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March 2010

Notes from a Colleague Before My Presentation to the GyeongGi Province Advisors Last Month

My colleague, Dom LaVigne, has deep experience working with Asian governments in the area of foreign direct investment, so as I was getting ready to present to the GyeongGi Province advisors last month, I asked him for a little advice.

P1000808 Dom doesn't do things half-way though and he put together a remarkably long and helpful list of questions/insights before our online meeting to coach me before the event. While the setting for my presentation to GyeongGi Province wasn't really conducive to a Q&A approach, Dom's notes cover the range of areas a complete conversation would address. 

He even had some suggestions at the end about how we could make it a joint presentation. We'll have to do that next time, though, since Dom's still back in the US.

In my future communications with others on the GyeongGi Province advisors board, I plan to keep these in mind so that over time, I can learn and propose in ways that add the most value to my position.

(I took the photo above on March 24, 2010 from the hill where Smith Company of the US Army first engaged North Korean invading forces as they headed south from Seoul. Today, this ground which was covered by dozens of Korean tanks penetrating the US position is the site of massive construction of Dongtan New City, immediately south of Suweon. My meeting with the Gyeonggi Province advisors was held in Suweon.)

Notes from Dom LaVigne

1.                  Overview of GG Advisory Position and Responsibilities (Steven)

a.       How many advisors on the council?

b.      Group makeup – i.e., all foreigners, mix, KR govt officials, any AmCham/EuroCham reps?

c.       Is your role intended to represent primarily American expat interests, or would you be an advocate for all expat nationalities?

d.      How often will the council meet?

e.       How long will the meetings be (i.e., one hour, two hours)?


2.                  Overview of GG FDI Promotional Efforts (Steven)

a.       How is the GG govt structured to promote FDI?  Who heads its efforts?

b.      Are there govt orgs tasked with FDI attraction and helping local SMEs globalize?

c.       What industries have been key in GG’s economic growth so far?

d.      Which industries is it targeting for the future?

e.       Are there any govt arms to look after foreigners/expats’ interests (e.g., akin to Seoul Business Center)?

f.       What is GG currently doing re. social media and social networking?

g.      Is GG doing any coordinated FDI promotional stuff with KR federal authorities (InvestKorea, KITA) or with other provinces?

h.      Does GG have a close relationship and ongoing dialogues with foreign partners (e.g., US Embassy, chambers of commerce)?

i.        Does it have formalized mechanisms in place for attracting foreign businesses, addressing investor concerns, to help facilitate easier visa applications, etc. (a “one-stop shop”?


3.                  Advisory Postion:  Case Study / Benchmarking (Dom)

a.       Singapore case study

Not completely relevant to Korea, but Dom will share briefly

                                                              i.      EDB, IE Singapore (iAdvisors Program), Tourism Board, SICC, SBF

b.      Malaysia case study

                                                              i.      How Malaysia appoints and works with expat advisors

1.      Key foreign players (AMCHAM, EuroCham, BritCham, GerCham) + locals (MICCI, FMM)

2.      Dialogues (Permuda, NEAC, MITI, MDTCA)

3.      Specific agencies (MITI, MDeC, MIDA, MDTCA, Home Affairs)

4.      State/Municipal Govts (Penang)

5.      MDeC/MIDA trade missions

6.      Analysis of expat advisors and commitments expected by govt, length and frequencies of meetings


4.                  Ideas for GG FDI-Promotion Activities (Dom)

a.       Council of Advisors who meet with Governor quarterly

b.      Centralized FDI-promotion agency – i.e., the EDB of GG

c.       Unique branding/marketing – what makes GG different? (Dom can also recommend branding advisor.)

d.      Focused sectoral development.  Does GG have adequate educational and local supply-chain infrasture to support this?  If not, how long to develop?

e.       Education:  Are GG students employable?  What are the advantages/disadv’s to local and foreign companies of GG workers, and where are skills needed to be upgraded (share Penang example)?

f.       Does GG have officials targeting key markets (e.g., China, India, SE Asia, US, Europe, South America)?

g.      Develop a clear PPT package that outlines InvestGG – stats, current investors, future investors, incentive packages, highlighting top foreign investor names/profiles.

h.      Great KBC recommendation on “success stories” for GG’s promotional efforts.  I’ve attached one done by US Chamber, used to lobby Congress for passage of US-Singapore FTA.

i.        Trade missions – inbound & outbound.  If US, important to include DC (Dom to cite MDeC example).

j.        Develop foreign contacts – i.e., invite US Amb to visit GG for briefings plus visits to US company facilities (Dom to share KL/SIN examples)

k.      GG to be proactive and ask AmCham if they would like to feature Governor at member-wide luncheon, re. briefing on GG

l.        Invite chambers’ members for tours out to GG, lunch, mtgs with govt officials (Dom to cite MDeC cooperation in KL).

m.    Alert chambers and embassies if GG having visitors from US/other countries (I’ll explain why re. how this happened in MY/SIN).

n.      Intended tech parks in GG?  Dom to share example of SembCorp Parks Mgt in CN/VN.

o.      GG town-hall meetings with foreign biz/govt communities annually.

p.      GG visits to EDB, MIDA, TEDA, etc. to benchmark what they are doing?


