Category: korean business savvy

Exploring Korean business, language and life from Ansan, Korea

Understanding Decision-Making Protocol within Korean Companies and Translating the Related Terms and Phrases in Korean Business Documents

I frequently translate Korean business files for the discovery process in international litigation involving Korean companies. These projects involve translating internal Korean emails and reports of one party to the lawsuit that the legal counsel of the other party needs to understand to prosecute the case.

Sometimes a case rests on who knew what and when, and who gave authorization to do what and when. Therefore, accurate translation of the reporting and decision-making protocol in these documents is critical. A Korean translator without an adequate understanding of how the authorization process works within Korean companies and who doesn’t take a best-practice approach to translating the relevant content can inadvertently leave out important meaning.

Translating an Internal Korean Reporting Document (Example 1)

The following is a typical grid found in many internal documents of Korean companies.

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A translation might read as follows.

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The empty boxes usually contain at least the signatures of people involved in the process of having the document authorized. Sometimes they also include printed names, job positions and/or times and dates, too. In addition, if only some of the authorization steps are followed, the boxes for the steps not included are left blank. The column with the left-most empty box (under “Drafted by”) is the lowest level of authorization (in this case, it merely indicates who put the document together) and the second (“Coordinated by”) would likely be a direct supervisor involved in the drafting. The next column (“Confirmed by”) would be a third-level authorization, with the person signing the far-right cell (“Authorized by”) being the highest-ranking person in the process.

Translation of an Internal Korean-Company Report (Example 2)

While the basic process and grid layout are somewhat standardized across departments and companies, the terminology and organizational levels involved in the authorization protocol vary. Here’s another example:

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In this case there are two levels in the authorization process. The left three columns are for the first-level authorization and the second three columns would be a second-level. Based on having translated “결재” above as “Authorized by”, the following translation might be expected:

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However, this would be misleading. At the first-level in the authorization process, the word “authorization” is not really suitable. It’s more of a “sign off” or “check off” step before passing the document up for what we would generally think of in English as “authorization”. Therefore, a preferred translation in this example would be as follows:

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The word “결재” is a difficult word to translate because the best English term varies by context. It also possessed a generic meaning that overlaps with the meanings of other words. As indicated above, while the overall authorization (결재) process can be referred to as “authorization” or “authorization protocol”, a word that doesn’t indicate actual authority is more suitable when the word 결재 is used at the lowest level. In addition, if the word is combined in other ways, the English translation might further change. A good translation for 전자결재 is “electronic signature”, not “electronic authorization”. And in a process where 승인여부(“whether approved”) is followed by 결재 (as in “yes, it was approved”), translating 결재 as “approved” would maintain the flow in English. Thus, this term in Korean cannot just be mapped one-for-one to English terms and used rigidly.

Improving the Translation of Korean Business Terms in the Examples Above

Notice how the sequences of Korean terms used in the two examples above don’t match. (Example 1: 기안 > 조정 > 확일 > 결재; Example 2: 결재 > 합의). This is because there is no standardized system for this (unlike the standard hierarchy of job titles, which does remain remarkably consistent across Korean companies). Thus other terms that may be used in the decision-making system include 재가, 승인 and 통보, and suitable translations for these could be “sanction”, “approval” and “notified to”, respectively. “Notified to” clearly has the meaning that the information was merely provided but approval not given. However, the difference between “Consent provided by”, “Approved by”, “Authorized by” or “Sanctioned by” are not as apparent. Further, the Korean terms (합의, 승인, 결재, 재가, respectively) each mean basically the same thing too, so any translation of these terms from Korean to English must be arbitrary at best. Therefore, if readers are to have an accurate understanding of the process, the translator needs to provide another level of meaning.

The key to sorting out this muddle is to recognize that each term in Korean takes on its unique meaning in the context of the specific level of authorization it signifies within the respective company. Thus, translating a Korean term without indicating its level cannot convey all of the meaning necessary for an outsider to understand the process. Here are expanded translations of the above tables that explicitly state the level in order to fully communicate the required meaning.

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On a larger project, where the translator is working with enough context to fully understand the situation, the use of translations like “working-level authorization”, “manager-level authorization” or “executive-level authorization” could also help the reader (i.e. the client) understand the authorization levels.

It goes without saying that even though the specific English words used to translate each term may be arbitrary, consistency is very important. Thus if 재가 is translated as “sanction” in one place, it can’t be translated differently elsewhere in the same context.

Phrasing when Translating Korean Business Authorization Terminology

I have seen many translations where “Drafter” is used instead of “Drafted by” or where “Consenter” is used instead of “Consent provided by”. There are two reasons I now follow the latter approach and not the former. The first is that without adding the preposition “by” at the end and referring specifically to the actor of the act, the terms sound a little stilted (e.g. drafter, coordinator, confirmer, authorizer, signer, consenter, approver, sanctioner, notifyee). The other reason is that the former approach does not allow the translator to later distinguish when the actual actor is referred to in the Korean source (e.g. 기안자, 조정자, 확인자, 결재자, 합의자, 승인자).

