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It has been a year since the SK Group announced that it would create a subsidiary in neighboring China. Out of the 1,000 Chinese applicants to became trailblazers for the conglomerate, SK recently chose nine graduates from prestigious institutions, such as Beijing University.

Having finished their basic training in July, all have been placed at SK affiliates and have begun working.

The JoongAng Ilbo interviewed five of these Chinese employees who have chosen a Korean company as their future workplace.


First class of recruits talk about the art of fitting in

There are many reasons why someone would choose to work for a foreign company. In the case of Lin Chun-li, 33, she decided to work for SK, a Korean conglomorate, because she thought a foreign company would give her the opportunity to gain valuable international business experience every day.

Ms. Lin is just one of SK's first class of officially recruited Chinese workers in Korea. SK has pledged to make China its second home, and in order to do so has aggressively recruited several Chinese people this year who are considered among the top of their class. The company hopes that these new recruits will become the cornerstone of SK's grand plan to make its China unit a crown jewel in the SK empire.

"The head of SK's China unit is a Chinese man, and the fact that a Chinese can rise to the top of a solid firm appealed to me," says Xiong Yan-jun. Unlike his Korean counterparts, who often wonder about how they can best contribute to the company and how to get ahead, Mr. Xiong already has a strong idea of what needs to be done. "The company's future is a matter for the executives," he said. "I'm going to do whatever my job requires me to do, and what I am asked to do."

Although all of them decided to work for a Korean company, they did not hesitate to talk about the negative images that Korean companies have in China. "When Korean companies come to China all they think about is making money," Bai Lu says. "China has enough money being invested in it. What China wants is the technology and management methods and know-how."

Lin Chun-li adds that in order to be successful in China, Korean companies should not only focus on making profits, but also on how to bring profits to the Chinese people.

Zhang Xiao-yong says that SK seems to have successfully tackled the challenge of coming to China because the company's advertisements in China emphasize that SK is not merely a company building an affiliate in China, but a truly Chinese company that is "for China."

Xiong Yan-jun emphasizes that Koreans should try to understand that, although Chinese may look similar to Koreans, they are very different. "My Korean colleagues keep asking me to name the most famous alcohol in China," he says. "When I explain to them that it is impossible since there are hundreds of them, they keep asking me to name one. I just hope that they would understand how diverse our country is."

Nevertheless, all agreed that the positive aspects of Korean companies should serve the Chinese as a good example of how to do conduct a successful business. "I admire the teamwork that Koreans have," Andy Hoo says. "Although there might be no immediate benefit for the individual, everyone works together toward a unified goal."

In China, every foreign word used in business transactions is translated into its own Chinese meaning. Therefore, due to the complexity of the language, when conducting business in China, the language problem is a much bigger barrier than in other countries. And that is why having the right personnel, proficient in the native and the home country's languages, is essential to having a successful business in China.

Supervising the newbies

Su Jae-yoon, a manager at SK who supervises Lin Chun-li and Zhang Xiao-yong, says that his Chinese employees seem to fit well into the organization. Because the 40 members of the department are fluent in Chinese, there are no communication problems.

Kim Byung-il, a manager at SK Construction, says that he is surprised how fast the Chinese employees adapt themselves to the Korean business culture. "I am really impressed by how they have an open minded attitude," he says. "Actually, I expected them to be more conservative toward other cultures."

by Sunny Yang

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