5.                  Social Networking / Social Media Ideas (Dom):

a.       Review GG web site – easy for investors to navigate?  Contact info apparent and useful?  List of officials with contact details (e.g.,  Definite advantage if done well – first impression created of GG by potential investors.

b.      All relevant GG personnel should get LinkedIn accts and assign particular officials to KR-related groups (e.g., Korea Network, Expats & Koreans, FDI group, Korea Finance) as well as other market-specific ones (e.g., Singapore Global)

c.       Relevant GG personnel to get signed up on KBC, introduce themselves, let people know they are there to help with FDI, and perhaps some background on industries they represent, market focus, how people can contact them.

d.      GG Governor or other senior personnel to participate in a bi-monthly Skype video roundtable discussion with relevant KBC members.

e.       Facebook?  I’m not a fan of it for biz networking, but could be a good tool for them to get involved.

f.       GG to setup InvestGG forum on LinkedIn.

g.      PR/media:  Forgot to mention this above, but they must do aggressive, targeted, smart media outreach, including bringing in media to GG (Dom to share SG 2004 example).


6.                  Your Presentation on Feb 19 (Dom)

a.       Bits and bites and highlights from #2-#5 above – depending on your specific role to them (as US liaison or general expat liaison, plus social media expert) can be customized accordingly.


7.                  What Can I Contribute?

Depending on how GG is setup currently to attract FDI, market themselves overseas, etc., they might need someone quite senior to head up this area, or to work as a liaison to the governor and InvestGG on developing their strategy, determining resources and budgets needed, and building networks with the foreign business and govt communities, as well as planning inbound/outbound missions.

a.      By the end of our discussion, likely some light bulbs will be going off in your head.

b.      Having an advisory panel is fantastic, but if GG doesn’t have an internal (full-time) resource already who is set to work with the advisors and foreign biz community, it is not practical to expect an advisor to take all this on their shoulders (I’ll cite a M’sia example).

c.       If my ideas resound well with GG:

                                                 i.      Setup Skype videoconf introductions?

                                                 ii.      Point above and/or if GG could cover my travel expenses and a consulting fee for my time, I’d go and spend a week there to see firsthand the investment, meet with companies, talk with GG govt, have strategy briefings like what we’re doing, and ultimately prepare a report/recommendations/gameplan on what I think they could/should do to attract FDI.

                                                 iii.      From Point II, hopefully they would see the value of bringing me on-board, and (ideally) either discuss that during my trip to GG, or upon their seeing the final report.

Business Introduction Provided for Korean Agent in Construction Industry (US/Korea)

ConstructionI was contacted by a businessperson in Canada looking for buyers in Korea for products of a manufacturer of specialized materials used in the construction of hotels, concert halls, universities, apartment complexes and other large buildings. 

I referred him to a member of with connections in the Korean market who can help this Canadian businessperson find Korean buyers.

[Photo is of the Gojan-dong area of Ansan as taken from my office window.]

Business Introduction Provided for Commercial Attache' (Korea and USA)

I was contacted by a US company looking to acquire a Korean maker of medical equipment. Since this is outside the scope of Korean Consulting & Translation Service, Inc.'s work, I initially proposed our Panel of Experts service, where we arrange an online meeting of specialists to advise the client on its areas of interest.

However, this company already has a good idea what they want and they just want someone to contact potential acquisition targets in Korea and arrange meetings for them. I was able to refer him to a member at Korea Business Central ( to provide this service.

[Photo of Sangroksu area of Ansan taken from top of Nojeok Hill.)

A Summary of Dr. Victor Cha's Interview on Korea Business Central

The Korea Business Interview Series continues at Korea Business Central ( 

The latest interview was held with Dr. Victor Cha, former Director for Asian Affairs in the White House's National Security Council and current Director of the Asian Studies Program at Georgetown University. Dr. Cha is author of Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia.

Here is the link to the interview audio:

In addition, the discussion and transcript can be found on Korea Business Central at the following link:

(The full list of interviews can be found here:

Main points of the interview:

Topic #1 - KORUS and the Korean Economy

  1. The Korean economy is improving thanks to the current Korean government's expansionary fiscal policy, which sets the administration up for good results in the June local elections.
  2. The Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) will lead to increased economic activity in both the US and Korea. 
  3. The Obama administration is starting to say the right things about trade and passage of KORUS will ultimately depend on a big push by the White House.
  4. In addition to being the largest bilateral free trade agreement negotiated by the US, KORUS is also important in terms of the template it offers for future free trade agreements.
  5. It is unlikely that the US Congress will do anything on KORUS until after the US mid-term elections in November.
  6. The main sticking points to passage of KORUS by the US Congress include trade terms for beef and automobiles. These will likely be dealt with through side agreements, rather than renegotiation of the main agreement text
  7. Passage of KORUS is expected to benefit US automakers, citrus growers and various service industries, among others.

Topic #2 - Economic Engagement Between South and North Korea

  • North Korea is not taking up the Lee Myung-Bak government's "3,000 Proposal", which promises North Korea a per-capital income of $3,000/year within ten years if North Korea will denuclearize and improve its human rights record with South Korea. Therefore, economic engagement between North and South Korea has gone into reverse under the current administration.

Topic #3 - Sports Diplomacy in Asia

  1. Dr. Cha's idea for his book Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia came after seeing the newsworthiness of sports on a visit to Australia with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
  2. The seminal case of sports diplomacy was "ping-pong diplomacy" which lead to China's opening to the United States in the 1970s.
  3. Since then, Korea has been very successful in promoting diplomatic initiatives through sports, such as the Seoul Summer Olympics in 1988, where Korea's efforts eventually led to the normalization of relations between the Soviet Union and South Korea in 1990.
  4. Korean success in the recent Vancouver Winter Olympics positions Korea well to host a future Winter Olympics in Korea.