Translations of Other Terms in Korean Documents

전결 – The dictionary invariably provides “arbitrary decision” as the translation. Besides sounding awkward, this expression doesn’t communicate the real meaning effectively because it carries the negative connotation in English of a “random decision” or some other decision someone makes for no apparently good reason. Therefore, a better translation needs to explain the full meaning of the word. 전결 refers to the authority delegated under the company’s hierarchy to a person in their official position to make certain decisions. Therefore, though a little long, better translations would be either “decision made under official authority” or “decision made under delegated authority”. The version with “delegated” catches the root meaning of the Korean word more literally, but in my mind, it seems to imply the idea that someone is making a decision on behalf of someone else (who might not just be at work that day or something), rather than a decision that is rightfully theirs to make in their position within the organizational structure of the company. Therefore, my preferred translation is “decision made under official authority” or “make a decision under official authority”. Likewise, 전결권 would be “official decision-making authority” and 전결권자 would be “person with official decision-making authority”.

대결 – Though long, my preferred translation for this would be “decision made on behalf of someone else”.

직권 – “official decision”

직권면직 – This refers to taking away someone’s authority to make decisions in their job position that they had previously been able to make. A usable translation might be “revocation of authority”.

Korean Translation Tip: Don’t Just Use a Dictionary to Translate Job Titles into Korean

If you’re translating English business cards into Korean, work with a professional who understands the intricacies of the task and asks enough questions to be able to translate job titles correctly.

For example, here are many (but not all) of the possibilities for translating “director” and its variants:

  • 이사
  • 전무
  • 전무이사
  • 상무이사
  • 대표이사
  • 원장
  • 회장
  • 실장
  • 소장
  • 센터장
  • 협회장
  • 부장
  • 국장
  • 청장
  • 총장
  • 사무총장
  • 사무국장
  • 감독
  • 디렉터
  • 지휘자
  • 중역
  • PD
  • 심의관 

Some of these correspond with other possible English job titles, too. For the full run-down, check out “How Do You Write ‘Director’ in Korean?

“Director” is not the only confusing job title (admittedly, it is one of the harder ones though). This is not just because Korean organizations are structured differently than Western ones; you’ll also find that even the same jobs at the same level in the organization can sometimes imply different responsibilities.

I’d like to point out too that Koreans aren’t always helpful here since they tend to inflate their English job titles. I was at a (very well-known!) company recently where, of the ten business cards I was given by my Korean counterparts, every one but the president’s card listed him or her one rank higher in English than his/her card in Korean! It takes an honest broker to work through all this sometimes.

Korean Translation Tip – Don’t consider a business card translation a throw-away job just because the job title is only one word. Get professional help (such as from someone with a masters degree from a Korean university in management strategy).

BTW, I’ve even written a guidebook for this, which can be downloaded free: The Definitive Guide to Business Cards in Korea

What You Need to Know About Korean Holiday Greetings and Gatherings

Christmas is a national holiday in Korea and the many Korean Christians do celebrate the day. In addition, the holiday season comes to stores across the nation, just as in the West, though shopping for gifts surely does not reach the frenzied level you'll find in places like the US.

Having said that, Koreans don’t generally hold Christmas parties.

Instead, Koreans are much more focused on the new year, and every self-respecting Korean attends several end-of-year parties (called 송년회 or 연말 모임) each year. These get-togethers are generally held on a personal basis and for business throughout the month of December (not much at all happens on December 31, though). Because the end-of-year gatherings are frequently scheduled months in advance, it can be hard to arrange evening meetings with several people at once during this time because of prior commitments, so try to plan as far ahead as possible if wanting to meet Koreans on business in December.

I'll also point out that because of all the partying (and other factors, such as not knowing what sudden administrative changes the new year will bring), very little business gets done in Korean companies in December, and no important outward-focused decisions at all get made during this navel-gazing time.

Koreans don’t commonly wish each other “Merry Christmas” (though this greeting is becoming more popular, and it is usually expressed in English). Instead, they focus on the new year… Both the Western new year on January 1, and the lunar new year (aka Chinese New Year) in late January or early February. Thus, new year’s greetings are often given twice!

You can't go wrong wishing Koreans a “Happy New Year” and there's really only one way to say it in Korean: “Sae hae bok mani baduseyo” (새해 복 많이 받으세요)

However, in writing, "Happy New Year" can be expanded out in many ways. For ideas, check out these collections of holiday greetings in Korean.

“One of our investment professionals will be traveling to South Korea for a meeting and would like to make a few general opening remarks in Korean.”

*** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

I received the following two questions last week, and as these aren't the first inquiries I've gotten on the subject, I figure'd I'd post some thoughts on the topic here.

The Questions

#1 – “One of our investment professionals will be traveling to South Korea for a meeting and would like to make a few general opening remarks in Korean; thus, he is looking for someone to assist with crafting the remarks and learning to say them properly. Can you… assist?”

#2 – “[An executive of our company] is going to be giving a presentation in Korea next month at a conference…. He is a keynote for the general session with [a lot of] people. I’d like to open up his presentation with a cultural greeting and 'thank you' to the organization that is hosting him for this event.

Can you help me understand the cultural awareness around such a greeting? Is it appropriate at the beginning or should it go at the end? Can you help with a quick thank you greeting in Korean that I could include in the presentation?”

