Korea Inc. is increasingly less Korean

[First in a two-part series] Conglomerates diversify work forces to more effectively compete on global stage

“한국 기업 원더풀” 외국인 화이트칼라 1만 명 시대

June 13,2011
Ilya Belyakov, a 29-year-old Russian, right, talks to colleagues at Samsung Electronics in Suwon, Gyeonggi. Foreign talents like Belyakov are packing up and moving to Korea to work for conglomerates here, which are keen to diversify their workforce to help them become globally leading businesses. [JoongAng Ilbo]

There was a time when Korean multinationals were an afterthought for young foreign talents. But that was before the days when Samsung was the top maker of TVs in the world and second in the mobile phone market; LG was among the top makers of phones and home appliances; and Hyundai Motor Group was on the cusp of overtaking Toyota in the U.S. market.

Now, talented workers are packing their bags and moving to Korea.

In recent years, the number of foreign talents working in Korean companies has exploded. In fact, non-Koreans working desk jobs in Korea exceeded 10,000 for the first time last year, according to statistics from the government.

The JoongAng Ilbo interviewed three foreign workers on the pros and cons of working in Korea.

The LS experience

Ha Son Tung is a 29-year-old Vietnamese who has been working as a researcher at LS Cable and System since July 2009.

Ha decided to study at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist). The moment he entered Kaist, the young Vietnamese talent fell for the country and decided to get a job here.

“I wanted to learn the secret behind Korea’s rapid economic development,” he said.

After graduating from Kaist, he applied to work at three Korean companies. LS offered Ha the opportunity to work at the company’s research and development center. The other two firms wanted him to work at the companies’ branch office in Vietnam.

Ha said he chose LS because he wanted to experience Korea’s corporate culture first-hand, to get more insight into the nation’s rapid growth.

Ha observed the similarities and differences in Korea’s corporate culture compared to Vietnam’s. As in Vietnam, Confucianism is deeply rooted in how people act, which heavily influences Korean corporate culture. The vertical chain of command between superior and subordinate is similar in the two countries, he noticed, and therefore he didn’t have any trouble fitting in. Constant outings with colleagues, which often include alcohol consumption, was something he enjoyed.

But the biggest difference Ha noticed has been the style of working.

While most office workers in Vietnam check out at 5 p.m., Koreans tend to work well into the evening.

“I felt the driving force behind the Korean sense of determination when I stayed up late with classmates at Kaist research labs,” he said.

Such dedication is the foundation of Korean companies’ competitiveness, Ha opined.

The Samsung experience

Ilya Belyakov is a 29-year-old Russian working at Samsung Electronics. Belyakov said he was proud to be working for Samsung. Particularly when he travels outside of Korea during his vacation, he said he often gets admiration from people after he tells them where he works.

Belyakov is fluent in Korean and has been working for Samsung since February 2010. He works in the global human resources department at the company’s Digital & Communication center in Suwon, Gyeonggi, where he hires foreign workers like himself and manages foreign interns.

Belyakov grew up in Vladivostok, Russia. Due to its geographic proximity and historical links, people in Vladivostok have a relatively strong interest in Korea, Japan and China compared to other parts of his country.

Asian language study is popular. Belyakov, who majored in Korean at Far Eastern Federal University, expanded his studies at Yonsei University in 2003.

Belyakov now calls Korea home.

He interned at the Korea Tourism Organization and Incheon International Airport. And last year a job posting for Samsung caught his eye.

In the 17 months he has worked at Samsung, Belyakov noticed how passionate Koreans are about their work.

“Unlike Westerners who focus more on their personal lives, Koreans tend to pour all that they can into their work,” said Belyakov. “At first I was unfamiliar with the Korean work culture when it came to colleagues hanging out together on weekends. For Koreans, the company is their life.”

In his short tenure there, many changes have been implemented within Samsung Electronics. A greater use of English is among them. Belyakov said Korean companies seem to be globalizing to the extent that employee nationality is no longer an issue.

He says he, too, is becoming more Korean, in that he considers Westerners “foreigners.”

The LG experience

Olivier Simon arrived in Seoul with his wife, 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter in December 2010. The 40-year-old Simon came to Seoul to work for LG Electronics.

His role at LG Electronics’ office in Gasan-dong, Seoul, is to find strategies to localize the company’s mobile phones with overseas telecommunications companies.

Simon joined LG’s branch in Paris in 2003, not long after it opened.

Previously, Simon worked for the multinational electronics company Philips and a French mobile phone parts supplier.

Since joining LG, Simon said he hasn’t considered looking for a new job. In fact, last year he decided to stick it out with LG with the hope of climbing the corporate ladder.

For Simon, the biggest reason he wants to have a future with LG is because of the sense of achievement he gets. Unlike many French companies whose growth seems to have virtually stopped, he said LG Electronics has enjoyed exceptional growth in the mobile phone sector every year.

He cited LG’s Chocolate Phone, which launched in 2005. The phone gained a huge following in France.

“I could have made more money if I had joined a French company,” he said. “But then I wouldn’t have achieved my goal of growing alongside the company.”

The biggest challenge to overcome at Korean companies, according to Simon, has been adjusting to the “ppali ppali” (“hurry hurry”) culture.

As an example, he pointed out that French lunch breaks are up to two hours, whereas in Korea they’re about 50 minutes. Simon said he had to clean his plate within 10 minutes when he ate lunch with his colleagues at the company’s cafeteria.