Message #2 to an Associate: On Being Successful in Korea

Following the message I sent my associate in the last post, I followed up with one more email related to my general understanding of the approach a non-Korean must take to be successful in Korea. I think this one is worth sharing too:P1000657  

Hi <Associate>,

I am reminded of one other very important point in your Asia job hunt, that, with enough time, will get you past the challenges I described in my previous email.

It’s simply that you “get it”. I mean, you understand that to get, you’ve got to give; and that nowhere is this more true than in Asia. There are lots of non-Koreans in Korea just waiting for an opportunity; complaining that the Korean business world is biased against outsiders. That is true of course and it’s not going to change. And I’m not saying here that any specific effort you make is going to get you to your goal; Korea Business Central and I may turn out to be a complete dud for you. But you’re not just narrowly focused on your job search; you’re sharing (and sharing a lot!) with others along the way. If you have the patience to see it through, this approach is (almost) guaranteed to pay off.


It also mirrors the approach I’m taking with Korea Business Central and GyeongGi Province; in both cases, I’m trying to create enough value first in a strategic area so that in the future, it will come back to me one way or another. I’m not thinking at all about the short-term earnings; it could be years before I get my investments back. Not everyone has the patience for such a long-term approach, and I see that working in my favor. 

I should point out that I’m not a naturally altruistic person; I simply see a kindred spirit in you that I want in my network. I appreciate very much your efforts on KBC and know that if you don’t get to Korea, I’m going to lose that. 


The principles I shared in the email above must be followed carefully by anyone wishing to have any success in Korean business.

Note: The photos in this post were taken at Nojeok Hill on March 10 after last week's snowfall.

More Business Introductions Provided to Print Shop (Korea and US)

Since my recent introduction to a US client of a print shop in Korea through the personal connections of a fellow member at Korea Business Central (, I've had two more companies (one is already a client; the other is a potential client) ask how they can get printing done in Korea.

Of course, I am arranging for both of them to get quotes on their projects and am putting them directly in touch with the Korean printer (which is one of the top printers in Korea).

On the Death of a Fellow Student's Mother and Figuring Out How Much Condolence Money to Give Him

In Korea, the exchange of money takes place in situations Westerners often find strange (to say the least!) and this has been part of the culture for a very long time.

On the negative side, the little white envelopes with cash symbolize the graft in Korean government and business. In fact, a top story in the news these days is whether US$50,000 cash left on the table in an envelope for a cabinet member of the previous government was actually received by that cabinet member or whether someone else picked it up and it disappeared.

3-17-2010 9-44-17 PM But the exchange of money goes beyond such black-and-white corruption and it is to unfair to stereotype the process as bad without understanding the meaning behind it. In many cases, the exchange of money and gifts is simply a mechanism Koreans use to communicate to others about the value they place on their relationships.

Just yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with my wife which was helpful to me in further internalizing the factors involved. 

It all started with a text message I received to my phone from a fellow student in the graduate program at Hanyang Unversity telling me that another student's mother had died. The time and location for the funeral was mentioned too, though it's several hours' drive out of town and I'm not close enough to the student to really be obligated to show up. However, the next text message I got contained a bank account number for sending condolence money and that's what prompted the following conversation with my wife.

Me: The mother of a fellow student died and I need to send some condolence money. How much do you suggest? W100,000?

Myunghee: No, that's way too much. The standard amount is W30,000 these days; I mean, you don't know him that well.

Me: W30,000? How could I send so little? This student is someone I know relatively well; certainly better than the average. I've even driven him to the bus stop after class sometimes.

Myunghee: Fine, then give him W50,000. 

Extra commentary: W40,000 is a taboo number since "4" in Chinese characters sounds like the word for "death". Thus, no cash gift will ever have the number "4" in it. After W30,000 was determined to be too low, our next choice up was W50,000.

Me: What about W70,000?

Extra commentary: For some reason, W70,000 is next after W50,000. With W60,000, the recipient would think to himself, "Huh? Where did W60,000 come from? If not W50,000, then he should have done better than W60,000!". Giving W90,000 would get this reaction, "Gee, he should have just rounded up to W100,000... What's he saying with W90,000? How strange!". It's hard to explain, but even W80,000 seems a bit wrong to me, too. In my mind (and perhaps a Korean reader can comment further for me here), my choices were: W30,000, W50,000, W70,000 or W100,000.

Myunghee: W70,000? You'd be giving too much! If everyone else is giving W50,000, and you give W70,000, it'll look funny. The money is just a way of acknowledging his mother's passing (Korean word my wife used: "인사차").

Me: OK, fine. I'll wire him W50,000 tomorrow.

If this seems like a rather calculating way to come up with the amount, then that's because it is. My process with my wife was not different than the thought process every Korean goes through when deciding on these matters. 

Everything about the process is deliberate and communicates meaning. Understanding this meaning can be illuminating, both in personal relationships and in business.

Business Introduction Provided for Export of Korean Service Business (US, Singapore, Korea)

A company from Singapore contacted me about consulting services to introduce a new service product from Korea into the Singaporean market. A colleague of mine at had already had contact with this Singaporean company a couple years back and was further able to introduce yet another associate of his (a Korean national doing business in SE Asia) to the Singaporean company to make a perfect match!