My Answer

These questions are based on the following assumptions:

  1. Speaking in Korean to a Korean audience will contribute to the experience.
  2. A greeting to Koreans in English may require input from a cultural expert in order to say the right things.

But it’s really not necessary to over-think this thing. For starters, here’s how I answered question #1:

"You don't generally have to worry much about giving a culturally correct speech in Korea if the same speech would be culturally correct back home. Once you've written what you want to say, I'd be glad to review and make sure that you won't offend anyone with it, but as long as you stay away from political commentary, you're probably OK.

"As for giving the speech in Korean, unless your associate has had some training in the Korean language, I wouldn't recommend it. Just parroting back a bunch of sounds that he's practiced a few times isn't going to sound much like proper Korean and the audience is unlikely to understand it.

"If you feel it's important that your associate's comments be shared in Korean, then prepare a version in Korean and give it to someone (perhaps an interpreter) beforehand to have him/her read it aloud in Korean after your associate shares his message in English. If your audience speaks English well enough to understand without an interpreter, then the need for your associate to speak in Korean is doubly unnecessary."

A very basic greeting like “Anyeong haseyo (Hello)” at the beginning or “Gamsahamnida (Thank you)” at the end is appropriate. The Korean audience will appreciate the effort and this will certainly generate a few smiles in the audience.

However, trying to put together full sentences and paragraphs just based on memorized sounds is not going to result in a speech that anyone will understand. If, as in the case of Question #2, the purpose of the greeting is to express thanks, it’s important that the audience understand what’s being said and for that, an English greeting which is then repeated through a Korean interpreter is the best option. I was in the room once when a Westerner tried to express a long idea in Korean (without learning Korean first) and the audience didn’t understand what he said and this resulted in quite a bit of social discomfort.

As for the second premise, there’s certainly no harm in running the remarks by a consultant after they’re written in order to be absolutely certain nothing inappropriate gets in, but the same rules apply in Korea as elsewhere: avoid crude humor and stay away from political opinions. Korea is not a black box of hidden cultural codes and there is not a uniquely Korean way to give a speech that is distinct from any other way. 

You might, however, review a couple recent business tips I wrote recently, including:

The KBC Professional Certification Program also contains a wealth of information about communicating and interacting effectively with Koreans in business.

And as mentioned above, I would be glad to review the content of your speech and provide feedback and suggestions on improving it for a Korean audience.

*** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

Expanding on the Korean Business Etiquette Guide, Chapter 1 – “Understanding and Correctly Using Names and Titles in Korean Business”

6a011279704a5b28a4017eea0ccb4b970d-800wiOnce again, I have the privilege of sharing feedback from Rich DeBourke, principal consultant at SBF Consulting, about a lesson in the Korean Business Etiquette Guide (back when it was the Business Culture Fundamentals Specialization of the KBC Professional Certification Program). Rich's comments and questions about the materials give me an opportunity to share a richer perspective and deeper insights about the subject matter.

The following are some of his responses to various points in Module 1 of the program; I've also included my own clarifications and answers, where appropriate.

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1. "Even though Koreans will often let this rule slide when working with foreigners, addressing someone with "Mr." in a business setting generally indicates that his rank is very low."(from the "Main Points" portion of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: Regarding the use of Mr., I was always told it was okay to start with calling someone Mr. Kim, and then letting them tell me to call them by their Korean name (e.g. Jin Ho) or use initials (e.g. J.H.) or to use an English name. (I’ve met Koreans that use an English name, although they won’t always have it on their business card (and their co-workers don’t know the English name, so it can be confusing).

2. "At least 70% of the Korean population has one of the top seven surnames (which are, in order from most common: Lee, Kim, Park, Jeong, Yoon, Choi, Yoo)" - (from the "Main Points" portion of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: What do you recommend for the pronunciation for Choi? (Korean version or English).

Steven: This is a tricky one but the correct pronunciation is something close to "Chway", since this is how it's pronounced in Korean. The common English spelling is just weird and it may not communicate well if pronounced as it looks: "Choy"

3. "Your Korean counterpart's business card will almost certainly have an English side." (from the "Main Points" portion of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: People at the big companies have English sides, but maybe 5% of people from small and medium companies have Korean only cards – need to cover what to do (being handed the Korean side, I tend to flip the card to see the English side. If it’s not there, I can go back to the Korean side and pronounce out the person's name in Hangul.) Another option is to look at the email address for the name.

Steven: That's a good point about small companies. While non-Koreans will usually meet Koreans having double-sided business cards, some Koreans do not carry cards with English names spelled out. It should be possible to ask them or someone else around who speaks English how to address them.

4. "In social relationship (as opposed to business relationships), Koreans often "lose" their names when they have kids. They are then addressed in relation to their children. (e.g. Min-Ju's mom, or Kyeong-Jin's dad)."  - (from the "Main Points" portion of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: I thought the Min-Ju’s mom title was only used when people have a relationship through the kids?

Steven: Yes, good catch. The titles used do reflect the basis of the relationship. So, it would generally be necessary to have a relationship with someone through their kids in order to use the So-and-so's Mom/Dad title.

