Everything Korea August 8 Hyundai and Kia– The early years, Plus Some


After a week of travel supporting clients, some new and some longtime, I am reminded how needs vary.  In many cases its sharing lessons learned and resources I’ve developed.

One that comes to mind is my 2012, Hyundai and Kia Motors: The Early Years and Product Development. Beyond a comprehensive look of the rise of one of the world’s top carmakers as the brands entered the market, it provides some great insights into Korea’s economic growth. This model at first produced products for their domestic needs then for export outside Korea.

In particular, Korea to enter many new markets looked to Japan and the West for a transfer of technology and explicit knowledge, such as blueprints, technical specifications, production manuals, and training of engineers and production teams.

Over time Korean companies developed their own in-house integrated technology research, development, and design not to mention the economies of scale needed for the Korean automaker to compete globally with industry heavyweights such as Sony and Panasonic in electronics and Toyota, Ford, GM, and VW in auto-production.

To Dig Deeper

Here’s a link to Hyundai and Kia Motors: The Early Years and Product Development


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.  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, August 1 Episode: Solving Problems and the Creative Process


I recently came upon a 5 step process for solving problems.  My work centers on this, as well as reminding the CEOs I support that it’s a big part of their job, too—by default many leaders just focusing on operations.  So the list peaked my interest. Digging deeper I found it was sourced from a book originally published by James Webb Young in 1939 — A Technique for Producing Ideas.  To many in the industry, Young was one of the original Ad Men.  Supporting so many in Marketing, Media and Branding, I found this fascinating.

As a caveat with South Korea new global branding as “Creative Korea,” it is only timely to look more closely at creativity, more so, having commented frequently in this Vodcast on the Korean vs. Western creative class. (My PDF on the topics is available upon request).

Let look at James Webb Young’s process.

  1. Gather new material. At first, you learn. During this stage you focus on 1) learning specific material directly related to your task and 2) learning general material by becoming fascinated with a wide range of concepts.
  2. Thoroughly work over the materials in your mind. During this stage, you examine what you have learned by looking at the facts from different angles and experimenting with fitting various ideas together.
  3. Step away from the problem. Next, you put the problem completely out of your mind and go do something else that excites you and energizes you.
  4. Let your idea return to you. At some point, but only after you have stopped thinking about it, your idea will come back to you with a flash of insight and renewed energy.
  5. Shape and develop your idea based on feedback. For any idea to succeed, you must release it out into the world, submit it to criticism, and adapt it as needed.

As always, we appreciate you comments and feedback. Please feel free to share either privately at questions@bcwkorea.com or publicly in the comment section.


Everything Korea, July 25 Episode: Mentoring, Leadership and West Point


In last week’s commentary, I shared my recent Branding In Asia interview. http://brandinginasia.com/don-southerton-interview/

Topics ranged from Korea’s changing corporate culture to upmarket trends with Korean automakers Hyundai, Kia, and their new stand-alone luxury brand Genesis.

What drew much attention was the profile’s mention of my 40+ years of Korean martial arts experience, the Tae Kwon Do Hall of Fame, and more so my years at the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point. From 1983 to 1991, I served as the Cadet martial arts instructor and USMA Karate Team coach.

Over the years, I remained in contact with a few of the former cadets. More recently via Facebook and Linkedin, I have been re-united with many more… This had been rewarding on several levels including how they served their country in peace time and conflict as well as how they have become outstanding leaders in both the private and public sectors.

Personally, beyond seeing how their lives have unfolded, what touches me most are the kind words they share.  It but reminds me the impact we have on other’s lives and the need to support and mentor whenever possible… the fruits of this labor revealed over time.

As one former cadet shared:

“I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for everything you taught me and the team.  I’ve applied those lessons time and again and worked to pass the knowledge on.  I just retired after 27 years in the Army.  Time does pass swiftly 🙂  Please accept my best wishes for your continued success.  Attached is a recommendation, if it is helpful.”
Linkedin Recommendation Link ( Scroll down to USMA/ West Point)  https://www.linkedin.com/in/donsoutherton

All said, much of my day is devoted to supporting key leadership –part sounding board, part helping keep the issues in perspective, part helping them keep their job…  and providing workarounds and alternatives—all with a Korea facing lens.