KORUS FTA – Congressional Passage & Ratification: Some Thoughts by Dom LaVigne

My fellow administrator over at Korea Business Central, Dom LaVigne listened to the Korea Business Central interview with Dr. Victor Cha (available here) and shared the following very thorough and pertinent insights about KORUS FTA. He gave me permission to post his comments here in their entirety:


3-15-2010 1-12-25 AM  I thought the interview with Dr. Cha was very interesting, and certainly a coup for KBC in being able to get someone so prominent (i.e., NSC background) for an interview on the KORUS FTA.

My comments on the interview and on the KORUS FTA topic in general are from my perspectives in having led US business lobbying efforts for the US-Singapore FTA (it become effective on January 1, 2004) and the US-Malaysia FTA (started in June 2006 but remains incomplete due to several sensitive Malaysian political and sectoral issues).

1.                  US Commitment to Asia

As Dr. Cha rightly pointed out, many government officials in Asia – particularly in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations = Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) have been questioning the perceived US commitment to Asia in the last 5-6 years.

Since September 2001, the predominant feeling among many in Southeast Asia has been that the US is only interested in a military, security, and/or anti-terrorism relationship with the region, and less so in business or trade.  These officials cite the ever-growing “soft power” diplomacy of China, which has made significant inroads throughout the region and in Africa in recent years.  Some have questioned whether China had displaced the United States in terms of influence in the region.

While I am not on-the-ground in Korea, I would suspect the situation there is very much as it is in Singapore and Malaysia.  In the last couple years of the Bush (’43) Administration, and certainly in just the first six months of the Obama Administration, the US sent significant numbers of senior-level officials to Southeast Asia to discuss everything from FTAs and economic cooperation, to trade and investment.  I was involved in hosting many meetings when these officials visited AmCham, and I can attest to the level of sincerity and interest by the USG in Asia.

However, what we often told officials is that the USG and its respective embassies in the region need to do a much better job of PR and marketing their commitment and involvement in Asia.  While the US government is doing a lot, very people on the street (and unfortunately even many of our close supporters in Asian governments) are not clearly getting the message.

2.                  TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership -

The TPP was started around 2006 by Brunei, New Zealand, and Singapore, who were looking to establish a very large Asia Pacific FTA that would involve partners in North and South America, including the United States.

The US recently agreed to participate in this, and it is expected that they will participate in the first rounds of the TPP this month (Mar 2010).  While this will require a huge amount of work, the US will push to have the TPP be part of its standard “Gold Standard” for FTA agreements – i.e., FTAs which are comprehensive and address all sectors, thus resulting in the highest possible trade liberalization by the relevant parties.

The US’ involvement in the TPP is certainly significant, and sends the right signals of its long-term commitment to Asia.  If Korea were also able to join the TPP, that would be quite important, given its growing global economic and political influence.

Note:  The TPP would not negate specific “bilaterals” (two-country agreements) which the US and Korea are undertaking with each other and/or other partners.  Rather, the TPP will seek to be a standard that is compatible with the various bilaterals, but also provide a platform upon which TPP members can build gold-standard bilaterals among each other.

Lessons Learned:

From my involvement in the USSFTA (US-Singapore) and USMFTA (US-Malaysia), and also my having kept pace with the KORUS FTA as we were negotiating the USMFTA, several key points and lessons learned that are important for the KORUS situation:

  1. US Public Sentiment:  Most of us who are doing international business know the value of an FTA, and (inspite of what people would think) many Congresspeople and Senators and their staffs will admit privately that they see and understand the value of having and FTA.  However, what ultimately pushes them to approve or not approve it will be their constituents.

The US economy and job market are frankly still in a shambles.  It is quite scary to see (on-the-ground) how hard it has been hit everywhere, and the big gap between how Asia continues to chug along, while in the States, it feels as though the wind has been taken out of the US’ sails.

CAFTA (Central American FTA) barely squeaked by in 2004 when the US economy was much more robust, and President Bush had to expend significant political capital to get it through.  The main obstacles to such FTAs passing will inevitable be feelings of potential job loss, questions about other countries not having labor unions (or how they treat their workers), and environmental implications.

Given the current public sentiment in the US – and with the mid-term Congressional elections happening in Nov 2010 – there is no way KORUS would pass Congress at this stage.

  1. Congress:

Note:  KORUS was signed by USTR and the Korean Minister for Trade & Economy on June 30, 2007.  I don’t know whether the agreement has been ratified by the Korean Parliament, but Congress must ratify it or it will be back to the drawing board. 

Congress takes a summer recess from June-Sept each year.  Given the amount of discussions and lobbying required to get this legislation through Congress, it will likely not be possible to do before June.  Also with midterm elections in Nov, most people who are running for office again will be busy with campaigning during the August-Nov period.  

Quite frankly, US public sentiment is such that I believe any US government official voting for an FTA prior to the Nov elections would most likely not regain his/her seat.

The only plausible option would be to introduce KORUS in late Jan 2011, after Congress reconvenes from the midterm elections and winter recess.

  1. TPA (Trade Promotional Authority)

When the US was getting more involved in FTAs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, President Clinton or President Bush signed the Trade Promotional Authority, which would enable the President to present future FTAs to Congress for ratification, but Congress could only do an “up-or-down” vote – i.e., they could only vote YES or NO on the entire agreement.  Normally for legislation going through Congress, members have the ability to request changes on a line-by-line basis, attach their own riders, etc.

TPA was enacted specifically to prevent this, because if Congress could make changes to the Agreement, it would need to go back to the other country’s legislative branch, who would either need to re-approve it, or if they did not, then the trade negotiators from both sides would have to work out a deal.