5. "Probably one of the hardest areas for foreigners to grasp when learning Korean is the ways in which the language requires the speaker and listener to understand and express how players fit into the social hierarchy. This is far more complex in Korean than the “tu/usted” concept of Spanish; Korean speakers must be aware of and reflect the relative positions of the speaker, listener and third persons being spoken about at all times." – (from the executive report "Succeed in Korea by Understanding Company Hierarchy", an online resource of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: It would probably be a good idea to explain the tu/usted distinction for readers not familiar with Spanish.

Steven: In Spanish (as in French, Italian and the other Romance languages) there are two forms of "you". "Usted" is used formally and with people one doesn't have a close relationship with; "tu" is for informal situations with children, close friends, etc.. My point is that Korean has this distinction, too, but then goes way beyond it in in terms of further complexity to reflect the relationships between speaker, listeners and third parties. This is what I mean about hierarchy being built into the Korean language and about how this is reflected in Korean company hierarchy.

6. "Typical large Korean companies stick strictly to a traditional model of promotion… These tendencies are less pronounced today than in the past and not every Korean organization puts as much emphasis on age and structure." – (from the executive report "Succeed in Korea by Understanding Company Hierarchy", an online resource of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: Traditional companies and managers use the hierarchical way. But are you saying that others use a blend of Korean and Western? I’m not sure any Korean company is completely westernized.

Steven: The leading Korean companies all follow the traditional model strictly. But I've heard about experimentation in some less well-known conglomerates and in smaller companies. For example, I'm told that Kolon is trying to do away with many job titles in their official internal communications. Some smaller Korean firms run by (mainly younger and Western-educated) managers are also adopting flatter and more merit-based systems. It'll be interesting to see if any of these companies become standard setters in Korean business in the future but for now, the traditional corporate structure remains the only defining standard in Korean business.

7. "Foreigners are, by definition, outsiders. Thus, you can expect to be treated at the highest level of respect and care by your Korean counterparts." – (from the executive report "Succeed in Korea by Understanding Company Hierarchy", an online resource of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: The situation here can become complicated as many foreigners who come to Korea for business come through a local agent. The foreigner is treated with respect, but the local agent is stuck in the Korean hierarchical system. This causes confusion for many Westerners. Also, dinners are confusing when there are three groups (foreigner, agent, customer).

8. "Rank in Korea can be is based on many things, but in business it starts with job position. Age is nearly as important, mainly because job position and age generally go hand-in-hand. And educational level and relative time spent in the company are considerations, too. In addition, the relative standing of different companies can come into play when people from two companies get together." – (from the executive report "Succeed in Korea by Understanding Company Hierarchy", an online resource of the Korean Business Etiquette Guide.)

Rich: What about which university someone attended, such as Seoul National versus Backwater U? Does that impact the level? Harvard people always let you know they went to Harvard, expecting that it gets them more respect and credibility. What about someone with an MBA versus just an engineering degree? What impact does buyer/seller have on the relationship (in Japan, the seller is always lower – Dave Barry’s book, Dave Barry Does Japan has a great chapter on salesmen in Japan where he describes how the salesman starts a visit by apologizing for taking up the customer’s valuable time).

What about when Koreans have two relationships at different levels? I attended a Korean Culture seminar a while back, hosted by the Seoul Global Center and given by a Korean university professor, and she told the story of a Korean teacher whose husband owned a floral shop in a neighborhood that was near to her school. One Saturday, the parents of one of the teacher’s students wandered into the floral shop, not knowing that their child’s teacher’s husband owned the shop. When the parents saw the teacher there working in a floral shop, they became quite flustered and left the shop. The key take-away is that Koreans, once they feel they have a relationship established (teacher is a high level position), anything that goes against that relationship (working in a floral shop is a low level position) causes them to be uncomfortable.

Steven: Interesting and valid insights. The real world is seldom as straightforward as the rules would lead us to believe and these examples show how things can become complex in situations that don't fit "the rules".

In reference to the differences in levels based on backgrounds, such as what university one went to or whether one has a masters or undergraduate degree, this shouldn't affect levels of speech directly. However, though these factors will influence one's career path and thus where one falls in the hierarchy.

Expanding on the KBC Professional Certification Program, Module 4 – “Gift-Giving in Korea”

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I wrote the Business Culture Fundamentals Specialization of the KBC Professional Certification Program to help non-Koreans make sense of Korean business culture and be more effective in Korean business. To date, we've had dozens of students sign up, with many of them having graduated.

RichDeBourkeBut one person who doesn't need to take the course is Rich DeBourke. As a member of Korea Business Central and principal consultant at SBF Consulting, Rich has been working in business for over thirty years and in the Korean market since 1995. He was kind enough to critique and add valuable comments and insights for much of the content in the lessons of the KBC Professional Certification Program.

The following includes selected excerpts from the KBC Professional Certification Program materials, along with Rich's comments and a few of my additional responses.

Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

 ————–

1. "Gifts are generally wrapped and if so, don't open until you leave (or unless they tell you to open it)." (from the lecture email send to students of the KBC Professional Certification Program)

Rich: Open the gift but don’t try it out. One time I was given a pen by a Japanese guy, and the pen wouldn’t write – embarrassing!

2. "Small souvenirs from home show great consideration to your Korean hosts for a business meeting or when getting together with friends… Example souvenirs… a Disney toy for your counterpart's children if you live anywhere in central Florida… a nicely framed photograph of your city’s skyline with a small metal plate engraved with the company name on the bottom… Some duty-free alcohol"(from the executive report "Top 10 Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", part of the KBC Professional Certification Program and also available free from the KBC Business Library.)

