A Recap of Dr. Linda Myers’ Exclusive Interview on Korea Business Central – “Working at the Top in SK Group: An Insider’s Story”

Author_lm Dr. Linda Myers was “inpatriated” to Seoul to raise global mindsets, lead global talent management, develop global policies and practices, and help accelerate globalization of the SK Group. She previously earned her masters and doctoral degrees from Harvard University.

To listen to the interview, download the .mp3, subscribe in iTunes, read the transcript and or discuss this interview and this topic with other members of Korea Business Central visit the English-language discussion link (https://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/forum/topics/korea-business-central-394) or Korean-language discussion link (https://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/forum/topics/hankug-bijeuniseu-nginteobyu). 

The full list of interviews in the Korea Business Interview Series is maintained here: https://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/page/interviews-2

Main Points of the Interview

Topic #1 – Dr. Myers’ Background Leading To Her Position at SK Group

  • Factors leading to her global career: 1) Oldest child of deaf parents, 2) Mother’s family immigrated to US during World War II, 3) Early international experiences
  • First contacted by a Korean executive recruiter in July 2007 for position in a Korean company. However, he was not able to refer Dr. Myers to anyone who had worked in South Korea before. This opportunity to be a trailblazer was an attractive challenge and Dr. Myers headed to Korea shortly thereafter without a clear job description, orientation or other preparation.

Topic #2 – Early Experiences in SK Group

  • Figuring out the corporate structure of SK Group was an early challenge, leading to a determination that others Dr. Myers came in professional contact with not be confused as she had been. She made sure every presentation about SK that she gave include an explanation that SK Group is the holding company owned by the Chey family and begun in 1953 which today has about 35,000 employees in over a dozen subsidiaries, all of which operate under instructions from the holding company, which also owns the most valuable business assets.
  • One of the most unsettling aspects of the job was realizing how unprepared SK was for helping a foreigner transition into a new post, and especially the Group’s inexperience with global human resources concepts and language issues.
  • Learning about the company was a slow painful process, as Dr. Myers’ questions were often perceived as critical. Fortunately, she was able to locate her own resources in the Seoul business community, which helped the adjustment immensely.
  • The three major factors governing the cultural and gender challenges Dr. Myers faced include 1) that Koreans adhere to the traditional collectivist Confusion cultural traits of harmony, hierarchy, in-group/out-group, school ties, favoritism, status and rank, 2) that her base of support was very powerful (at least at the beginning) because her position had been created by Chairman Chey himself and 3) that this base of support changed rapidly when the senior vice president was moved to a different position.
  • Dr. Myer’s early achievements included being SK’s best public relations effort through interviews, serving on commissions and travelling the world giving presentations to global MBA programs. Dr. Myers also championed a career website for the SK Group.

Topic #3 – Later Experiences in SK Group

  • The annual evaluation and reassignment of Korean executives between November and December of each year leads to a lot of uncertainty and upheaval. In Dr. Myers’ case, the reassignment of the Senior Vice President of Corporate Culture to a different operating company changed the dynamics of Dr. Myers’ position dramatically as she lost her sponsor and new personnel were less interested in her role.

Topic #3 – Lessons Learned During the Experience

  • Korean corporate talk about globalization leads Dr. Myers to react with skepticism, having lived and head stories of life as a foreigner in a Korean company, as well as cautious optimism, seeing the success that LG Electronics is having. [Note: Even LG Electronics’ experience is called into doubt with the very recent departure of the expat team there.]
  • The apparent lip-service that Korean firms pay to globalization may be due to the fact that Koreans are still pretty isolated socially and adhere to Confucian traditions and customs. However, with the hosting of the G20 in 2010 and other achievements, perhaps this is a critical moment in Korean business history where Korea begins to open itself up in a bigger way.
  • For firms like SK to truly embrace globalization and change, the laws under which foreign talent is brought in must be clarified so that it’s not as easy for contracted employees to be let go. Many foreign employees don’t realize that they are expected to stay just two years. This is wasteful for the Korean company too, to take such short-term views. Korean firms needs to also figure out what they expect from foreign employees before bringing them over, and they need to provide the foreign talent with clear and measurable objectives for change that are supported and made accountable at the highest ranks of the organization. This includes providing each foreigner with a mentor and clearly established career path.
  • To properly compete on the world stage, Korean companies need to provide a level playing field with the rest of the world and remove the barriers they’ve put up to outsiders.
  • As for SK Group, a stronger customer focus and understanding of the distribution system in the US would have helped with recent businesses, and going forward, the Group needs to market its businesses in Asia, as well as in E. Europe, for betting understanding its customers and meeting their needs. This applies to China, too.
  • The top three issues Korean companies must deal with for globalization include 1) improving marketing so that Korean companies get the credit they deserve, 2) strengthening the knowledge sharing system across the company and 3) finding ways to reward employees for taking the initiative.

Topic #4 – Going Forward

  • Dr. Myers is currently writing an article about her time and experiences in Korea, scheduled for publication in January 2011. She is also preparing a case study geared toward MBAs with interest in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • In closing, Dr. Myers expressed her very deepest thanks and appreciation to all the Koreans who befriended her and taught her the many important lessons she learned during her years in Seoul.