Unfortunately TPA expired on July 1, 2007.  At that time, it was felt that Congress would not renew it, and people were anticipating at least four years before Congress would approve it again.  Given the current economic situation in the US, it’s very unlikely TPA would have much of a chance unless the economy picks up significantly by 2011.  Still, it would likely take at least 8-10 months for TPA to be re-approved, given how slowly legislation can move through the US Congress.

Korea and Malaysia were racing to get their FTAs with the US negotiated and signed prior to July 1, 2006.  I think Korea just made it (June 30), while as I said, the Malaysia FTA is still under discussion.  So far as I am aware, no US FTAs have been presented to Congress since TPA expired. 

There is a real, significant risk the KORUS FTA could get bogged down in Congress as people pick it apart line-by-line.  Particularly given the very pugilistic bi-partisan bickering that has been taking place between Congress and the Administration in recent months, if the White House is putting forward KORUS, the Democrats would need to ensure party discipline to avoid their members voting with the Republicans (who might put up a fight due to partisan politics, even though most Republicans you talk to have favored and would favor this FTA). 

What will be critical is for US industry and business to put together a very comprehensive strategy for educating Congress and the American public on the benefits of KORUS.  We did this in Singapore after the FTA was signed, and while we were pressing Congress for ratification.  It took around six months of extremely intense work, including having AmCham members and their corporate HQs in the US send faxes by the thousands.  We even hired “runners” – professionals in Washington, DC who are hired to stand in lines outside of Congressional hearing rooms to pick up copies of the meeting transcripts – to hand-deliver letters to all Congressional and Senate offices stating the importance of the FTA and what needed to be done.

I know that Tami Overby (AMCHAM’s past President who is now heading up the US Chamber’s Asia Pacific operations) spent much time in Washington, DC lobbying Congress on the FTA. Once it is announced that KORUS will be submitted to Congress for consideration, a huge amount of educational work (particularly on correcting misperceptions) will be required by the US and Korean business communities.

  1. What the US Stands to Gain?

Potential gains for US industry would be tremendous, if forces in the States realized how much this would open the Korean market, expand export opps for US companies, create more and higher-paying jobs, etc.

a. Services: Allow US law firms to establish offices and practice in Korea (I do not know whether this is part of the KORUS FTA, but this is certainly a barrier currently in Korea).

As with the USSFTA and USMFTA, a KORUS FTA would allow express delivery services (e.g., FedEx, UPS) to operate more easily and effectively in Korea, and not be subject to restrictions which are common in many countries (e.g., de minimus limits, requirements on delivering their products in-country through local partners, etc.

If it is difficult for US professionals to work in Korea because of their qualifications not being recognized (e.g., US engineers, architects, doctors), the KORUS FTA might be addressing these areas (this was an issue in the USSFTA).

b.  Autos: As controversial as this issue is, an FTA should open the Korea market more to US automobiles.  Now the question arises whether Koreans would actually want American cars, given the very strong nationalism on Korean brands (even in cases where American products are cheaper).  I’ve seen Nokia dominate much of the world mobile phone market outside Korea, yet fail twice when they tried to sell their products in Korea.  I would guess there are very few examples of foreign brands doing well in Korea (exceptions being Starbucks, Nike, Dunkin’ Doughnuts, etc.)

c. Beef: Again, another very controversial issue.  Assuming the health questions/considerations are addressed properly, increases in US beef exports to Korea will not only benefit US beef producers, but also Korean consumers.  While I must admit that I prefer Korean beef to US beef, it is ridiculous to have to pay KRW 55,000 or more for deung shim in many Seoul BBQ restaurants, versus a top-quality US beef which might run KRW 15,000 cheaper.

What the Korea Stands to Gain?

a. Branding: Ask many people in the States where is Korea, and you’ll likely get the answer that it’s a city close to Tokyo or Beijing.  Malaysia and Singapore suffer the same problem.  The other opinion (which I’ve seen very much since I have been back from people in the Midwest) is that Korea is still as poor as it was in the “MASH” tv series portraying the Korean war.  I have even had top academics in US business schools disagree very strongly with me when I told them that five-star hotels in Seoul hardly run under USD 300.00 per night and that the cost of living in Korea was so high (i.e., they thought Korea was still a third-world country).

When we were going through the USSFTA and USMFTAs, these same questions arose.  One significant benefit of the FTA would be to put Korea “on the radar screen” among most Americans who have no idea that it is the US’ 10th (?) largest trading partner.

b. Korean companies: After we completed the USSFTA, I received many (many) calls from Singaporean companies who had heard so much about the States via the FTA, and now wanted to see how they could take advantage of the FTA to do business in the US, export more to there.   Quite a few even wanted to setup offices and investments in the US. Not only is this good for Korean companies and will increase Korean jobs at home, but it will also bring in badly-needed tax revenues and trickle-down spending to many US states and cities.

The Academic Side of Translation: Article by D. Bannon

D. Bannon, my associate and a leading Korean translator, has released a new article in Translation Journal about subtitling. It's a scholarly treatment of the subject and one that any translator of movie subtitles should read: "Subtitling: The Role of Trans-modal Translation in Global Cinema," Translation Journal, Vol. 14 No. 2 (2010).
Read it here:

Bannon is also the author of The Elements of Subtitles: A Practical Guide to the Art of Dialogue, Character, Context, Tone and Style in Subtitling which can be purchased on Amazon or elsewhere. This is the definitive guide on translating subtitles.


