next few weeks, but frankly Entrepreneurship and the roots of Korean style Entrepreneurship has long been a subject of my study, writing and work.

In fact, my first book was titled, The Filleys: 350 Years of American Entrepreneurial Spirit

A second book Intrepid Americans: Bold Koreans—Early Korean Trade, Concessions, and Entrepreneurship

As well as Chemulpo to Songdo IBD: Korea’s International Gateway, and Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed all approach Entrepreneurship from different perspectives, historically and culturally.

So today, just as an introduction to the topic of Korean startups, I see the major challenge with Korean startup is culture. Let me explain, what has evolved in America regarding startups is they tend to hub in cities like Boulder, Colorado, San Francisco, Austin, TX, and NYC, although more and more scenes are emerging like here in Golden, CO…

Within these communities I have witnessed an amazing synergy not only in day-to-day interactions and dialogue, but also in resources. Actually spending an hour and listening to the chats and even pitches for funding in edgy Caffe Centro on a South Park Street in San Francisco (the couple of blocks once referred as Ground Zero of the dot.com, where concepts like Twitter were launched and scores of tech companies and startups now call home ) one quickly sees why locating in one of these scenes is key ….

Noting this, where the gap between US and Korea occurs is primarily in mindset. Today the entrepreneurs, angel investors and VC who launched Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and Shopify continue to look for, invest and provide mentorship and guidance to what they hope will be the next success story…. In most cases they are investing resources in multiple ventures….

This said they know and accept that failure is part of the process…. As Biz Stone (Twitter, Square, Xanga, Medium…and a bunch more) said at SXSW… “the failure of one venture, Jelly, led to success at a venture, Super.”

So getting back to Korea the real challenge is not in lack of ideas, innovation, and talent, but in allowing and fostering a culture for an acceptance of failure. And this is where I will take up in the next episode of Everything Korea and share some an exciting developments, which may be the very answer…so stay tuned.

Until next time….

Link to The Korea Society

Link to Don’s Books

For some fun with your iPhone

Questions? Go to questions@koreabcw.com


Listen to Podcast from the Korea Society Corporate Series Featuring Don Southerton



Listen to Podcast Here:

Korea Society Corporate Series

Featuring Don Southerton



Don Southerton is highlighted in the month’s Global Success Newsletter from Frankfurt, Germany.


Doing business in Korea- Contractual Agreements

Contracts, legal agreements and negotiations go hand in hand with global business. I was once told that in Korea the purpose of signing a contract or agreement was essentially to formalize the partnership. Over time, terms would be subject to change and re-negotiation.

My Korea facing experience has been that the contract fundamentally solidifies the working relationship.  However, to maintain the partnership contractual obligations, the contract will require on-going changes to reflect business conditions. In contrast, a legal agreement in the West is immutable.


Major differences in how Korean and Westerners perceive legal agreements can surface during the negotiation stage and even after the contract is in place. In particular, requests by Korean teams for change after change and alterations to a Western company’s standard agreements and contracts can cause considerable frustration, especially for their legal counsel. In the West some “red lining” of a document may take place, but legal teams may see unprecedented levels of questioning the most basic contractual language. Great patience may be required to walk Korean teams through the Western legal terminology and clarifications of what cannot be changed within the document to maintain compliance with international laws.

Finally, it is not uncommon for terms to be re-visited and questioned by other departments – often with limited or no international legal or business experience –  despite months of work between the Western and Korean lead teams!

As the Ink dries

Perhaps of more concern is that terms mutually agreed upon within the binding agreement can be subject to re-interpretation. Most often, Korean and western senior leadership teams did a great job gaining mutual trust. Both negotiated well. The deal is signed and its time to perform.

Sadly, the honeymoon is over. Challenges arise, what appeared to be clear expectations could now seem murky with poor alignment and weak communications. 