Rich: What about hats from prestigious universities or famous golf courses, if near the home office?

I think the brought-from-home and wrapped-at-home gifts go over well. A gift that was clearly wrapped in Korea looks too last minute. (We gave a senior guy a Montblanc pen and he clearly couldn't care less, I think in part because he figured out we bought it at the hotel gift shop.)

I’m not sure about the Disney toy – we used to bring Disney videos years ago, but everything is now available in Korea. So bringing something like Mickey Mouse may convey the feeling the giver thinks Korea is a poor country (Koreans are sensitive about that).

I’d recommend a city photo if the client visits your city. I'm not sure about giving a photo of a city he’s never seen (framed golfing pictures are usually well received, though).

On the liquor, it should only be Scotch whisky, and a guide as to what level of whisky for which level of contact would be helpful. Johnnie Walker Blue retails in New Hampshire for $210. A Macallan 30-year retails for much more… A bottle of good rum or vodka doesn’t go over well with Koreans. I generally recommend sticking with whisky. While some Koreans drink bourbon, it’s not as common.

… Chocolates that can be eaten during the meeting have gone over well, but expensive chocolates didn’t. Boxes of common but nice chocolates were appreciated.

… As an isolated situation, a foreigner working for a Korean company and going on a trip should bring back something. Generally it doesn’t have to be a “souvenir”. It can be almost anything that was purchased while on holiday (my wife has bought socks).

3. "You must never arrive at a Korean's home without a gift… It is also accepted practice to stop by the supermarket or convenience store on the way to pick up… juice or fruit." (from the executive report "Top 10 Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", part of the KBC Professional Certification Program and also available free from the KBC Business Library.)

Rich: Juice? Never seen it done. I’ve seen Koreans give the vitamin drink, but I’m not sure that’s good coming from a Westerner. Fruit should be a gift box (not a bag of apples).

4. "Still, it is better to give a gift when not expected than to not give a gift when one is expected." -(from the lecture email send to students of the KBC Professional Certification Program)

Rich: I can't think of a situation of giving a gift when not expected. Gift-giving is one way (vendor to customer, junior to senior). But what happens if I give a gift to someone who, under Korean cultural rules, should also give me a gift, and they haven’t prepared one? I would embarrass that person – possible? Likely?

Steven: Gift-giving in business isn't always required. In fact, other than social-based gift-giving that is also observed in the workplace (such as for weddings, funerals), there aren't a lot of situations where a gift is absolutely required. Visiting for the first time on business would certainly be expected, but what about the second visit? Or third visit? The obligation goes down… As for gift-giving from vendor to customer, there's surely plenty of that going on, but it's not 100% one-way; vendors should at least try to show gratitude for customer gifts by giving a few back.

Overdoing the gift-giving can also be a bit of a problem. I remember a few months ago my family got together for lunch with a business associate and his family. They brought two rather nice gifts for us, and even promised tickets to a couple of upcoming concerts that they had extras for. I managed to pay for lunch, but that was still not quite enough to "balance accounts". When I met my associate a few days later, I took a Coach handbag for his wife that my wife had bought on a recent trip to the US and set aside to give to someone else. By that time, things had actually gone a bit overboard and it'll be awhile before we need to exchange gifts again.

As for embarrassing a Korean by bringing a gift that's unexpected or where he/she should also have brought a gift, I don't think this is a big issue. The Korean can just make sure to bring something next time (or at least promise to do so).

5. "An invitation to visit is an excellent "gift" to give after your hosts in Korea have shown a great deal of hospitality to you. It is unlikely that the invitee will take you up on the offer and extending invitations that aren't intended to be claimed is a common practice of etiquette amongst Koreans too." (from the executive report "Top 10 Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", part of the KBC Professional Certification Program and also available free from the KBC Business Library.)

Rich: I think in a business situation, it is very likely that they will be visiting your office, especially if it’s a significant deal. So it is likely they will remember any offer of “come over for Sunday dinner” and will expect to have it happen.

6. "Money is the standard gift at weddings or funerals and one-year birthdays of babies." (from the executive report "Top 10 Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", part of the KBC Professional Certification Program and also available free from the KBC Business Library.)

Rich: 60 or 70,000 won should be sufficient for a wedding/funeral/one-year birthday gift – sometimes foreigners get invited to a number of these functions, and you don’t have to be that close to be invited (more people equals more money for the couple)…

Weddings versus funerals – Generally, my wife will send money if a friend has had a death, but we only give money for a wedding if we attend, and we decline more invitations then we accept.

Steven: Wedding invitations don't necessarily need to be declined; just not going is often enough. You can apologize later for having had other plans that day, and a gift won't be expected since wedding gifts are usually only given if attending. The exception to this would be if you miss a wedding of someone that you absolutely should have attended.

Also, the standard gift for a one-year birthday would actually be a gold ring. Not just any gold ring though; they sell these one-year birthday rings at any jeweller at various price points.

7. "A gift certificate to a local department store makes a great birthday or friendship gift to someone with whom you have an ongoing relationship."  - (from the executive report "Top 10 Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", part of the KBC Professional Certification Program and also available free from the KBC Business Library.)