    6 Responses

    1. Dr Linda Myers’ experience with SK Group is part of an intriguing phenomenon: foreign executives being appointed to headquarter positions by Asian organisations.
      The acronym FELO (Foreign Executives in Local Organisations) is used to distinguish these individuals from the ‘classic’ expatriates in subsidiaries of foreign multinationals. See website:
      The term ‘inpatriate’ is unsuitable for the specific FELO phenomenon, as that term was developed to describe the relocation of foreign employees/managers to the parent country of the organisation. Hence, ‘inpatriation’ is a term used for workplace reassignment within a multinational organisation’s existing headquarter/subsidiary structure (see e.g. Michael Harvey’s work).
      The FELO case of Dr Linda Myers is of interest due to the gender element. For example, only five of 46 FELO cases systematically researched in Malaysia involve female managers, and gender adds a further element to the unique dynamics of the FELO experience. The gender element aside, the interview with Dr Myers touches on themes that are well-known from other FELO cases, and her case appears to fit neatly into the research typologies and findings about other FELOs.
      These typologies of FELOs and local organisations assist in identifying which FELO combinations produce successful outcomes (and those which are likely to fail). Research on FELOs elucidates why FELOs are appointed, what FELOs contribute to the local organisations for which they work, and how cultural distance is bridged in those workplaces. Of particular interest are those FELO cases that persist, as there is a lot to be learned from these cross-cultural workplaces.

    2. Thank you very much for the comment. It’s a fascinating subject and I’m glad to hear that research is ongoing into this field.
      Note that we interviewed Didier Chenneveau of LG Electronics last month, too. His case is similar to Dr. Myers’ in many ways. Here’s the link to that summary:

    3. Linda Myers says:

      Dear FELOresearch,
      I’m delighted to come to know of your existence through KBC, and this new nomenclature, FELO. Next stop…your site to learn some more and perhaps read some fascinating stories about others with similar experiences. Thank you for your insightful input.

    4. Dear Dr Myers,
      Thank you for your kind words and interest in FELOresearch. You and Steve Bammel must be congratulated for the valuable public discourse and vibrant exchange of views on the Korea Business Central (KBC) website.
      First, your discussion threads frequently touch on important aspects of the FELO phenomenon and many of the comments are insightful indeed. KBC readers and contributors with personal FELO experience are invited to make contact and register their interest via the FELOresearch website. Registrations are collected for potential future research projects, and all information is treated in accordance with the principles outlined in the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, and the Privacy Act 1988. Personal information will not be disclosed to third parties.
      Please be patient if you decide to establish contact: the ways of academia are painfully slow, and future research projects depend on obtaining research funding. Introductions to obtain funding, fellowships, presentation opportunities etc. are always much appreciated!
      Second, this research takes LOCAL perspectives seriously. The insights gained to date could not have been obtained without the participation of two groups of participants (FELOs and LOCALs) and analysis between as well as within these groups. Obtaining local perspectives has produced rich data in addition to the triangulation of FELO comments. Giving local colleagues and peers a voice (those having hired FELOs as well as those subordinate to them; those who are closely involved with FELOs as well as those whose perceptions are somewhat more distanced) has been invaluable, as it permitted analysis within that group and the development of typologies. Hence, Koreans or LOCALs in other countries who are working with FELOs, or have worked with FELOs in the past, are encouraged to contact FELOresearch as well. Contact with organisations, industry bodies and research institutions in Asian countries would be equally valuable.
      Third, FELO cases that appear in the media do not give us the full story. Many of these FELOs appear in the media twice: when the FELOs are appointed and a second time when they leave the organisation. What happens before the appointments, during the affiliation, and afterwards is of equal interest to research. In addition, there are longterm FELO cases ‘behind the scenes’ (and the individuals involved typically wish to keep it that way); some of those cases are extremely interesting.
      Fourth, the findings about the FELO phenomenon are very rich. To date, the bulk of data was collected for a 100k words / 365 pages PhD thesis. Only a minor aspect of this research (an analysis of the significant differences to expatriation) has been extracted from that thesis and introduced to the scholarly discourse. The substantive part of the research awaits publication, including the external and internal bridging roles of FELOs, behavioural strategies of long-term FELOs, a unique ‘in/out group’-status that experienced FELOs have learned to use productively, hard- vs. soft-skills, or the dichotomy of initial vs. persistent raisons d’etre of FELOs. There are also important findings on cultural distance and the asymmetry of that distance, and the ‘liability of foreignness’ (as well as its advantage). Much of the information collected is unsuitable for publication in case study format due to privacy concerns and research ethics guidelines: there is a risk that ongoing FELO affiliations can easily be identified from the reporting of ‘descriptive markers’.
      Previous research in the field of International Human Resource Management (IHRM) was primarily focused on expatriate assignments, and has overlooked the rare phenomenon of FELOs. There is much to be learned from these intriguing cross-cultural workplaces, and introductions and links to the FELO topic are much appreciated.

    5. Hi Linda-
      What would you say about the article posted by the Korea Herald at
      http://www.koreaherald.com/national/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20111229000106 ?
      Thank Q
      – Witold J.

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