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

Korea team Video Conferencing

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: 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…

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.

Grain Reaper-Binder

Grain Reaper-Binder

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.

Ford Model TT 1924 Photo Courtesy of Texas Transportation Museum

Ford Model TT 1924 Photo Courtesy of Texas Transportation Museum

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.


Larsen Homestead c. 1947

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 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/

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

Work Life Balance Signpost Shows Career And Leisure Harmony

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 Global Business Mastery

Global Business Mastery

There is synergic energy, commitment, and excitement in the air….

Beginning June  2016 I will introduce an exclusive Korean global business mastery service. Membership will be restricted to a select few… who will have 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.

What it isn’t…

  • It is not a class or training program, while I do teach and bring a high level of expertise.
  • It is not group coaching individuals in a group setting, although there are weekly and monthly sessions.
  • It is not a Mastermind networking group, but we believe in sharing and connecting without soliciting.

Sign up for a Free Introductory:

For direct inquiries on enrollment and fees, please contact me at:

Everything Korea: May 23, Global Mandates, My Workarounds

As Seen in

Stepping back for a moment, I have shared in Vodcast as well as in my books and commentaries the role(s) of Korean executive coordinators.  As expatriates assigned to overseas operations much of their day-to-day work is to act as liaisons with the company’s HQ teams. Some of this assignment is to serve as the local point of contact for correspondence and request from the HQ.  Skimming through their email they prioritize correspondence– determining what are low level requests, answering some themselves, forwarding others, and elevating those deemed important.  The same goes for their web-and phone chats…

So what is changing…

We are seeing the model moving to more direct communications between local teams and Korea, and with this new challenges have surfaced.  In many cases Korean teams reaching out directly are unfamiliar with nuances in local governance, or the complexity of a project / services. Whereas in the past, an executive coordinator acting as the go-between might screen a request before engaging the local team.

In turn requests might require local teams hours to compile or research—their days already stretched thin.  In some cases, requests are stacking up with new inquiries coming in faster than teams can complete.

In contrast to the West, HQ teams are often dedicated to a singular project, while the local team may be managing a multiple and diverse project workloads. And, with balli balli  (Hurray Hurray) as defacto core value, the workplace expectation is for an immediate respond to requests.  More to the point, it means things need to get done today and now, not tomorrow.

First and foremost…

Build rapport with the Korean team member via phone and email.  As the mutual understanding and trust grow, early formality can drop and more frank colleague-to-colleague correspondence will develop.  This can mean asking for when they truly need the request fulfilled… or if there have 2-3 recent requests… what is the priority.

As it is difficult to give one answer fits all situations, I’d be happy to suggest some appropriate workarounds.

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

Everything Korea: May 16 Episode Global Mandates Part 3, a Caveat

Several years ago as Korean brands like Samsung, Hyundai, Kia and LG soared during the global recession, I coined the term K-lobalization (Globalization with a K for Korea).  I saw a trend as Korean firms instead of deferring to the local organization to boldly promote their own unique management style and corporate culture internationally and across many markets.  Much of shift this was the result of the Korean brands succeeding as their rivals Western and Japanese product suffered in the downturn.

As pointed out in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on Korea-directed organization-wide, corporate mandates…. from core value, vision, and management training directives to most recently how they should brand or even target specific consumers in local markets.

One caveat has been the roll back of locally assigned executive coordinators; expats working in the overseas subsidiaries whose roles are to serve as liaisons with the Korean HQ. We see instead teams in Korea directly reaching out to local teams by videoconference, email and phone.

There are some very positive sides to this such as requests go directly to those engaged in the work, long term personal relations are developed and nurtured as well as open two-communications strengthened.

Less constructive is in many cases Korean teams are unfamiliar with nuances in local governance, or the complexity of a project / services. In turn requests might require local teams hours to compile or research—their days already stretched thin.  In some cases, requests are stacking up with new inquiries coming in faster than teams can complete.  In fact as of 2016, this has become the issue I am most frequently asked how best to deal with…

So what are the recommended work-arounds? In Part 4 in the series I will address.

In the meantime I’d like to solicit your input.  What situations are you encountering? Anything I missed?

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

Everything Korea: May 9 Episode, The “other side” of Don Southerton

Korea-facing business consultant, strategist, author, Hyundai Whisperer—and martial artist.


My public image is a trusted Korea-facing global business leader… I’ve also been an avid practitioner and Master Instructor of traditional Korean martial arts– a Mind and Body journey I have enjoyed for the past 44 years.


During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, I trained extensively in Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do (now also referred to as Soo Bahk Do), much of this under the Korean system’s Founder and son, the current Grand Master.

Highlights of these years included serving as Chief Instructor/ Coach for the United States Military Academy at West Point. Before shifting my interest to academia, writing, and global consultancy my martial arts schools, Southerton Karate, were nationally recognized leaders in the industry and among the largest in America. My years as a competitor in the late 1970s were recognized in 2013 by the Official Taekwondo Hall of Fame.

As of late, I also serve as an advisor to close friend and long time colleague Stephen Oliver’s elite international martial arts business consultancy.


For my daily practice, in addition to my repertoire of over 35 traditional hyung—over the past 16 years I have added a number of complex forms of Chinese and Korean origin.  These Hyung are sets of combative movements martial artists’ practice to hone their bodies and minds.

In closing, 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 and spiritual regiment.

More so, I attribute my success in business to the discipline, self-control, patience, and focus sharpened over a lifetime in the martial arts—not to mention bringing to my professional work a deep cultural dimension, which is an intricate part of the traditional Korea arts.

BTW You may find this interested, I have a dedicated Facebook Page with some my martial arts videos and photos—past and present.  See Some Cool Videos

Everything Korea: May 2 Episode, Part 2 Globally Mandated Programs

As I pointed out in Part 1 of this series, recognizing there will be challenges is one thing, providing a solid solution is another. I’d like to address these and other issues when we look at Globally Mandated Program.

It is always best that globally developed and mandated programs are crafted to mesh and align well in support local operations…

So what are my recommendations?   I’d be happy to share just a sample for consideration.

First all programs should:

  • Recognize the need for visual content to reflect our diversity– Low vs. high- context presentations, plus inclusive of individuals of Color, Ethnicity and Gender.  (In many cases, I find global content is very White).
  • Get high-level local leadership input and support (vs. just input from working level team.)
  • Programs regardless of the content should align with local operations. For example with corporate culture, efforts should allow the local organizations to define their own corporate culture, and the global content developed to be flexible and easily incorporated into current training initiatives like New Employee Orientation and mandatory compliance workshops.
  • Avoid hiring an outside agency to craft, they rarely get True Vision–they   understand the Data, but not Context.  They may add credibility and professional look and feel, but to be cost effective, they usually plug Data into a generic Boiler Plate.
  • Craft content in a way to connect to a wide segment of the workforce including  “The New Creative Class.” (See my case study on topic and who they are).  Here is the Link.Creative Class Case Study
  • The program should be launched in a way that dazzles and impresses the local teams and leadership.  Sadly I have seen well-crafted program presented poorly.

Concluding Thought  

Shared globally programs can align an organization and serve as a compass to steer the respective teams forward.  It is also a daunting task and one requiring a sound plan and execution.


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

Would you like a copy of my book Korea Facing: Secrets for Success In Korean Global Business?   Click Here

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