Message #1 to an Associate: Thoughts on Working for a Korean Government Entity

An associate of mine is working to land a job with a Korean government office to support their work promoting Korea overseas. He has a remarkable background, having lead an organization elsewhere in Asia for several years, as well as having worked with top government leaders in the US. He's truly got a unique resume and his international network is impressive. He's also a hard-worker who generously shares his deep knowledge with others. I'm not exaggerating when I say that he could really make a difference for some government agency in Korea that is trying to promote some aspect of Korea overseas.

P1000530But his efforts thus far have not led to much interest. Indeed, he can barely get responses back from the officials he's been contacting and this is before he even starts talking compensation, which he reasonably expects should be at an international level.

For various reasons, I am trying hard to put him in touch with the right people and based on my recommendation, he's already contacted the GyeongGi Province Foreign Investment Attraction Office and a top official for the province of South Choongcheong. In addition, I forwarded his information to a colleague having a close relationship with someone close to the mayor of the city of Incheon. This is Korean-style networking at its best and if anything is going to work for my associate, one of these will.

But as I reflected on my experiences in Korea (in particular, with the province of Gyeonggi) and discussions with another American associate working in one of the Korean central government agencies, I'm questioning the feasibility of a foreigner being able to do very much within government circles. I sent my associate an email a couple weeks ago right after the GyeongGi Province advisors meeting. Here it is in slightly edited form:

Hi <Associate>,

Frankly, based on my contacts with people related to GyeongGi Province and seeing the struggles you’re having, in spite of your strong background, I think finding a satisfactory position in an Asian organization is going to be tough. As far as Korea goes, the Korean government agencies just aren’t going to turn over a bunch of responsibility to a foreigner and they aren’t going to pay adequately for it. You’ll find a few examples where Korean MNCs are hiring foreign executives, but they are operating on a direct profit motive with executives whose value on the international market is proven; within the government agencies, it’s an “old boys’ network” and they don’t know you. Remember, GyeongGi Province just got my limited efforts and resources for nothing because I am fitting that into a long-term strategy to build my understanding and network in Korea but they sure aren’t asking for my advice on policy; you may not have the patience for such an approach.

I was impressed with the caliber of people at the GyeongGi Province meeting yesterday. These weren’t slackers or country hicks; many/most have degrees from foreign universities and deal with foreigners on a daily basis. I don’t doubt someone like you could come in and bring dynamism to the process, but I find it hard to think anybody in that room is ready to take orders from someone younger than them and who doesn’t share their Korean outlook. I’m not one of these foreigners who moans about always being an outsider; it’s not something they do deliberately, it’s just a fact of how things are. It would make no more sense to complain that I can’t walk through walls.

I’m going to keep pursuing your applications with GyeongGi Province and South Choongcheong Province (plus one more with the Mayor's office in Incheon). We will eventually learn something from it. Hopefully I can get you at least a phone interview or two and that can help to understand better. But unless you’re willing to come in at a junior level at a low salary, I can’t see things going anywhere soon.


On the other hand… your work with <non-Asian organization in Asia>, etc. will most likely be appreciated by foreign companies and organizations in Asia. Since they bring in foreign talent all the time, they operate at international levels of compensation and don’t have hang-ups about foreigners in positions of authority. Also, knowing Korean isn’t a pre-requisite. I could be wrong, but I bet this is a better angle for you. Of course, this is hardly an unexplored niche since this is where most non-Koreans go first anyway and the number of available positions is very limited.

Your experience looking for a job in the US is interesting. It sounds like you and I operate in something of a middle-world. Our perspective back home is more international than most; but in Asia, we’re still not Asians. It’s a tough, narrow niche sometimes but one that is wide open with the right strategy which helps to bridge cultural gaps.

I think you have to keep thinking about how your skills and background match the opportunities and then figure out which opportunities match with your goals. I sense you’re going to have to get your feet on the ground here sooner or later in order to get all that straight; the long-distance approach almost writes you off as an outsider from the start.

I wouldn’t tell you not to take a great opportunity in the other places you're looking; but I hope you make it to Korea.

Let’s keep discussing; tell me where you think I’m wrong. I’m learning a lot also.


Photographs: The above photos are from our recent trip to the Chiri mountain area. The top was taken at Yeongok temple and the bottom is from Jinju fort of the Namgang river below.

A Difficult Job: Some E>K Mistranslations Along with the Corrections

Some files are just like that; they come with a disproportionate number of confusing phrasings that are easy to misunderstand. 

We had a job like this last week and when I went back to check my team's work, I came across error after error and ended up re-proofing the entire thing! Normally I'd be pretty upset with this many mistakes, but it was an ultra-rush job and the content was particularly hard, so I let them off lightly. Anyway, I was just glad my colleague responded so promptly and got things fixed quickly for me once I'd pointed them out. 

Here are some examples from the job, which was regarding consulting to a Korean-owned restaurant doing business in the US.


Source: "Holistic consulting is not a “thinking outside of the box” edgy strategy."

Mistranslation: "전체적인 컨설팅은 '주어진 범위 밖에서의 사고'라는 가장자리 전략이 아니다."

Corrected translation: "전체적인 컨설팅은 '주어진 범위 밖에서의 사고'라는 틀을 깨는 전략이 아니다."

Explanation: My team understood "edgy" as "edge" rather than "unconventional".


Source: "With our success rate, the MO is incredibly clear."

Mistranslation: "저희의 성공률에 의해 뒷받침되는 MO는 놀랄만큼 명확합니다." 