Connecting Deeper

Have a Korea-facing situation that needs addressing?  Need insights into Korea-facing business?  In many cases, we can provide solutions and workarounds.

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 July 19 Episode: Branding in Asia


Much of my client work supporting Korea-facing business involves mentoring Marketing, Creative and Media leadership and teams. This has ranged from on-boarding new Chief Marketing Officers and Chief Creatives to CEOs and COOs of new Agencies of Record (AOR) as well as ongoing support across their teams.  In fact, I have interacted with most of the top “A-list” Ad, Digital, Media and Marketing groups and their organizations.

I have come to find branding especially fascinating and peaking my interest. More so, the Korean and Asian approach to the market in contrast to the West.

One resource I’d like to share and that stands out is Branding In Asia.

They provide a wealth of information for the industry into Asia’s diverse and widely varied tastes. In particular, Branding in Asia explores exciting new ideas and creative concepts exploding from the mind of Asia. Please subscribe.

It is only timely, that I was just asked to share some thoughts in their magazine.
I’ve included two Q&As from the profile.  For the full article go to: http://brandinginasia.com/don-southerton-interview/

Q: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the business culture in Korea over the years?

A: For starters, Change is a constant within the Korean companies. As for corporate culture, Korean companies have found that as they expanded operations overseas the rigid norms and practices that worked well domestically needed to be adapted to local Western markets. In turn, this gap in cultures is well recognized by HQ teams who are in daily interactions with the West. Most recently, the leading Korean brands have crafted more global savvy corporate visions, core values and communications to reflect their international footprint and diverse workforce. In some cases, I have developed and shared these programs worldwide.

Q: You’ve said that Korea is the place for companies to start before moving into neighboring markets like China and Japan. Can you talk about that?

A: International market entry can be a huge challenge for Western brands looking at new opportunities. I have long seen Korea as providing a sound entry point for further expansion into China, Japan, India and Vietnam. Ever growing, Korean companies have divisions in these countries and have strong international business networks and supply chains. Options include partnering in a Joint Venture or Licensing Agreement with a local Korean firm, first for Korea, and then for a rollout across East Asia.

Again, for the full article go to: http://brandinginasia.com/don-southerton-interview/

One last thing…
Have a Korea-facing situation that needs addressing?  Need some insights into Korea-facing business?  In many cases, we can provide solutions and workarounds.

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: July 11 Episode, Korean Corporate Culture Immersion


“Where were you a year ago?”– A comment after a recent international level leadership mentoring getaway.

Sadly, I hear it often and it can range from understanding workplace protocols to miscommunications between the Korean and Western teams.

That begs the question on when is the best time to ensure new western leadership and teams receive an immersion in Korean workplace norms, practices, expectations and mindset?

Immediate, a few days into the new job, or after they are on the job and caught up with all the urgent matters?

Having provided mentoring and coaching to a number of CEOs, COOs, VPs of Marketing, Sales, and Service, as well as teams, how company and leadership view timing has varied.

Many top leaders recognize from their own experience that with immediate mentoring and coaching the new employee will better tackle the issues and challenges set before them. In the best cases, I am onsite Day One….


Failing to have a grasp fully the Korea facing side of the business in for example decision making, approvals, communications (often one way), risk avoidance, and the what is the “Role of a Coordinator”…. will and does impact the new executive or team member.

As one veteran manager shared that a new executive can easily make costly mistakes or miscalculations without considering all the Culture nuances.

So where are the challenges?

