[In depth interview]Korea’s CEO export No. 1

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[In depth interview]Korea’s CEO export No. 1

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Kim Kwang-ro

MUMBAI - Here in India, “KR Kim” has become synonymous with “a successful businessman.” The name belongs to Kim Kwang-ro, a Korean expatriate.
Kim, 62, became vice chairman and chief executive officer of Videocon, India’s No. 1 consumer electronics manufacturer, in May.
Prior to that, from January 1997 until early this year, Kim headed the Indian subsidiary of LG Electronics, Korea’s second biggest electronics maker.
During that period, he grew the Korean brand into the leading brand in India, one of the world’s fastest-growing markets.
Sales of LG products in the Indian market increased from only 36 billion won in 1997 to 1.8 trillion won last year.
Now, LG’s color TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines and microwave ovens occupy top positions in the Indian market.

When Kim was scouted by Venugopal Nandlal Dhoot, chairman of Videocon in May, it was big news in both India and Korea.
Kim is the first Korean to become the CEO of a foreign-owned global conglomerate.
Accordingly, his nickname in Korea is now “CEO Export No. 1.”
It is also the first time that a leading Indian conglomerate has appointed a foreigner as its CEO.
The Indian conglomerates’ executives said that Kim is well-versed in Indian markets and that he knows India’s geography better than ordinary Indians.
In fact, Kim’s work covered more than 100 cities in India when he headed the Indian subsidiary of LG.

The Videocon group, established in 1979, has businesses ranging from oil, gas, electricity to consumer electronics and home appliances. Sales of the business group reached $4.5 billion last year, with home appliances accounting for $1.5 billion of total sales.

The name of Videocon is not unfamiliar to Koreans, because it was once designated as a preferred bidder for Daewoo Electronics in 2006.

The Indian conglomerate began as a consumer electronics maker in 1987 and then expanded the business by taking over the TV divisions of France-based Thomson and the Indian subsidiary of Sweden-based Electrolux.

The JoongAng Sunday visited Kim at the headquarters of Videocon in Mumbai late last month.

The staff were busy because the company had just decided to move its headquarters to the capital Delhi and was preparing for the relocation.

However, Kim was reading newspapers in his office at 11 a.m. when the JoongAng team visited him. He said, “CEOs need to be idle men,” adding that “Being busy is not a virtue.”

He continued: “It is more important to read the big trends of the market. I see the world through the windows named newspapers. I always carry a dictionary with me to read English-language newspapers.”



Q. What do you thinkabout competing with your fomer company, LG?

A. It is only a hope for now. LG Electronics has preceded Videocon by 30 years. I just think that I am an exported executive, just like Korean taekwondo and archery managers in other Olympic teams. You know that Guus Hiddink from the Netherlands did a great job developing the Korean football team, upgrading his homeland’s image in Korea. If KR Kim leads Videocon to success, the image of Korea in India will be upgraded.



What’s your mission as the new CEO?

That is a question from just a Korean point of view. Chairman Dhoot has never told me to do something special.

I decide what do to utterly by myself here. This is the business style of Indian companies. Compared to this, I think Korean companies are not yet sufficiently open-minded [to invite CEOs from other countries].



What mission have you set?

I will focus on integration of the brand. Videocon has grown through mergers and acquisitions, so it has six separate brands. These brands have been competing with each other in production and marketing. Now we are trying to integrate them.

Another goal is to upgrade the quality of management. It is our ultimate goal to change the mindset of executives and staff here.



That will not be easy, will it?

But it’s possible. I once headed the microwave oven business section in the Changwon plant of LG Electronics in South Gyeongsang before coming to India. The revolution of productivity there, which I led, surprised even Japan’s Toyota [the world’s leading automaker well known for high productivity].

The reform of the Changwon plan was possible because all the workers started over from the zero point. If you think you have been wrong and start from the zero, you will identify brand-new ways that seeing things.



What’s your key to success in LG Electronics’ Indian subsidiary?

I try to focus on the strong points of each worker. Some Korean executives criticize Indian workers for being lazy and complaining.

I see that Indians have various ideas and can be somewhat slow in working. So, if they are pressed and called quickly to account, they lose the will to work. If you trust them and let them work, they achieve good results.

There are 22 Koreans and 3,000 Indians in the Indian subsidiary of LG Electronics. In many overseas subsidiaries, the senior workers dispatched from headquarters tend to direct the local workers. But I ordered Korean senior workers not to direct projects. Some executives in Seoul criticized me for this but the result was successful.



So you are talking about empowerment of staff workers?

I simply mean that bosses should wait and lower the bar. Some bosses expect 100 percent from their staff workers, though they themselves might work at 70 percent. In such a situation, empowerment is impossible. Bosses should lower the bar to 70 percent and be patient and tolerant.

Are you very generous to your staff.

Not always. I say ‘No performance, No future.’ I empower them and I wait, but later I assess the results rigorously. Empowerment of staff can be successful only when the top management has strong planning ability and only when proper rewards and penalties are in place.


By Lee Sang-jai JoongAng Ilbo[symoon@joongang.co.kr]

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