Corrected translation: "저희의 성공률에 의해 뒷받침되는 운영 방법은 놀랄만큼 명확합니다."

Explanation: The team had no idea what MO meant and just left it as-is. On the other hand, how many native English speakers would have caught that it means "modus operandi"?


Source: "That’s more important than the sides to go with your burgers."

Mistranslation: "이것이 귀사의 버거 사업에 있어 지엽적인 부분들보다 더 중요합니다."

Corrected translation: "이것이 귀사의 버거 사업에 있어 비주력 상품 부분들보다 더 중요합니다."

Explanation: The team translated "sides" as "unessential parts" whereas "sides" is a short form for "side menu items".


Source: "Your offering and the way you offer the food do not fit ‘quite right’ with the US venues." 

Mistranslation: "귀사의 상품 구성과 상품 제공 방식은 미국 시장에서는 '상당히' 부적합합니다."

Corrected translation: "귀사의 상품 구성과 상품 제공 방식은 미국 시장에서는 '약간' 부적합합니다."

Explanation: Here, "quite right" was translated as "very much" rather than "a little".


Source: "Weekly payments with TBD milestone payments based on results achieved."

Mistranslation: "달성 결과를 근거로, 주간 단위로 TBD 성과급으로 지급"

Corrected translation: "달성 결과를 근거로, 주간 단위로 미결정 성과급으로 지급"

Explanation: The team figured "TBD" was some industry abbreviation and left it in English rather than translating it as "to be decided"!

Ah, the joys of the translation profession! Who ever said this is easy and anybody with a little language ability can do it?

On Becoming a GyeongGi Province Foreign Investment Attraction Advisor, Part 2

The advisor meeting on Friday, February 19, 2010 was held at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Suweon. As this was my first time to hold an official title in Korea and I didn't have any idea what to expect in advance, I was apprehensive before the meeting. In particular, I had volunteered to give a presentation even though it was my first time to have attended.

The advisory committee meets twice per year and is made up of a cross-section of the Korean business world, each specializing in a particular subject matter. There are four advisors with expertise in the large Korean conglomerates, six focused on strategic global regions (two for the US), two from think tanks, six in miscellaneous areas (finance, accounting, law, services, FDI and PR (that's me)) and four from academia. No advisors, as far as I know, are paid for their support and so each of us was in attendance as volunteers. Several government officials from the Foreign Investment Attraction Office were there, too.

3-7-2010 10-46-52 PM  I was very impressed at the calibre of people in attendance. Though the meeting was held in Korean exclusively (except for the Japanese head of JETRO in Korea, who participated through an interpreter), I doubt many advisors would not be easily conversant in English; many have studied and worked overseas. I recall that the Director General has a Ph.D. from an American university and worked for something like 10 years in the research department of a US multinational corporation. 

There are apparently 2-3 other Americans, but they were each represented by a Korean representative at the meeting so I didn't meet them. I was the only Westerner there and every advisor is male.

I spent the meeting mostly listening. And coming from a US perspective, it was interesting to note that foreign investment in Gyeonggi Province doesn't only mean American or European investment. In fact, a great deal of the group discussion was taken up by the topic of attracting FDI by Japanese companies. In particular, with the recent Toyota quality issues, which is apparently top-of-mind in Korean business today, advisors were asking what kind of value proposition GyeongGi Province could offer Japanese companies so that they can escape the high costs of Japan while still maintaining quality. The conclusion was that while Korea is not a cheap country anymore, the cost/quality ratio is competitive. 

I noted also how the pitch being given by GyeongGi Province when it courts the CEOs of multinational companies is that, rather than trying to sell in the Korean market directly, they should simply use Korea as a production location for re-exporting elsewhere. This is interesting to me on various levels because it almost came across to me as an acknowledgement that the Korean market is too small and/or too difficult to crack and that foreign companies shouldn't bother themselves with trying to export into it.

I think this overlooks a very important competitive point about the Korean market, which is that it is probably one of the best test-beds for foreign companies before or during their entry into other Asian markets (i.e. China) and that Korean offices of MNCs punch above their weight in terms of introducing innovations that are then applicable globally. I cut an article out of the Korean version of the Jungang Daily back on November 19, 2008 ("다국적기업, 한국서 배운 '성공 노하우' 들고 세계로 간다") which describes this in detail. 

This is a profound advantage that Korea offers and I may suggest giving a presentation at the next advisor's meeting in August about this very topic. I don't remember anyone at the meeting mentioning this and I bet such a Korean advantage may not be adequately recognized in the efforts of the province to attract FDI. By being able to emphasize the creativity of its people and dynamism of the market helps the province move beyond the quality/cost dimension and truly give substance to the catchy slogans that every city and province in Korea keeps coming up with.

Overall, the meeting was a fascinating opportunity for me to experience Korean business from the inside and continue building my network. 

Business Introduction Provided to Korean Business Culture Trainers (US)

I was contacted by a leading US multinational looking for Korean business culture training for a team being dispatched to a site in Korea. I was able to refer her to two excellent associates of mine at Korea Business Central ( who have deep knowledge of Korean business and culture, as well as extensive corporate training background.

Toyota's Despicable Contempt for Korean Consumers

The Koreans are thrilled silly about the Toyota quality problems. They're trying not to gloat but their glee is barely concealed, especially as Hyundai and Kia auto sales increase so rapidly in the US. But this isn't really what my post is about today and I'm going to depart a bit from my normally Korea-friendly perspective.