Huge workload demands dropped on the new employee… their days overbooked with meetings although they do recognize the benefit of mentoring and coaching.
Local Korean teams seeing value in the mentoring, but feel best put off for a while. (Code word it costs money and unless a crisis let’s delay and we may not need). A caveat to this is if there has been a turnover of western executives (fired or resigned) due to poor understanding / conflict with the Korean side of the business, etc., they want the mentoring ASAP for the new executive.
New executive or team member feel they have a grasp of the Korea side of the business—often because they have worked for other international OEMs like the Japanese.
All said, there is no escaping the need to get you and the team mentoring, coaching and skills sets. I am here to support. Just a call away.

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

One more thing, if you are not already subscribing to my YouTube channel take a moment and click the subscribe link. https://www.youtube.com/user/ds19192?sub_confirmation=1


Everything Korea, July 4 Episode: “Daily Calls with Korea”


“My teams and I are ever on the phone with Korea!”

It’s something a week does not go by without hearing. … it’s someone I know so well personally.

With the shift to ever-increasing daily interactions with Korean HQs via web and phone conferences, western teams need even deeper practical insights into the Culture along with new skill sets.  In particular, the Executive Coordinator/ Advisor model had its limitations…but the Koreans assigned as expatriates did learn local norms and adapt over time. This mean the Coordinators molded to local operations with a lessening need for many in the local teams to become skilled in Korea workplace norms.

In contrast, Korea-based teams follow deeply imbedded HQ and company norms. They are not likely to model or adapt to their overseas subsidiaries.

This now means strong skills in managing the relationship and understanding the Korean workplace “in’s and out’s” and “do’s and don’t” as well as effective communication take on a new heightened significance.

I feel there is no escaping the need to get you and the team mentoring, coaching and skills sets. I am here to support. Just a call away.

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: June 27 Episode, Brexit, Korea and Hyundai


Difficult not to be following Brexit (short for British Exit from the EU).

Things are still fluid, so my commentary targets the impact on Korea-facing global business and specifically the Korean car sector (and dominated players, Hyundai and Kia).

That said, as a cultural historian it’s hard not to mention my initial reaction is a potentially wider pendulum swing toward populist Protectionism-Isolationism after years of “The World is Flat” Globalism and Free Trade Agreements.

To begin….
Headlines abound like “the Pound tanked, while the Dollar and the Japanese Yen gain ground,” and “… Brexit a blow to integrated global economy,” the later a Korean headline.

From a broader trade perspective, South Korea’s exposure to the U.K. is minimal.
Due to this low trade exposure we expect the Brexit to have no major impact on the Korea economy’s projected growth. Korea’s exports to the U.K. amounted to just 1.4 percent of all export shipments.  This said, the Brexit’s wider implications have many in Korea on alert and noting  “the uncertainty” that was common term cited last year with the downswing in the global economy.

More significant, and something I comment on often is the foreign exchange market. As we see when there is some global economic crisis, the immediately effect is the Won-Dollar exchange rate impacted—in this case Korean currency sinking compared to the U.S. dollar by the greatest % rate in five years.

This is not always a bad thing….
As a result, US Dollar profits repatriated back to Korea are worth more in Won, so essential US overseas operations getting more bang for the Buck.

We need to watch carefully the Won with relation to the Japanese Yen, too. South Korean carmakers fared well between 2007 and 2011 as the Won fell as much as 50% against the Yen. That trend reversed in the middle of 2012.  So, noted in my introduction, the Yen is strengthening.

Regarding car imports to UK….
The Brexit departure could revive a 10-percent tariff on exports of Korean passenger vehicles to UK unless a deal similar to the EU-Korea trade pact is negotiated.  Short term this will have little impact, as there is a 2 year grace period for the withdraw from the EU.

If no UK-Korea trade agreement is implemented, the Korean car brands will have disadvantage in price competitiveness compared to Japanese and German rivals, which have production bases in the UK.

For the Hyundai and Kia…. the real concern is the effect it will have on the European market as a whole, as well as the global economy….  In recent months, both Hyundai and Kia have seen an upswing in business in the EU   As of last year, Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors sold about 850,000 vehicles in the European countries, with 20 percent sold in the U.K.