There are a number of reasons. Over time, as Korean team members are reassigned to the project, the new staff will be unfamiliar with previous compromises and understandings. This new staff, often in response to changing business conditions, will have different expectations and want to implement fundamental changes that alter the agreement.  This will require amending the original agreement with all of the associated time and costs. In the worst cases, Western companies will not be open to altering what they feel is fair and binding, resulting in seriously jeopardizing the relationship and creating potential legal action.


In dealing with Korea-facing business partnerships ensuring success and sustainability will require well-communicated expectations and cross-cultural understanding. In particular, any business plan and strategy needs to take into account differences the cultural realities between the West and Korea.

Excerpt from: https://www.globalsuccess-club.net/newsletter-april-2015




Everything Korea – Week of May 4th, 2015


Two topics, first I’ll be working from NYC this week. I’ll be sharing the Korea Society presentation once their very professionally team produces the video series and uploads to YouTube.  Please Stay tuned.

That said, much of my professional work is providing strategy and consulting to the top Korean brands globally.

This includes working with non-Korean firms, leadership and audiences to explain the dynamics and nuances in Korean business. During a long day that can often extend into the evening, I tackle client issues.

A common question both in media interview and by clients is “ Don, how did you get interested in Korean business?”

My Korea focus and experience are actually rooted in Korean martial arts. I began martial arts in the early 1970s, receiving my Cho Dan (1st Degree Black Belt) by the mid 1970s, opened my first school in 1976 and tested for Sabom Master Instructor in 1987.  In 2013, I was inducted into the Taekwondo Hall of Fame.

Outside my public image today of business consultant, coach, trainer, strategist, social commentator, and author.  I’ve continued to be a life-long student of traditional Korean martial arts– now for 43 years.

I have added several complex Chinese forms to my repertoire of over 35 hyung—the traditional sets of combative movements martial artists’ practice to hone their bodies and minds.

I have always seen martial arts as not only a way of staying in shape through a wide range of stretching, kicking, and hand movements, but also a demanding mental regiment.

All said, I attribute my success in Korean business much in part to the discipline, “meditation in motion,” self-control, patience, and focus sharpened over a lifetime in the martial arts—not to mention the strong rooting in the cultural dimension of a traditional Korea art.

Just one more thing, in addition to my Korean facing Facebook pages, I just added a new martial arts Page.   It includes some articles I have written for both academic and the martial arts industry.

So until next time, this is Don Southerton wishing you all the best.

As in past Everything Korea, I will share links on topics discussed in the accompanying copy.

  1. The Korea Society


Please Follow and Like:

  1.  My Facebook Page ( lots of posts I see as timely and relevant)


  1. Bridging Culture Worldwide Facebook Page (Korea facing)


  1. My Martial Arts Page (cool videos and articles)


Questions, Comments, Thoughts?   Go to questions@koreabcw.com


Everything Korea – Korean Foreign Investment, Tennessee and Car Tires


In the week’s episode I recommend some books, as well as discuss Korean Foreign Investment, Tennessee and car tires.

A common question I get from Korean executives is “what books are you reading Don?” Two books stand out from my current bookshelf.  [Both titles are listed in the video].

Before I share why these two books are on my reading list, I need to step back the past several months.  Prior to my March trip to Seoul, I picked up a new iPhone 6 (and yes, I plan to get an iWatch Sport soon). Anyway, while in Korea and to take advance of the high speed Internet I planned to do the software update. Mid download, the phone locked up.

Luckily I was heading back to the US the next day, and would be in-flight for much of the next day, so I “survived” without phone, text and constant email updates.  In the meantime, I was re-reading Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Workweek, and although cognitive to my addiction of constantly checking email, I finally came to recognize the time chewing up keeping an eye on emails, most all non-urgent, was impacting the quality of my work and life.  In particular, my creative thought stream was disrupted with a mix of updates, alerts and promotions. I wouldn’t even mention how many times I would check emails during the night.