Rich: I’d recommend an American Express gift card – it’s upscale but can be used anywhere AMEX is accepted.

8. "On the Death of a Fellow Student's Mother and Figuring Out How Much Condolence Money to Give Him" – (recommended reading for the KBC Professional Certification Program and available in full as a weblog post here on Nojeok Hill)

Rich: The story’s good, but how does it apply to business? If a business acquaintance has a parent pass away, how much should be sent? Possible to put together a table?

Steven: In business, I think about W100,000 would be a good base amount if the recipient is someone with whom you've got a relationship that deserves a gift; it would seldom go lower (and not below W70,000, I don't think). If a business partner or someone close, then a higher amount would be appropriate.

Just hearing about the death of someone's relative at the office isn't enough to have an obligation; you've got to be relatively close, such as in the same department or office, unless it's a small company, in which case you might be obligated regardless. Also, the death of someone's sister is unlikely to require a gift, whereas a parent, spouse or child is a different matter.

If you've been told about the death promptly, it probably means a gift is in order. It's also likely you'll have heard about the death through a third-party so it's fine to ask about the appropriateness of a gift and how much to give. The other person may say you don't need to give anything, but if you do think you should (or would like to), then keep pushing for information. Even if you can't make it to the funeral, you can still ask about the details of the bank account to which gift payments are being collected and send your money there. (Don't ask for a receipt!)

If you hear about a death weeks or months after the fact, it's generally too late to give. It means you weren't expected to give anything.

Answers to Questions about Korean Company Hierarchy

The following snippet is now part of the ebook Korean Business Etiquette Guide: Take an Essential Step Toward Your Business Goals in Korea! 

Purchase and download on Amazon.

 

7-26-2012 1-46-02 AM

From the extra reading in Chapter 1 of Korean Business Etiquette Guide: Take an Essential Step Toward Your Business Goals in Korea!

"I was recently contacted by an international executive recruiter who is working to fill an executive position in the Korean subsidiary of a multinational company. Here are some answers to his questions about how Korean companies work.

"1. What is the most common job title(s) for someone reporting to the CEO/ Country MD?

"2. To what extent does this vary between companies? Do you know the most typical title for someone at this level at [Company]?

"3. Does the title depend also on age, or is it just dependent on where the person sits within the organisation and who they report to?

"4. To what extent are Koreans usually willing to move for a role with the same job title?"

Get the answers to these questions in Korean Business Etiquette Guide: Take an Essential Step Toward Your Business Goals in Korea! 

Q&A with American Businessperson about Gift-Giving in Korea

Having published my executive report "The Top Ten Gifts to Give in Korea to Make a Great Impression", I get a steady flow of questions asking me for advice in specific gift-giving situations. Here's a question I received recently:

"I am an American businessman meeting with a Korean company Chungbuk and want to bring appropriate gifts for the meeting. We are meeting to finalize the terms of a contract… hopefully. We have met before in the US. I was thinking about giving Godiva chocolate in a brown box with eight truffles. I was also thinking to have a brown ribbon around each box with customized gold printing on it with a personalized message of success. Is this a good idea? If it is, what should the message on the ribbon say? Can I use our company names together or would that be too presumptuous? If not, what would you suggest?

And my answer:

The gift of chocolates is a fine idea; I would encourage you to give those. But given alone, they may be more suitable for a future visit after business gets rolling. 

The reason is that this visit is a very special one, since it (hopefully) represents the beginning of business. The most effective gift would be something that remains as a reminder, not something that gets eaten or drunk. What we'd recommend is a gift that compels your Korean counterparts to remember you on a regular basis. A nicely framed photo of you and your team standing out in front of your US office, with a message written over the photo itself or onto a metal plate on the frame would be good. The message might say something like "[Your company] – Korea Visit 2013" on the first line and "We Wish You The Best of Business Success!" on the second line. (You don't necessary want to include both company names here since that could look presumptuous.)

If you're like me and work a bit more virtually so that you don't have a big office with 25 employees, then the alternative could be a framed photo of something that would be worthy of hanging on the wall and that could be associated with you. As you're out of Chicago, I like the idea of a nicely framed photo of the Chicago skyline, along with the metal plated message in the frame. This is the kind of thing that would definitely be hung on the wall, observed and remembered, which is exactly what you want.

You mentioned the ribbons; the concept in Korea may be a bit different than you're thinking though. If your negotiations were completed and you were just coming over for the signing ceremony, then flowers with ribbons might be a part of the ceremony. These are also used for the opening of a new office or retail establishment. Here are a few examples - 

However, these types of flowers are generally given by others; not the actual parties to the transaction. Anyway, since you're not done with the negotiations, it could look a bit odd to start acting like it's a done deal.

On the other hand, if you were to wrap the gift (it should be wrapped) in extra nice ribbons on which you include an extra gold-lettered message, that would also be a nice touch. Perhaps this could have a slightly more assuming message, something like "We look forward to a long, successful business relationship with XX Company!"

And BTW, there's nothing wrong with bringing a few chocolates too; I just wouldn't make that the main gift at this point. In the future though, you won't need to upstage consumable gifts with something permanent like I've described above.