Thanks to the FTA benefits, Korea has exported cars over 1,500 CC without any tariffs. Starting from July, those under 1,500 CC are also exempt from tariffs.

Over time… We’ll see UK move to becoming a “regulatory island adopting its own rules for tariffs, duties and standards. The European market will be more like Asia—with different rules in we find in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and China.

To share a reach out for a comment from a close colleague and a leading global economist focused on Korea…. my friend notes: “Probably a lot of turbulence over next several weeks because many aspects of the Brexit were not considered by the Leave camp. But I think the markets are probably oversold as London’s position as financial center is not affected in short-run, and neither is trade. Put differently, the material effects are not as catastrophic as might appear in short-run …”

In closing… look for my follow ups this week….  As well as share you comments and questions… so, please share your remarks…. ☺

As mentioned in my introduction, whether Brexit is isolated, or the first of a broader populist Protectionism movement—it is something of interest to be followed…


Everything Korea, June 20 Episode, My Work, aka The Hyundai Whisperer


Heading this week to the 2016 Hyundai Motor America National Dealer Show in Las Vegas. I enjoy attending Dealer Shows (Hyundai’s as well as Kia Motors’). Not only for the immersion in the brand and the preview of new products, but it’s a great time to meet and support my clients.

In fact, it was at a Dealer Show that the term “Hyundai Whisperer” first surfaced as I was introduced to a team of executives new to the Brand.

Soon after it went ‘viral.’

The term, “Hyundai Whisperer” is now commonly used by many to describe my consultancy.

At one level it is an example of how one’s reputation matters…. on another level it shares that dedicating one’s work to a niche matters, too. Personally, I will continue to provide “knowledge of the tribe”, insights and client support worthy of the title—the “Hyundai Whisperer.”

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

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

One more thing…

Would you like a copy of my book Korea Perspective?

Go to: http://unbouncepages.com/korea-perspective-launch/


Sod-busters and Entrepreneurs – The American West and a Hidden Side of Entrepreneurialism


Changing venues, this week’s Vodcast is being recorded in the Black Hills near Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.

So to begin…
Family trips West to South Dakota were part of my childhood. Although I grew up in my father’s hometown of Honesdale in rural Pennsylvania, my mother, a World War II “war bride,” was reared on a South Dakota family homestead.

Our mother’s stories from her childhood painted a rugged but authentic life on the open range. Several classic American 1950s and 1960s cross-county family road trips to visit our South Dakota family confirmed family lore with cattle roundups, calf branding and even rodeo events. Being from the East, I recall vividly my uncles and their children saddled high on their horses, dressed in the trail-weathered ten-gallon hats, leather chaps, boots and spurs.

This was indeed a contrast to my childhood daily life during an era of 1950s and 1960s Westerns—the genre of the Americana TV Wild West and movie storylines often centered on small frontier towns with gunslingers and saloons re-created in Hollywood’s back lots.

I have come to realize that an integral part of this picture was an entrepreneurial side of the family.  Having authored a collection of articles and books on this topic from the American Colonial Era to global South Korea entrepreneurs, uncovering this familial lore has prompted sharing a snapshot of the American West at the turn of the 20th Century.

Noted economist Harvey Leibenstein points out that the dominant characteristic of entrepreneurs is their ability to perceive gaps in markets. [1] They then develop new goods, services, or processes to fit those needs.  Among settlers to America reaching back to the Colonial Era some farmers sought out opportunities to supplement their often-meager return on crops and livestock. Along with a common practice of land swapping and speculation, farmers branched into openly entrepreneurial ventures.

In 1874, my great grandfather Albert Larsen, a Norwegian immigrant, staked his homestead claim nine miles north of Humboldt, South Dakota on the eastern border of the state. With his wife Clara they reared ten children on the homestead. Seven of these children eventually traveled further west across the state and filed land claims under the Homestead Act on an area called 71 Table, near the town of Scenic, South Dakota.