So what’s the relevancy, well, after now implementing some rather cool email filter processes, and earmarking times to follow up on emails, I have carved out noticeable blocks of time I am now devote to additional reading and research…. And I’ve found “Those who read, have something to share.”

Moving to my next topic, I’m in NYC at the Korea Society next week.  I’d happy to say the presentation will be recorded, available on YouTube and I’ll be posting the links.

BTW I have some time still available while in New York, so let me know if you have some thoughts who I should meet with while in the City.

One more thing-

In late May I will be in Tennessee as part of a panel discussing local foreign investment.  Specifically I was asked to discuss Korean foreign investment in regard to Hankook Tire’s new $800 million car tire plant.  Frankly, I’ve supported Hyundai and then Kia Motors’ manufacturing plants in Alabama and Georgia as well as teams from their other plants globally. I have also worked with Hyosung, which in their diverse product lines manufactures tire cords—the key component in tires.

I’ve been followed news of the Hankook plant since last fall, and hope to learn more about their plans for the US plant as well as help the local government and community support the new plant.

In turn it’s these experiences that provide the insights I share with you and others—all of us benefitted from this work across and supporting the many legs of Korean business: Manufacturing, Sales and Marketing, research and design.

So until next time…


“Those who Read, have something to share.”

Hankook Tire


4 Hour Workweek (updated)


A Curious Mind


Questions?  Go to questions@koreabcw.com


Everything Korea – Global Dynasties and Korean Business


2 short mentions before we jump into today’s topic: Global Dynasties and Korean Business.

  1. The Korea Society NYC May 6. To be recorded and then available.
  2. Get your copy of “Korea Perspective”—Amazon Kindle, Nook, iBook, or Free PDF version ( see link below).

I’m often quizzed by the media on the subject of Korea’s Groups, their family control and succession. Last week The Economist looked at question in two articles Family Companies and Dynasties. I feel it places the Korean Groups and their family ownership is a much wider perspective.

Select links to today’s episode, Everything Korean w/ Don Southerton

Top quote, “Samsung and Hyundai’s net profits accounted for 81 percent of the total earning logged by the top 30 players last year, a sharp jump from the 47.5 % portion in 2010.”

  1. The Korea Society


  1. Complimentary Copy ‘Korea Perspective’


  1. Family Companies


  1. Dynasties


Questions, Comments, Thoughts?   Go to questions@koreabcw.com


Bridging Culture Worldwide Launching Korea Culture Training On-line


Beginning with its highly popular Korea 101, the Korea facing consultancy now offers programs on-demand via digital download.

Golden, Colorado (PRWEB) April 10, 2015

Bridging Culture Worldwide (BCW) provides a wide range of Korea-focused training, coaching, and consulting services beginning with Korea 101, the consultancy’s most popular workshop. For more than a decade Korea 101 has been offered in corporate live and Webinar sessions both in the United States and internationally. Thousands of participants have benefited from this training and the insights shared.

BCW CEO Don Southerton notes, “For the first time we are offering the Korea 101 in an on-demand online learning format. Over five lesson sessions the course builds upon current experiences, while providing new knowledge.”

Southerton adds, “Building teamwork and cross-cultural understanding is paramount to success. Misunderstandings and stress created by the differences in culture impact productivity and interfere with smooth business operations. Cross-cultural education is recognized as a solution to cultural challenges in the workplace.”

Korea 101 is a timely overview approach to Korean culture, modern history, norms and business culture. The goal of the program is to foster a better understanding of Korea and its business culture.

Topics covered include: Business and social etiquette; History and the economy of Korea; Culture (music, art and cuisine); U.S./Korean relations including North Korea; The Korean workplace, management structure, and decision-making; Popular culture and New trends, as well as, Cross-cultural insights.

The program is conducted by noted author, strategist and lecturer, Don Southerton. Don works closely with many of Korea’s top Groups including Hyundai Motor and is an experienced specialist in bridging cultures between Koreans and non-Koreans.