Email Interview with Reporter from the Donga Ilbo Newspaper

I much prefer email interviews to verbal ones; that's because I can keep and post my exact answers here even if the reporter ends up using only bits and pieces of what I provide. This is from an interview with the Donga Ilbo. 

<스티븐씨의 소개>

Q. 동아일보 독자들에게 스티븐씨에 대한 간단한 소개 부탁드립니다.

Q. KBC외에 다른 직업이나 직책이 있다면 알려주세요.

제가 한국에 처음 온지 20년 되어 가는데, 그중 10년 이상 한국에서 살았습니다. 지금은 안산에서 가족이랑 거주하면서 미국 법인인 Korean Consulting & Translation Service, Inc.를 운영하고 있습니다. 개인사업자로 미국법인을 서포트를 해 주는 한국회사도 차렸습니다. 그 이외에는 Korea Business Central을 운영하고 안산에 있는 한양대학교 ERICA캠퍼스에서 경상대학원에서 박사과정을 공부하고 있습니다.

더 자세한 내용은 - www.StevenBammel.com 

<KBC에 관하여>

Q. 독자들에게 KBC에 대해 간단히 소개해주세요.

KBC를 시작한 목적은 외국인들이 한국에서, 그리고 한국사람들하고 비즈니스을 잘 하고, 한국회사에서 취직하여 잘 살아남을 수 있기 위한 것입니다.

이 목적을 달성하기 위해서 여러 방법을 동원하고 있는데, 주로 한국 비즈니스에 대한 지식, 토론 및 뉴스 마당을 만들면서, 멤버들의 서로간 네트워킹 기회를 제공하고 있습니다. 그리고 개인의 한국 비즈니스에 대한 지식 및 취직하는 과정에서 자신에 대한 신임을 받을 수 있기 위한 KBC Professional Certification Program (https://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/page/certification)도 작년부터 개발/도입하여 운영하고 있습니다.

Q. 왜 한국과 관련된 사업을 시작 하게 되었습니까?

Q. KBC를 시작하기 전에 한국에 관심이 있거나, 관련이 있었습니까?

제가 한국에서 오래 살고 한국에서 가족도 있고 한국을 사랑하기 때문에, 한국과 인연이 있어서 KBC를 시작한 것은 그리 어려운 결정이 아니였죠.

Q. KBC를 이용하는 외국인과 한국인은 몇 명쯤 됩니까?

한국인 멤버들이 있기는 있는데, KBC의 콘테츠가 주로 영어로 되어 있고, 외국인 대상으로 만들어져 있기 때문에  한국인 멤버들이 KBC에서 그렇게 활발하지 못 한 것 같습니다. 그래도, 한국인의 멤버가입은 언제든지 대환영합니다.

Q. KBC의 큰 도움을 받은 외국인이 있나요? (에피소드가 있다면 알려주세요)

그럼요, 멤버들이 공유한 다음 추천의 글은 있습니다: https://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/page/testimonials

그리고, 한 에피소드를 멤버의 말로 알려 드립니다.

I would like to share with you my experiance concerning my recent job search in the Netherlands..

I am a Polish girl that obtained a Master degree in Korean languge in Poland and also studied for one year at the Yonsei Univeristy in Seoul. I`ve worked for more than 6 years in 2 Korean companies in Poland and had various experiance in translating, interepreting, managing many variuos tasks.

To be honest with all this experiance and also my Korean language skills I was sure it would be quite easy to get a job at such an international and opened job market as it is in Amsterdam.  But after some time I realised it was not easy at all. I sent my CV to most of the Korean companies in the Netherlands. I tried to apply for certain positions or ask for internships – maybe half of the companies replied and it was always a negative answer. It seemed that my Korean language skills were not very important. At some point I was almost ready to give up.

However, just then it happened that I contacted KBC Ambassador in the Netherlands Ms. Eun-Shil Boots and mentioned to her about my job-search situation.  She assured me that it is possible to find a job in a Korean company, but just I needed to know how to do it. I agreed with her that Koreans rely on the opinion of others and tend to hire people that are recommended. She mentioned to me that there is a logistic company that is very international and has its branches all over the world and might need someone like me. I changed then my CV, made it more easy to read and understandable for Koreans and she send it to the headquarters of the company in Korea.

To be honest I did not believe it would work, but surprisingly very soon I was invited for an interview and got the job! I was so happy, because it seemed that my Korean language skills got appreciated!

I live 15 minutes away from the company, but  my CV had to travel long way – to Korea and back so that I could get the job!

I would say that it is definitely possible to find a job in a Korean company. Don`t be shy, tell as many Koreans you know that you search for a job and sooner or later you will find a job you like!:)

 Greetings to all memebers!

 Ewa 에바

<아래의 질문들은 '서울에서 외국인이 창업을 하는 것'에 대한 질문입니다. 

가능한 구체적으로 사례들 말씀해주시면 매우 감사하겠습니다.>

Q.서울에 창업을 원하는 외국인을 아십니까? 알고계신 사람들에 대해 간략히 설명해주세요. (ex.업종, 국적, 인원 수, 규모 등) 

한국에서 창업하고 싶은 외국인들이 많습니다. 제가 몇 명을 소개해 드렸는데, 저에게 길고 정리한 리스트가 없습니다. Seoul Global Business Support Center에 문의하시면 이 질문과 관련한 유용한 정보를 아마 많이 입수하실 수 있을 것 같습니다.

