“Speed” is the key to explaining Hyundai Motor Group’s stunning growth over the past decade. The rapid decision-making under the charismatic leadership of chairman Chung Mong-koo has been crucial for its global expansion.
But Don Southerton, author of the recent book “Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed,” says a more cross-cultural approach is now needed for the Korean auto giant to keep going at its current speed.
He recalled a 2005 training session he held at Hyundai Motor’s newest plant in Montgomery, Alabama, where tensions were mounting between the American and Korean teams ahead of the production of their first vehicles at the facility.
“The problem was ‘cultural’ ― Koreans not understanding and Americans vice versa,” Southerton, who is also leading a Denver-based consulting firm, Bridging Cultural Worldwide, wrote in an email interview with The Korea Herald.
According to him, many of the new American managers had been searching in earnest for the “Hyundai Way” ― documented policies and procedures that would guide them in decision-making and day-to-day work.
But not finding a set “Hyundai Way” resulted in some Americans feeling that there might be a communication and language issue. “More concerning, a few hinted strongly at trust issues and that Koreans were deliberately withholding vital information,” he said.
He wouldn’t say this cultural issue was limited to Hyundai. Other multinational companies like Coca-Cola and IBM that have a long history of dispatching expatriates worldwide have always experienced such difficulties.
“But unlike American companies like Ford, GM and Chrysler that have highly standardized and documented policies and procedures, at Hyundai these were acquired on the job and over time, shared informally through mentoring,” he said.
He pointed out even some Korean employees experience this issue.
“In the past … an employee joined the group as their first job and moved up through the ranks. Today, greater numbers of Korean team members are joining the group after years of employment with other firms. Like Westerners, it takes time for them,” he said.
“As more and more Hyundai operations and sales have shifted globally, the need to localize to each market has been crucial. I feel Hyundai is constantly evaluating what works best for each market. In some markets leadership is Korean, in others leadership is local.”
He suggested that what works best is when both the Korean and local leadership are strong collaborators. As for the hiring of non-Koreans for local leadership roles, like in any international operation, or in the case of Peter Schreyer, the group’s design chief, the decision would be based on the individual’s experience and reputation.
“I also feel one management change occurring is a shift from the top-down management to one of collaboration,” he said of the ongoing leadership transition from the current chairman to his son Eui-sun, the vice chairman.
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Global business expert Don Southerton has authored a new eBook, Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed, which shares insights into the one of the world’s top automakers.
Korea global business expert Don Southerton has released his latest publication, titled Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed. Southerton notes, “In the wake of the recent accomplishments of the Hyundai Motor Group and specifically the Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors brands a question is often raised, ‘What makes Hyundai so successful?’ I tackle this question from a cultural perspective.”
The author points out his objective for Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed is to share insights into the Hyundai Motor Group—a unique inside view of a unique corporate culture.
In addition to the growing number of Hyundai and Kia Motors enthusiasts wishing to learn more about the carmaker, Southerton sees several target audiences for the book. First for the global teams working for the Hyundai Motor Group and its affiliates, Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed will build upon their current experiences, while providing new understandings.
A second audience is firms and vendors providing services or products to the Hyundai Motor Group. This book will be beneficial in strengthening and maintaining the relationship.
A third readership is companies with significant Korea-based business. Although the book offers specific insights into Hyundai Motor, the broader content can apply to many Korean firms in sectors outside automotive.
The eBook is available through iBook, Kindle, Nook, and Amazon.
About the author
With over 35 years’ experience, Don Southerton is the definitive authority on Korean-facing global business, strategy, branding and market entry–from automotive, golf, retail, and QSR/ food sectors to New Urbanism and Green technology.
Building on a life-long interest in Korea and the rich culture of the country, Southerton writes extensively and provides commentary to the media on modern Korean business culture and its impact on global organizations. This is his thirteenth publication.
LINK PRWEB Press Release
Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed
An New Article Series by Don Southerton
The Hyundai name and brand have steadily gained global recognition. Established in the late 1940s, Hyundai’s growth over the next decades paralleled South Korea’s rise as an emerging and vigorous economy. By the early 2000s the highly diversified Hyundai Group restructured and split into a number of independent and specialized units, including Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM), Hyundai Engineering and Construction (HEC), and Hyundai Motor Company (HMC). As Hyundai Motor expanded into a highly integrated auto manufacturer composed of numerous sister companies and subsidiaries, the name, too, evolved. By 2011, with the latter company surpassing the original organization and former affiliates in overall global success, it was renamed the Hyundai Motor Group with focus on three growth engines—automotive, steel, and construction
To avoid confusion, I use Hyundai Motor Group when discussing the mother organization and terms like Hyundai Motor Company (HMC) and Kia Motors Company (KMC) when referring to specific divisions. That said, at times I use “Hyundai” and “Hyundai Motor” in a broad inclusive sense with regard to culture and heritage.