Don has authored numerous publications with topics centering on culture, new urbanism, entrepreneurialism and early U.S.-Korean business ventures. Southerton also extensively lectures and writes and comments on modern Korean business culture and its impact on global organizations. He is a frequent contributor to the media (WSJ, Forbes, CNN Fortune, Bloomberg, Automotive News, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Yonhap, Korea Magazine, tbs eFM Koreascape and FSR) on Korea facing business and culture.

To learn more, go to Korea 101 On-line at http://unbouncepages.com/korea-101-buy-now/

About Bridging Culture Worldwide

Since its founding, Bridging Culture Worldwide has focused on global and Korea-related business services. Based on over 3 decades of experience, they share cross-cultural insights to global teams and management. Bridging Culture Worldwide core services include: Consulting, Strategy, and Research; Publications; along with Franchise and Licensing Development, Market Entry, Product Launch, IP, and Trademark. Visit http://www.bridgingculture.com


Korea 101 On-line Launched


Building teamwork and cross-cultural understanding is paramount to success. Misunderstandings and stress created by the differences in culture impact productivity and smooth business operations. Cross-cultural education is recognized as the chief solution to cultural challenges in the workplace.

Bridging Culture Worldwide (BCW) provides a wide range of Korea-focused training, coaching, and consulting services beginning with Korea 101.

What is Korea 101?
Korea 101 is a timely overview approach to Korean culture, modern history, norms and business culture. The goal of the program is to foster a better understanding of Korea and its business culture.

What are topics covered?
Business and social etiquette
History and economy of Korea
Culture (music, art and cuisine)
U.S./Korean relations including North Korea
The Korean workplace, management structure, and decision-making
Popular culture
New trends
Cross-cultural insights

Tell me more
For the first time we are offering Korea 101 in an on-demand online learning format. The intent of each of the five lesson sessions is to build upon the current experiences, while providing new knowledge and insights.

Korea 101 has been offered in corporate Live and Webinar sessions both in the United States and internationally for more than a decade. Thousands of participants have benefited from training and the insights it shares.

The program is conducted by noted author, strategist and lecturer, Don Southerton CEO and President of Bridging Culture Worldwide. Don works closely with many of Korea’s top Groups such as Hyundai Motor and is an experienced specialist in bridging cultures between Korean and non-Koreans. His firm, Bridging Culture Worldwide, is a Golden, Colorado, Irvine, California, and Seoul, South Korea, which offers programs and consulting to help management and employees appreciate and understand Korean culture and business relations.

Don has authored numerous publications with topics centering on culture, new urbanism, entrepreneurialism and early U.S.-Korean business ventures. Southerton also extensively lectures and writes and comments on modern Korean business culture and its impact on global organizations. He is a frequent contributor to the media (WSJ, Forbes, CNN Fortune, Bloomberg, Automotive News, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Yonhap, Korea Magazine, eFM tbs Koreascape and FSR) on Korea facing business and culture.

Outcomes include:
A strong understanding of Korean cross-cultural differences and their relevance to Korean workplace culture.
Reduce tensions and frustrations rooted in cross-cultural issues.
Better morale and team spirit.
Support for interacting with Korean teams assigned to local operations.

The Cost for the 5 web-based on-demand learning sessions in $495.00.

To learn more, CLICK.




A Global Approach: A Roadmap For Korea Management Teams, Part Three


So what are the best options for an overseas Korea-based organization’s leadership? I share what i feel works well…. and what does not. Check it out.

Our suggestions and some guidelines for selecting the right local management.

In Part 2, we noted the major issue in staffing an overseas operation is not in the recruitment of a local Korean resident over a Korean expatriate or a westerner but in the hiring of a highly qualified individual—Korean or Westerner. Setting aside my personal bias, I have worked under all three scenarios and found times when each scenario worked well and times when each was less than successful

I find that even the leading Korean groups with decades of international presence have no one model for staffing their overseas operations leadership (COO and CEO/President level). Therefore, it is not surprising that I see the Korean brands new to overseas expansion facing the same dilemma when they look to go global.

