[VIEWPOINT]There Are No Secrets to Working HardKoreans often think that those people who work at multinational companies enjoy numerous benefits such as regular working hours, vacation that can be used freely at any time, higher salaries, a casual working environment and on and on.
Koreans also sometimes imagine that a mulitinational employee enjoys a fancy life of huge bonuses, long vacations and business trips to all parts of the world which come, one might think, as a reward for moving up in a company.
Finally, Koreans may also believe that those who work at multinational companies change jobs often perhaps as often as they change shirts.
Of course, all of this may be true for some people. But in reality, one will see that most people who work at multinational companies put in long, tough hours.
For example, Mike Brown, now CEO of Bank One Asia in Japan used to come to work at 6:30 a.m. when he was working as CEO of Bank One in Korea. And banks open their doors at 9:30 a.m. Nihar Patel, former CEO of Ford Korea, used to come to the office at 7 a.m. to start the day. Joe Hatfield, CEO of Wal-Mart Asia, is famous for coming to work at 5:30 a.m. Geoff Calvert, former CEO of HSBC in Korea, would often skip lunch to save time when he had no lunch appointments scheduled for that particular day.
Looking at how the day is spent at multinational companies, one can rarely find the time to talk to family or friends on the phone, take care of personal errands or read the paper leisurely.
I've heard that those who work at Korean companies look up stock prices, trade stocks and even visit stock companies during working hours. It may be only a few people, but I've also heard that people go to the sauna or drive to a restaurant outside of Seoul for a long lunch.
A manager that moved jobs to a multinational company from a Korean conglomerate after it went bankrupt said to me recently,
"If all my colleagues worked as hard as I do now at our previous company, the company would have never gone bankrupt. I have a lot of freedom and power now, but also a lot of responsibilities so I'm busy all the time."
The staffs at multinational companies also work hard until late at night. It is typical that those employees have conference calls scheduled with someone at the other end of the globe, sometimes at midnight, sometimes later.
What about business trips? When there is a meeting in Beijing or Tokyo, an employee of a multinational often takes the last flight the day before, attends the meeting in the morning and heads for the airport right after the meeting. He also gets trained to work efficiently and to save time. As he climbs the ladder, he typically works harder and is given more responsibilities.
Why do these people work so hard? It is because the Human Resources system evaluates employees according to one's ability and performance. Many companies in Korea still practice the seniority system. The seniority system may have many advantages, but I think the Western system that compensates according to the individual's ability makes people focus harder on their work, as the multinational companies prove again and again.
How often do you have to change jobs to manage your career and succeed in multinational companies? There may be those who succeed when changing jobs often, but many CEOs I know have worked in one company for a long time.
The four CEOs I mentioned above have only worked at one company during their entire careers.
Korea has grown significantly in size during the last 50 years. But Korea today has limitations to grow in quantity. To grow in quality, increased productivity via the advancement of technology is important, too, but increased productivity per individual is more important.
It is an essential factor for Korea to become globally competitive. These days, there is much debate over five-day workweek in Korea. But I think it's not how many hours we work per week, but how hard we work.
If people are compensated according to their capability and performance, higher productivity and efficiency will come naturally.
The writer is the president of DaimlerChrysler Korea.
by Wayne Chumley