Life at the top, and how to get there

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Life at the top, and how to get there

It might be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an aspiring businessman to become the head of a major company, especially a branch of a multinational corporation. What tricks were up the sleeves of the Koreans who now run the operations of multinationals here?
To answer this question, the JoongAng Ilbo asked their professional association, Korean CEOs of Multinational Corporations, to introduce us to some of their success stories. The paper sat down with Kim Hae-dong, CEO of B. Braun Korea; Jang Eun-gu, CEO of Bently Nevada Korea, and Cho Won-jang, CEO of Danisco Korea, to talk about how they got to where they are.


Kim Hae-dong, Jang Eun-gu and and Cho Won-jang have one obvious thing in common: they head the Korean operations of multinational corporations. All three have won the trust of their main offices.
But that’s not all they have in common.
All three spent their college years around Sinchon, northwestern Seoul, and majored in science or engineering. They all enjoy rough physical recreation like hiking, biking, soccer and scuba diving.
Maybe all three wanted to reminiscence about their pasts, because they chose Sinchon to meet with the JoongAng Ilbo. For two hours, these Korean CEOs of multinational corporations talked about life and their views on business, sitting in a cafe in the bustling college district and strolling the campus of Ehwa Womans University.

“I sincerely feel insight is important in doing business,” said Mr. Kim. “Insight is necessary in exchanges with business acquaintance and employees.”
The sort of insight he’s talking about, Mr. Kim said, comes from hobbies and cultural experiences, as well as from reading. For that reason, Mr. Kim said, he urges his employees to leave work early and to spend time resting and enjoying leisure.
Mr. Cho’s philosophy puts a high priority on personal experience.
In college, Mr. Cho once ran away from home and lived a life of poverty. The future CEO of Danisco Korea traveled to Southeast Asia with just $500 in his pocket. Mr. Cho said he believes the experience made him more likely than others to seek out challenges.
Mr. Jang has a doctorate, but said it isn’t necessary for becoming a CEO. Indeed, Mr. Jang believes it was his affable way of thinking, and the value he places on general knowledge, that led Bently Nevada to think highly of him.
How is working at a multinational different from working at a Korean company? Said Mr. Cho, “Since the organizational structure (in a multinational) is horizontal, decision-making is fast.”
In a multinational, Mr. Cho said, much more information is shared ― even between the main office’s CEO and the lowest subordinate ― than in a Korean company, with its vertical organizational structure.
Because of this, Mr. Cho said, the company’s goals are more clear to everyone, and can be adjusted according to the situation.
How about the differences between American- and European-based corporations? Mr. Jang said an American company is more tightly run and the workload is very organized, which he finds comforting.
Mr. Kim said B. Braun considers leisure important, and tries to provide a relaxing environment for its employees.
Mr. Cho pointed to another difference between Korean and multinational corporations: Multinationals, he said, are more concerned about following the law.
This difference makes it hard for multinationals to do business with Korean companies, especially when outsourcing its marketing functions to domestic firms.
Mr. Kim said there are times when Korean society tends to forget that a business’s priority is to make a profit. The CEO of B. Braun Korea confessed that, from time to time, the Korean point of view that expects companies to take on social responsibilities is burdensome.
Any advice for young Koreans dreaming of becoming CEOs?
“With passion, try to get as much experience as possible, and try to become an elegant and well-mannered international person,” Mr. Cho recommended.
“It may sound easy, but it’s not,” he warned.
Mr. Kim advised a more direct tack. “One needs to become a stalker of the company one wishes to apply to,” he said. “Nowadays, it’s really hard to find tenacious young men who plow their own futures.”
Mr. Jang suggests that a person try to think about where he will be five and ten years from now. “I have had personal experience in my life in which I have thought thoroughly about my future, and changed my career,” he said.


1Kim Hae-dong, B.Braun Korea Mr. Kim majored in physics at Hongik University and went to graduate school in business in Helsinki. He has been with B. Braun, a 164-year-old German manufacturer of medical equipment, for 15 years.

2Jang Eun-gu, Bently Nevada Korea
Mr. Jang majored in mechanical engineering at Yonsei University and earned his doctorate there. He was working for the Agency of Defense Development in Korea when he was scouted by Bently Nevada; in 1996, at the age of 31, he became head of the American company’s branch office in Korea. Bently Nevada provides products and services for industrial equipment maintenance.

3Cho Won-jang, Danisco Korea Mr. Cho majored in chemistry at Yonsei University. Before becoming head of the Korean branch of Copenhagen-based Danisco, the largest food ingredient manufacturer in northern Europe, he was in charge of marketing for Kukje Corporation and for Pfizer’s branch office in Korea. Danisco Korea had sales of 4 trillion won ($3.4 billion) last year.

by Hong Seung-il
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