To restate the options with some additional elaborating

In some cases, Korean expatriates serve as key leadership for a subsidiary. The best scenario is when this Korean management receives the assignment after a career in the Group’s overseas divisions with past positions in Europe, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific or the Americas.

In other situations, local non-Korean talent holds the executive level positions. An equally strong model is when the Western leadership has held long time management positions in the organization and over time has gained the trust of Korean leadership and has risen internally to Executive Vice President, COO and CEO/ President ranks.

As I note, both situations have merit and can work quite well.

This said, there are a number of situations that do not work as well.

In particular staffing senior executive ranks with westerners who may be seasoned industry veterans and may even come into the situation fully acknowledging the need to accommodate Korea facing nuances has pitfalls. In actuality the expectations of these new hires are that the Koreans will step aside in key decisions and let the westerners “run things.” Adding to this flawed expectation, they assume they will have the ability to communicate upward in the organization only to find they have limited direct dialogue with Korea with most approvals and information to and from headquarters channeled through Korea expatriates in the local office.

What also works poorly is assigning talented Koreans who may have had successful careers within the organization in other positions, such as logistics, audit or finance, but have little or no specific experience in other business sectors. When newly assigned to a top leadership role in overseas’ market, they do over time come to understand the new responsibilities and the local market, but this typically occurs at a huge cost in ramp up time.

As one insightful reader with considerable first hand experience has shared, “The lack of industry knowledge leads to indecision and changing decisions based on influence from [their Korean] colleagues as opposed to decisions being taken on the basis of real understanding and experience of the market.”

Even in cases in which the expatriate may have an excellent track record in growing their brand in an emerging market, running an organization in a mature market, for example, North America, takes a seasoned professional.

A more recent approach to staffing has been the hiring of high potential Korean talent from outside the company and assigning them leadership roles abroad. In part, the thought is that a new perspective will spur even further growth. Sadly, the local organization (expat Korean and westerners) and their partners often find this new blood hinders growth since the new talent may have little or no support network and may lack industry and market insights.

All Said. I strongly recommend supporting ALL overseas’ leadership, regardless of model chosen. This support must be more than the usual department by department updates. Mentoring and coaching is the key. Because experience and skills vary, each program must be tailored to address individual needs.

More significantly, successful mentoring requires a coach who understands both Korean and western business, not to mention the specific Korea-based firm and the industry in general.

Frankly, I often serve in this role. Working across groups, such as the Hyundai Motor Group in the US, Korea and internationally, over the years, I have found that needs and circumstances vary even among sister companies.

Expecting leadership to simply “get it” seldom works—and even if this happens, this approach takes time, is costly, and contributes to stress, poor productivity and even employee turnover.

As an example A few years ago, I had a conversation with a Korea-based C-level executive who was being let go from a top 5 Korean group at the end of his contract. The western executive openly shared the challenges of working for the Korea firm. He was most surprised by the lack of orientation and training programs. Senior level executives had to take it upon themselves to learn the nuances of the company. Their Korean peers were sensitive to the situation but acknowledged that few resources were in place for these activities. Instead there was an expectation that the executive would quickly adjust and engage in work as they would in any other company.



In this series of commentaries I depart from a previous focus on sharing insights specifically to non-Korean global teams working for Korean companies.

Instead I now provide a roadmap and best practices to Korean management and overseas divisions. This includes new Korean brands eager to launch their products and services outside Korea.

The series is also applicable to established Korean brands already in overseas markets who could benefit from benchmarking “what works” and “what doesn’t.”  

Frankly, too often I see the same missteps re-occurring. What is frustrating is witnessing one company enduring the challenges in their market entry only to see the same scenario repeated by another Korean brand entering the global market. .

So what are these common missteps and how can they be addressed? That is goal of this commentary.