3-3-2010 8-52-44 PM In an editorial in the Jungang Daily yesterday (유교가 '아시아의 세기' 감당할까), columnist Hwan-Yeong Kim (in photo at left) talked about the way Toyota is apologizing for their quality problems. Apparently the president of Toyota showed up at a press conference with American journalists and only bowed 70-degrees when he apologized the first time. He then had to come back and do it again at 90-degrees. But when he got to China, he bowed 90-degrees the first time. And it seems he hasn't bothered to show up in Korea to apologize at all.

So Mr. Kim is irked that Japan's paying so much attention to keeping the Chinese happy but is ignoring the Koreans. He backs this up by pointing out that when Toyota started selling their Lexus models in Korea, they sold at higher prices here than anywhere else in the world and that this showed contempt for the Korean consumer.

But just today, the Jungang Daily ran another article with this title: "Why do Automobiles for Export Have Safety Devices but the Ones for Domestic Consumption Do Not?" (수출 차엔 기본인 안전장치, 내수 차엔 없다?). Apparently the Korean car makers are willing to outfit their cars with less value for Korean consumers than they are in overseas markets. 

Or how about this? When Hyundai first sold its Genesis model in the US, the prices were so much lower there than in Korea, people were buying the car in the US, importing it back to Korea and still saving money. In early 2008, we bought our Kia Pride (called a "Kia Rio" in the US) in Korea for much more than it would have cost back home.

My point, of course, is to ask whether anybody could blame Toyota for selling their cars expensively in Korea when the Korean car makers themselves are doing the same thing. Rather than moan and groan about being slighted by the Japanese, perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask what can be done to create a more consumer-friendly car market in Korea.

And BTW, I sure hope the Korean makers are prepared for the day that the US media and Congress, goaded on by the US automakers, decide to turn some quality issues into another "perfect storm" of a media circus.

Korean Cultural Nationalism: "Generation High Speed", the Vancouver Olympics, Japanese Imperialism and the March 1 Movement

There's a new term being tossed around in Korea lately: "쾌속세대". It can be roughly translated "Generation High Speed" and is being used most directly to describe the Korean athletes who competed (and often won!) in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. But, at least in the Jungang Daily, which I read, the term has quickly come to refer to the whole generation of Koreans born around the time of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and who are now perceived as being the future driving force behind Korea's emergence as a world beater.

What Korea-phile wouldn't be heartened at this Korean pride in the newest generation to come of age? It's great stuff... But lately, having read the book Ethnic Nationalism in Korea by Gi-Wook Shin (I reviewed it recently here.), I have also become more sensitive to the nationalism in Korean popular culture and an article on the front page of today's Korean version of the Jungang Daily caught my eye. 

The article is entitled "아우내 장터의 망국세대, 밴쿠버의 쾌속세데, 대한분국 100년의 드라마" ("The Republic of Korea's 100-Year Drama: From the Generation of Aunae Market that Lost the Country to Generation High Speed in Vancouver"). To understand the full meaning here will require some additional historical background.

140px-Yu_Gwan-sun Today, March 1, is Korean Independence Movement Day (or, a more direct translation of the Korean: "March 1 Holiday"), which commemorates the failed declaration of independence by Korean patriots against the Japanese in 1919. The year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Japan's formal colonization of Korea, an event of national humiliation which Koreans refer to as having "lost the country". Aunae Market is a place near the city of Cheonan where an 18-year old rebel named Yu Gwan-sun led a demonstration in 1919, was arrested by the Japanese and died the next year in prison.

Eo-Ryeong Lee, a top editorial advisor at the Jungang Daily, writes today's cover article in the form of a message addressed directly to the Generation High Speed athletes who competed in the Vancouver Olympics. He waxes glorious about how the Koreans of Generation High Speed have brought pride to the country by winning so many events which had previously been dominated by Western athletes. He even says that if Yu Gwan-sun has been born in 1988, she'd have been Yun-ah Kim, the Korean figure-skater who earned gold in women's figureskating. And if Yun-ah Kim had been born in 1901, she'd be remembered as leading the demonstration at Aunae Market. Mr. Lee refers to all of them as national heroes. The implication here, of course, is that the Olympics are vicarious war and that winning gold medals brings a fitting conclusion to the process of restoring national pride which was lost 100 years ago. 

220px-KimMedal Westerners reading this may think I'm going too far, but the truth of of the observation can really only be grasped by those who've stood amongst Koreans as they watch their athletes compete. From the World Cup to the Olympics, every Korean victory brings a little more healing to the national humiliation of 1910.

And it's not just in sports. How many Americans get warm fuzzies thinking about how many McDonald's restaurants have been opened around the world? Do we want to sing the national anthem when Starbucks, Dell and Intel dominate foreign markets? On the other hand, every time Korean companies succeed overseas, Koreans are filled with happiness and pride. 

Understanding this reality goes a long way toward making sense of Korean nationalism. As you see Koreans studying in universities, working in companies and competing in sports around the world, remember that they are "Generation High Speed", sent by the nation to reclaim the national honor.


I might also point out one more interesting aspect. The Jungang Daily generally translates the main stories from the Korean paper to the English online version. But this one wasn't translated, even though it's on the front page! What could be the reason? Is it that Koreans don't want to reveal this side of themselves? I don't think so... I bet it's that they don't think non-Koreans would really find this interesting. 

But it's in understanding such aspects of Korean culture and history that we gain insights into what motivates Koreans and to find ways to work with Koreans in business and life effectively.