This section of land was named 71 Table because many of the horses roaming these open plains carried a local rancher’s “71” brand.  Furthermore, Table or Tablelands was common term of the era for a plateau.

The Larsen move West meant traveling overland following the established freight trails with teams of horses pulling buckboard wagons.  Distinctively American the four wheel wagons were widely used in settled regions of the United States into the early 20th Century. Upon reaching the Missouri River, they ferried across and crossed the plains until they reached the Badlands, the name reflecting a semi-arid, wind-swept environment.  Family accounts of the trip noted it was necessary to “rough lock” the wheels of the wagons to descend into the basin. Rough locking was a chain tied around the rim of a rear wheel of a wagon to slow the movement of the wagon downhill.

Arriving in this first wave of relatives were great uncles Roland and Adelbert. Along with making improvements on each individual’s claim of 640 acres, the two brothers soon began to freight lumber from Rapid City to the Scenic area for other homesteaders. Skilled as a carpenter Adelbert built many of the early settlers’ claim shacks.  Ever the entrepreneur Uncle Roland, with a team of his horses and a breaking plow, soon shifted to the next opportunity and began to turn the sod for many of his neighbors, a requirement for “proving up” a homestead.

Lawrence H. Larsen, my grandfather, came to 71 Table to visit his siblings almost 100 years ago in 1919. Before returning home he, too, decided to homestead and filed on a section of land in Sage Creek Basin. To add to the land holdings, he also bought a section of land previously settled. As required by the Homestead Act my grandfather quickly set about improving the land. He moved his wife Helen, a son Lowell and a daughter Daphna to the ranch in 1921.  With the family settled on their homestead with a panoramic view of the Badland bluffs, my mother and two brothers, Lawrence Jr. and Kieth, completed the family.

Along with homesteading, my grandfather, following his brothers’ examples, looked for other opportunities to supplement the family income.  Seeing the need for grain crops to be harvested, he began to take on work in addition to his own farming. With a grain reaper-binder and four horses, he traveled around the community cutting grain. He also had a corn binder with which he did custom work.

In addition to cutting the grain crop the reaper-binder also tied the stems into small bundles, or sheaves. These sheaves were then “shocked” into conical “stooks” to allow the grain to dry for several days before being threshed.  Gas or steam powered the threshing machines, separating the grain from chaff.  Finally, the grain was hauled to the local granary silos in Scenic and then transported by railcar to a mill for further processing into flour.

It comes as no surprise that by the late 1920s Roland and Adelbert would acquire a threshing machine. They threshed grain crops year after year making the circuit through the region and the surrounding Tables during the harvest season.

Over time and to further supplement his income, my grandfather purchased a Ford Model TT (the truck version of the Model T costing around $325.00) and began providing local trucking.  For $3.00 he would haul a load of hogs from 71 Table to Wall, South Dakota, a thirty-mile run to a local stopping point on the Chicago and North Western Railroad line.

As drought conditions worsened in the region, my grandfather and Roland again adapted by going into the sheep business.  Our mother often commented on how sheep had the advantage of being a 2 money product…wool and mutton.

As the Great Depression reached deep into the heartland of America, hardships to ranching and farming, such as severe drought combined with waves of grasshoppers, proved too much for most of the Table settlers. The Larsens would weather the difficult times—government relief programs stepping in to save their ranches.

America’s recovery in the 1940s came with the need for larger land holdings to support ranching and farming. Ever the risk takers my grandfather and Roland continued to acquire and lease more property.  Passing away in 1946 my grandfather had grown the family homestead substantially and Roland’s holdings would grow to over 3000 acres.  Over the years and by necessity our Larsen family has spread throughout the country (and at times other countries) but our roots and culture are tied to these homesteaders.

Amid the attention given today to high tech related entrepreneurialism from companies, such as Uber, Tesla and Space X (where in fact my nephew is a rocket engineer), what has remained a constant in our country’s culture is the seeking of new opportunities, taking risks and adapting to ever changing situations I am honored and proud to have uncovered this entrepreneurial spirit in my family’s history.