Part 1: The Quest
Hyundai has a rich heritage, a history of overcoming great challenges, and a legacy of bold innovations and positive, forward thinking. “So, what makes Hyundai so successful?” In the wake of Hyundai’s recent accomplishments this is a question often raised, but rarely answered. An objective of this series of articles is to share insights into the Hyundai Motor Group—a unique inside view of a unique corporate culture–as well as sharing my quest to uncover, define, and communicate the true Hyundai Way.
Stepping back to August 2005, I was conducting cross-cultural training and coaching sessions at Hyundai Motor’s newest manufacturing facility in Montgomery, Alabama. In the early months of the car plant operations, tensions between the American and Korean teams were mounting. Production of the first vehicles in a new facility is always a
daunting task. The additional cultural dimensions and language differences only compounded the odds of having a smooth launch. Recognizing the challenges, senior Korean leadership asked if I could provide team-building workshops that would allow the respective managers to better address escalating concerns and issues.
Consensus was that the problem was “cultural”—Koreans not understanding Americans and visa-versa. I had been working across the Hyundai and Kia Motors organization for several years and I had dealt with what I thought were similar situations. However, a few hours into the Alabama workshops I uncovered the true cause of the strained relationship, but it was not what I had expected.
Most of the American teams were veterans of car manufacturing—hand picked because they had been top performers at Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mercedes Benz, and GM North American plants. In contrast, the Korean teams were Hyundai Motor Company career employees—most having worked for a decade or more at Alabama’s sister plant in Asan, South Korea.
What surfaced in discussions was that many of the new American managers had been searching in earnest for a Hyundai Way—documented policies and procedures that would guide them in decision-making and day-to-day work. For example, former Toyota managers looked for a model similar to the Toyota Way, while others who had worked for Ford Motor Company sought standard operation procedure manuals (SOPS). Not finding a set Hyundai Way resulted in some Americans feeling that there might be a communications and language issue. More concerning, a few hinted strongly at trust issues and that Koreans were deliberately withholding vital information.
Listening to the group, I had a realization. Over the years working with Hyundai and other Korea-based businesses, I found sharing historic background and differences between Korean culture and other cultures as a proven, effective and commonly accepted cross-cultural learning model. Nevertheless, it became crystal clear to me that what was truly needed in this situation was to clarify and impart an intangible—the Hyundai Way or vision. The problem was that a true grasp of HMC goes beyond in-house corporate value training programs produced by human resources and organizational development teams. PowerPoint presentations and manuals are not sufficient. Instead, understanding a corporate culture is experiential, situational, and acquired over time.
A Shared Mindset
Jumping forward several years… on a number of occasions I have shared my quest to better understand the Hyundai Way (and triggered by the work in Alabama) with veteran Korean staff and executives. Time and time again, I found those long employed by the Company reflecting for a moment and then stating frankly that the Hyundai approach was not easy to explain. For example, one senior Korean pointed out that within Hyundai there are several management styles and approaches to tackling an issue depending on the person’s lineage. Groomed by their seniors, junior members of teams adopt the mentor’s methodology and leadership style—some “hard” and demanding, others “soft” and preferring collaboration.
Another Hyundai executive imparted that the Hyundai Way was acquired over time. He added that, with the exception of some minor differences among the sister companies, the transferring of key people among the companies, such as Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors, and Mobis (the parts and modular division), creates a shared mindset. At a minimum, Korean teams understand the thought process and methods of others across the organization regardless of the affiliations.
The Korean executives did agree that understanding the corporate mindset by both Koreans and non-Koreans working across the organization was vital to the continued success of the Company. My quest has been an ongoing pursuit to define and share that mindset.
Corporate Culture–Art or Science
Defining intangibles, such as a company’s culture, heritage, and core values, is a challenge. Like fish in water, we often fail to “see” our culture and values because they are the mediums within which we work and exist. In addition, even when clearly defined, transferring corporate intangibles across cultural and regional borders is difficult. That said, top global companies do, in fact, recognize the need and find ways to share these intangibles with their teams and organizations.
Building on the strong vision for the organization of the late Hyundai founder Chung Ju Yung(discussed in detail in a future article), we also recognize the powerful influence his son Chairman Chung Mong Koo has had on the firm’s culture. As of this writing the Hyundai Way continues to evolve with the third generation, Vice-Chairman Chung Eui- sun now assuming a key leadership position at HMC.
