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The Korean way
How does Korea operate? How different is it from other
countries? Korea imports things, and this importation
has been going on for many years. Basic technology is
acquired by being bought, so there is considerable
opportunity for Western companies. But Korean companies
will tolerate nothing less than state-of-the-art
technology. They are not going to be easily fobbed off
with yesterday's models. Having imported the technology,
Korean companies will set about improving it. The
technology will be dissected; it will be understood; and
those companies will work out how best to cost-reduce it;
it will be tested in the relatively small home Korean
market; and then it will be re-designed for a global
market. Finally, it will be exported. Korean companies
will sell the new technology to a global marketplace;
they will undercut the competition; and from this they
will create revenues which will fund still further
technology improvements. It is important to realise
there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. This is
simply the way Korea operates. The sensible strategy is
to capitalise on this reality and to go very much with
In the past, certain Korean goods - early electronics
products, for example - have suffered from a reputation
for shoddiness, in much the same way that Japanese
products did during the 1950s and 1960s. That reputation
is unfairly earned in many respects, since Korean product
failure could often be blamed on excessive enthusiasm
coupled with relatively high degrees of determination and
the impatience we have already noted.
In one respect, doing business with Koreans is no
different from doing business with anyone else: there
can be no likelihood of success without the exercise of
mutual trust. In the past quite a few Korean companies
have suffered some bad experiences of buying Western -
especially US - technologies. The companies often feel
that they have been taken advantage of because Western
groups not only sold them the initial technology, but
also rendered them dependent for subsequent support.
Because of Korea's need for self-sufficiency, such
technological dependency needs to be severed. This is
the basic rationale underlying Korean companies' need to
'own' whatever is sold to them. It is also the prime
mover of the trading cycle - from technology import to
improvement to improved technology export - described
above. Conceptualising such a strategy is not always the
easiest of options for a Western company, but it is not
impossible and it is challenging ....and if done
correctly, it can be mutually rewarding.