Q.서울에 창업을 한 외국인을 아십니까? 알고계신 사람들에 대해 간략히 설명해주세요. (ex.업종, 국적, 인원 수, 규모 등) 

제가 이미 소개해 드린 3명을 이외에 1-2명을 더 인터뷰를 하고 싶으시면, 말씀하세요. 제가 찾아서 소개해 드릴게요.

Q.서울에서 창업에 실패한 외국인을 몇 명 아십니까? 실패한 원인이 무엇입니까? 그들은 다시 시도했습니까?

아마 있겠죠. 그런데, 대부분의 창업하고자 하는 외국인들이 이미 한국에 와 있고 크게 시작하지 않기 때문에, 실패했다 하기보다는 큰 손해없이 그냥 포기하고 자기의 나라로 돌아가든지, 어디서 취직을 하든지 했을 것 같습니다. 구체적으로는 지금 생각이 나는 사례가 없습니다.  

Q.서울에서 외국인이 창업을 할 때, 어려움이 있습니까? (ex.제도적, 문화적, 경제적, 언어적 문제 등) 

제가 보기에는 가장 큰 어려움은 자본금/비자 문제입니다. 많은 외국인들이 자기의 나라에서 할수 있는 것처럼 큰 자본금없이 집에서 혼자서 무엇을 시작하고자 하는데, 한국에서는 자본금이나 풀타임 일자리가 없으면 비자도 못 받기 때문에 천천히 시작하는 방식은 어럽습니다. 대부분의 한국에 오는 외국인들이 아파트 전세금조차도 없는데, 한국 법인을 설립할 1억원에 달하는 자본금까지 모아서 창업하는 것이 그림의 떡이다. 그리고 한국은행은 외국인들에게 신용카드를 주지는 않은데 사업 자본금을 대출하겠습니까?

Q.한류가 외국인의 창업에 영향을 미쳤습니까?

한류덕분에 한국에 와서 창업하거나 취직하고 싶은 외국인이 증가하기는 했을 것입니다. 그런데, 실제로 창업/취직할 능력이 있어서 한국에 와서 취직/청업한 사람은 그정도 늘어나지 않았을 것 같습니다.  

Q.외국의 도시(싱가포르, NY, 도쿄, 베이징 등)와 비교했을 때,

서울의 매력이나 특징이 있습니까? 특히 창업과 관련한 특징입니다. 

저는 그 다른 도시들에서 살아본 적이 없어서 직접적으로 통찰을 공유할 수 없지만, 제가 다른 사람들의 말을 듣고 생각해보니까 서울은 싱가포르나 NY이 외국인들에게 주는 매력을 비교하는 것이 좀 무리한 것 같습니다.  북경이나 도쿄하고 비교 대상이 될수 있습니다. 그래도, 저같이 한국을 사람하는 사람이 아니면, 서울의 특별한 매력이나 특징을 깊숙히 고려하는 외국인들이 많을 것 같지 않습니다.

Q.외국인이 서울에 창업하기 좋은 업종은 무엇입니까? 그 이유는 무엇입니까?

아무래도, 영어와 관련된 업종은 영어권 나라에서 온 사람들에게 가장 유리하겠죠…

Q.외국인이 서울에 창업하기 좋지 않은 업종은 무엇입니까? 그 이유는 무엇입니까?

그거는 모르겠습니다. 아마 한국내 인맥이 필요한 업종은 외국인들에게 불리하겠습니다. 한국에서 비즈니스가 크게 인맥에 의존해서 음직이니까, 보통의 외국사람들이 자신의 회사를 크게 할래면, 다른 나라에 가서 할 수 밖에 없을 것 같습니다.

Q.서울이 '아시아의 실리콘벨리'가 되기위해 어떤 노력이 필요합니까?

어려운 질문입니다. 한국은 “아시아의 실리콘벨리”가 못 될 것 같습니다. 이미 싱가포르나 홍콩은 있는데, 서울이 그렇게 될래면, 엄청많이 변해야 할것입니다. 차라리 한국의 독창적인 매력이나 장점을 제데로 살려서 새로운 입지를 만들어 나가야 할 것 같은데, 그 답은 쉽게 풀리지는 않을 것 입니다. 그런데, 실리콘밸리가 이미 있는데, 서울은 왜 또 다른 시리콘밸리되고 싶어요? 질문의 발상부터는 잘못 됬다고 생각합니다. 

Q.그 외 외국인의 서울 창업에 관해 조언하실 것이 있습니까?

한국은 외국인들에게만 창업하기 어렵지 않습니다. 한국의 SME들도 죽어가는데요… 일부러 외국인들 위해서 창업하기 좋게 하는 것보다 모든 사람들에게 평등한 시장조건을 조성해서 한국인이든 외국인이든 누구나 창업하고 비즈니스를 잘 할 수 있는 환경을 만들었으면 합니다. 서울은 꼭 외국인이 많이 살고 창업해야 살기 좋은 도시가 되는 것이 아니라는 것은 저의 생각입니다.