A Starting Point: Entrepreneurship
In the course of crafting this work, a driving force that continually surfaced was Korean entrepreneurship. Exploring the strong ties between entrepreneurship and Hyundai culture is then a second goal for this series. However, economists accept no single definition of entrepreneurship or one that fits all economies and eras. For example, Alfred Marshall in his 1890 classic Principles of Economics and in other works noted that entrepreneurs were the driving force behind industry, act with limited information, and that entrepreneurship was a rare skill. i In contrast, noted economist Harvey Leibenstein argues that the dominant characteristic of entrepreneurs is their ability to perceive gaps in markets. They then develop new goods, services, or processes to fit those needs. Moreover, Leibenstein points out that entrepreneurs have the ability to innovatively combine various inputs to satisfy the market. ii In turn, esteemed management guru Peter Drucker in Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and Principles found that in some cases, entrepreneurs may not produce a new product but use creative innovation to apply knowledge and technology developed elsewhere to their local market niche. iii
Nevertheless, by combining relevant theories I have arrived at a generalized set of qualities which aptly apply to Hyundai as discussed in this work. Hyundai leadership has a long history as risk takers, organizers, coordinators, gap-fillers, and innovators. They
seek out new ways of approaching a challenge, benchmark against top competitors, and quickly implement new practices.
A final goal of this series of articles is to share Hyundai’s global success model— including the challenges of running a highly integrated manufacturing organization with operations worldwide. These challenges are compounded with the Group’s growth initiative of expanding beyond autos to fully integrate steel and construction within the Hyundai Motor Group family. I also provide some thoughts on prospects for the brand’s continued, sustained growth.
In Part 2 of this series, I will explore the ties between Korean and Hyundai heritage with deeply rooted culture and tradition that still strongly impact the modern workplace.
i Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics 9th ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1961).
ii Harvey Leibenstein, The Collected Essays of Harvey Leibenstein, vol. 2, Kenneth Button, ed. (Aldershot, ii Harvey Leibenstein, The Collected Essays of Harvey Leibenstein, vol. 2, Kenneth Button, ed. (Aldershot, England: Edward Elgar Publishing, 1989). Pp. 254-256.
iii Peter Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and Principles (New York: Harper and Row, 1985). P. 211.
A Note from Don Southerton
While my services have been well received and highly valued over the past decade, in 2013, I began shifting focus from training programs and coaching leadership to a deeper role with a few select clients.
In other words, rather than standing outside the organization and giving advice, counsel and perspective, I actively facilitated and supervised projects that addressed the companies’ pressing needs. This approach, built upon my understanding the nuances of Korean-based business and their companies, has proven to be extremely successful for my clients.
This new role was driven from ten years’ of listening to teams and leadership share (and, at times, vent) challenges. Frankly, after listening to this dialogue, I felt that this expanded value-added approach—one clearly within my skill sets —would serve my clients well.
As we begin 2014, I look forward to supporting you and would like to discuss how this new service can help you meet your firm’s strategic challenges.
By Don Southerton, KoreaLegal.org Editor
As noted….With the year end, Korean Groups are finalizing annual end of year reporting, restructuring, promotions, and new assignments.
Some Korean team members already have begun to share news of the re-assignments, others will find out in the coming days.
Meanwhile expect some change both at senior leadership and across the teams. Those receiving promotions should be congratulated–promotions bring considerable status along with a boost in wages.
On a more personal level…
As the holidays approach, you may wish to greet Korean colleagues with:
Sae hae bok man i ba deu say yo! (Seasons Greetings)
Hint: Break the greeting into: sae hae bok—mahne—bah deu say yo
Sae hae bok man i ba deu say yo! works well both in person, in a card, or an email. It is a common seasonal greeting actually good into the New Year.
If you have a specific questions, feel free to contact email@example.com
By Don Southerton, KoreaLegal.org Editor
A recent Korean headline stated Samsung was preparing for its
annual restructuring and announced a number of high level
promotions. Meanwhile Hyundai Motor Company in Korea announced new
customer service programs for the upcoming year.
Year end organizational promotions, re-structuring, and new
assignments for teams are part of Korean corporate culture. This
occurs sometime between early December and early January, with the
changes to senior leadership happening first, and team level
changes most often made known the week between Christmas and New
Year’s Day. Some years we see less re-organization of the teams,
departments, and divisions—some years more…. In most cases, we
see high level promotions coming ahead of an expected
That said, restructuring means work by the many departments and
teams will be postponed into the early weeks of the new year until
there is a clear direction by new management. In addition,
those assigned to a new departments need to be briefed by their
predecessors on projects and initiatives ( in many cases the new
team with little experience or background on their new role).