Link to PDF


Sources: Eastern Pennington County Memories, Scenic, Part 1 and 2. Published by The American Legion Auxiliary, Carrol McDonald Unit, Wall, South Dakota. Roland Larsen by Mrs. Roland Larsen; Adelbert Baker Larsen by Marian Aune; and The Larsen Family by Lawrence Larsen.

[1] Harvey Leibenstein, The Collected Essays of Harvey Leibenstein, vol. 2, Kenneth Button, ed. (Aldershot, England: Edward Elgar Publishing, 1989). Pp. 254-256.

About the Author
Don Southerton has held a life-long interest in history. He has authored publications with topics centering on culture, new urbanism, entrepreneurialism, and early U.S.-Korean business ventures. He is a frequent contributor to the media (Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Forbes, CNN Fortune, Bloomberg, Automotive News, Korea Herald, Korea Time, and FSR magazine).

He heads Bridging Culture Worldwide, based in Golden, Colorado, which provides strategy, consulting and training to global companies.

© BCW 2016 All Rights Reserved


Everything Korea, June 6 Episode, Life-Work Balance?


Korea “…a society where overtime work is seen as a symbol of diligence.”

A frequently surfacing concern among westerners in my work supporting Korean global subsidiaries is the Korean expatriates assigned to local operations have little or no Life-Work Balance.

In particular, expats (commonly referred as Executive Coordinators or Executive Advisors) work long hours often extending into the late evening. Westerners are sympathetic and respect this dedication, but question working such long hours and see the toll it takes their Korean colleagues.

Working lengthy hours has been a trait of the Korean workplace, in fact, it goes hand and hand with Korean students who in their middle and high school years can devote up to 20 hours a day on school-related work.

Frankly although Koreans endure long days I feel those assigned overseas tack on even more hours… the assignment demanding as well as time differentials requiring correspondence into the evening. Adding to the situation, whereas in Korea they work as a team—sharing the long hours with co-workers, many expats are the sole Korean in the department – with them remaining in the office into the evening when all others have left.  In many cases, expat feel they carry considerable burden for the performance of their department…

In a recent Korea Herald article, it notes:

For 26-year-old office worker Lee Hye-ri, it seems like a far-fetched dream to exercise and enjoy her hobbies after work every day. It is quite difficult to imagine life outside her workplace as she works as late as 11 p.m.

The newcomer, who was employed by a state-run company last year, often works overtime and sometimes works at home on weekends. She dozes off on the bus while commuting and sleeps a lot on weekends to fight a chronic lack of sleep.

“It has become a habit to work overtime. I might be able to finish my job during working hours if I focus, but I just think to myself, ‘Let’s just work overtime,’” she told The Korea Herald. “For workers, going back home in time is a special occasion and working late is part of everyday routine.”

Lee is one of many Korean workers who suffer from chronically long working hours in a society where overtime work is seen as a symbol of diligence.

The article goes on to point out the social ramifications of long hours including health and family issue.  Some in government have tried to address with introducing new labor laws to limit long hours….

All said, as the Western workplace recognizes and embraces the need for Life Work Balance it has become a frequent topic in Korea and one the new generation is beginning to consider when looking at their future and employment.


While we are looking at the Korean workplace, I’d like to take this opportunity to share an update on my Korean Global Business Mastery Program.

Membership-based, the program offers elite access to strategies and insights I’ve developed over decades of research coupled with hands on experience.

The paid service is part mentoring and part providing immediate solutions into the challenges into Korean facing workplace and global business for C-level leadership as well as teams. The main focus is problem solving and support.

Register today for a free introductory consultation at:http://unbouncepages.com/bcw-mastery/

For direct inquiries on enrollment and fees, please contact me at: questions@koreabcw.com

Korean Culture
Global Business Development
Business Strategy