It was difficult for him at first.

The Frenchman said he aspires to make greater contributions to LG by utilizing his “French DNA,” which he says predisposes him to proceeding cautiously to find the best way forward, but also incorporating “Korean DNA,” which allows employees to work aggressively and flexibly.

Many non-Koreans working in Korean companies, however, say it’s not so cut and dried. For them, there are drawbacks to working in Korea, including the authoritative corporate culture and frequent outings with colleagues. It’s not for everyone, they say.

By Han Eun-hwa, Kwon Hee-jin [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

“한국 기업 원더풀” 외국인 화이트칼라 1만 명 시대

근로자 ‘컬러’가 바뀐다
“한국 제품·문화·영화에 반했다” 미국·영국 등 선진국 출신 많아
외국인 유학생들 몰린다
“한국서 취업 희망” 8만 명 넘어 일부 기업, 외국인 대졸 공채도

지난해 말 대웅제약 해외영업 부서에 입사한 러시아인 타티아나 비쉐노바(25·여). 그는 10여 년 전 고교생 시절 삼성 카메라폰을 통해 처음 한국을 알게 됐다. 그는 “당시 러시아에서 삼성폰이 날개 돋친 듯 팔렸다”며 “이런 제품을 만드는 나라의 기업에서 일하고 싶다는 생각이 들었다”고 말했다. 그래서 대학에서 한국학을 전공한 뒤 2008년 강원대 경영학과에 편입했고, 졸업 후 대웅제약에 들어갔다. 제약사를 택한 건 약사인 어머니의 영향을 받아서였다. 그는 “회사가 러시아를 비롯한 세계로 진출해 사업을 펼치는 데 힘을 보태고 싶다”고 말했다.

한국외국어대 국제대학원에서 취업 준비 중인 홍콩인 람퐁페이(24)는 ‘엽기적인 그녀’ 같은 한국 영화에 반해 한국으로 유학 왔다. 그는 “한국에 와서 이 사회가 얼마나 빠르게 발전하는지 느끼게 됐다. 이 나라의 기업에서 경험을 쌓고 싶다”고 말했다. 홍콩중문대에서 신문방송학을 전공한 그는 한국에서 신문·방송 등 미디어 관련 업종에서 일자리를 얻는 것을 꿈꾼다고 했다.

국내 외국인 근로자들의 ‘색(色)’이 바뀌고 있다. 2000년대 초반만 해도 ‘블루 칼라’(생산직 근로자) 위주였으나 최근 들어서는 ‘화이트 칼라’(사무직 근로자) 외국인들이 많이 늘고 있는 것이다. 6일 법무부 출입국·외국인 정책본부에 따르면 기업체에서 사무직으로 일하고자 특정활동(E-7) 비자를 받은 국내 외국인 수는 지난해 말 1만711명으로 1만 명을 넘었다. 2324명에 이르는 연구개발(R&D) 인력을 제외한 숫자다. 5년 전인 2005년(4260명)의 2.5배가 넘는다. 중국(3577명) 같은 신흥국뿐 아니라 미국(1008명)·캐나다(258명)·영국(163명)을 비롯한 선진국 출신도 많다. 외국 기업이 국내에 진출하거나 국내 기업들이 글로벌 사업을 펼치면서 해외에서 스카우트한 인력도 있지만, 비쉐노바나 람퐁페이처럼 한국 기업의 기술력에 매료되거나 한류(韓流)에 빠져 스스로 한국 기업의 문을 두드린 외국인들도 상당수다.

그렇다 보니 한국에서 취업하기를 바라는 외국인 유학생도 늘고 있다. 2005년 2만2526명에서 지난해 8만3842명으로 5년 만에 거의 네 배가 됐다. 이런 추세에 맞춰 국내 기업들도 외국인 채용 방식을 바꾸고 있다. 경력직을 스카우트하던 데서 벗어나 몇몇 기업은 아예 외국인 대졸 공채도 한다. 삼성은 2008년 하반기부터 국내 외국인 유학생을 대상으로 대졸 신입사원 공채를 하고 있다. 지난해 35명을 뽑았고, 올해는 50명을 채용할 예정이다. 삼성 관계자는 “구체적인 숫자는 밝힐 수 없으나 지난해보다 외국인 대졸사원 채용 규모를 늘렸는데도 경쟁률은 2배가 됐다”고 밝혔다. LS그룹도 외국인 대졸 신입 공채를 실시한다.

지난해 교육과학기술부와 지식경제부가 주최한 외국인 유학생 대상 ‘글로벌 유학생 채용 박람회’에는 1600여 명이 취업신청을 했다. 이 중 30여 명이 삼성엔지니어링·LG전자·SK C&C에 입사했다.

한편에서는 청년 취업난 속에서 외국인 화이트 칼라들이 고급 일자리 부족 현상을 부채질한다는 지적도 있다. 이에 인크루트의 오규덕 대표 컨설턴트는 “국내에서 사무직으로 일하는 외국인들이 늘고 있지만 해외에 취업하는 국내 젊은이들도 늘고 있다”며 “외국인의 국내 취업을 부정적으로 보기보다는 우리 청년들도 글로벌 무대를 취업 기회로 삼겠다는 진취적인 자세를 갖는 게 필요하다”고 말했다.

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