For local teams in overseas subsidiaries, some expat (ju jae
won) management changes can also occur with a combination of
Korean team members returning to Korea, while others take up new
assignments. Like in Korea these new teams will need to take time
to be briefed on current and ongoing project, and then take
time to process the information and ask questions before making any
This at times can take several weeks or in the case of senior level management months.
For vendors, this can mean a review of current agreements, too.
As always, we are here to support global teams during these
By Don Southerton, KoreaLegal.org Editor
We provide both strategy and support for bringing brands to Korea, and Korean brands to the US and the international market. This Case Study shares a snapshot of some of our recent work in progress.
For more details, please just email us or schedule a time for a call Dsoutherton@bridgingculture.com
By Don Southerton, KoreaLegal.org Editor
I am very pleased with the November issue of FSR Magazine. The high profile food industry publication highlighted Mad For Garlic as one of three international brands entering the US market.
Coming to America By Kirsten Ballard
|Chef Jungmo Ahn at Mad for Garlic prepares the restaurant’s signature Garlic Foryou Steak.|
First known as the melting pot, and then the salad bowl, the U.S. offers a variety of markets and tastes for international dining concepts. U.S. chains continue to expand internationally, but innovative international concepts are filling niches and gaining popularity here as well.
Mad For Garlic, a Korean restaurant focused on garlic-centric foods, partnered with Bridging Culture Worldwide, a global consulting firm, to make its transition to the U.S.
“This is much different [than a Korean restaurant], it is an Italian garlic concept that originated in Korea,” says Don Southerton, CEO and president of Bridging Culture Worldwide.
Mad For Garlic, which has signature dishes such as Dracula Killer, Garlic Snowing Pizza, Garlicpeno Pasta, Mushroom Risotto, and Garlic Steak, expanded through Asia and the Philippines, and now is seeking franchisees for U.S. markets.
“Korean brands are highly regarded,” Southerton says. “The reception has been phenomenal.” However, Southerton stresses the importance of researching real estate opportunities in each market. “[Before coming to America] the idea needs to be polished and successful, the most successful in its current market,” Southerton says.
Already having success in this country is Mari Vanna, a Russian home-style cuisine concept that has opened in Washington, New York, and, most recently, Los Angeles.
Named for the fairytale grandmother of Slavic folklore, Mari Vanna’s ambiance is a mixture of grandma’s house and garden party, with fairytale design elements that are meant to bring back memories of the diner’s childhood.
The Los Angeles eatery marks the sixth location of the international chain, spearheaded by Russian hospitality group Ginza Project.
“You have to learn the flavor of the area. You have to know everything when you open the restaurant [in a new city] in terms of competition, what the customer wants, and how to market,” says Tatiana Brunetti, Mari Vanna and Ginza Project partner.
“You learn something new at each location. As we are going forward, we learn as we go.”
For instance, she says people in Los Angeles “like more light, the colors of material more bright,” so the Los Angeles design boasts brighter colors and a more airy feel than the London location.
Mari Vanna serves traditional Russian fare, including braised veal with homemade noodles and svekolnik, a chilled borscht with sour cream and diced vegetables, as well as desserts like the Napoleon cake and kislitsa, chilled slices of orange-zested cream sprinkled with caramelized nuts.
Unusual house-infused vodkas, such as pepper, cucumber and dill, and sea berry are a hallmark of the Mari Vanna restaurants. In addition to these, the Los Angeles location offers house-infused tequila—with flavors like red pepper, pineapple, and mixed berry.
“Everyone has a memory of going to grandma’s,” Brunetti says, and through the whimsical design, Mari Vanna brings customers back to their childhood, whether they grew up eating Russian fare or not.
Another concept that has come to America intent on expansion arrived when Dario Wolos literally drove his restaurant, Tacombi, up to New York from Mexico. The taqueria restaurant, which has been in the U.S. for four years, expanded from a food truck to a full-service restaurant, and Wolos is looking to open a third location.
Healthy home cooking and unique design set Tacombi apart, and Wolos stayed away from the cliché idea of a Mexican restaurant, instead bringing a true taqueria experience to the U.S.
“In New York you get boxed into 15-foot locations,” he says. But after a year of searching, he found a large, open space where he could create the Tacombi experience.
Source: FSR Magazine