Legacy companies and startups, what drives their workplace culture, and what’s the impact on lives and results?
Jem Kim and Alex Jensen have a nuanced, balanced and insightful conversation about the different workplace cultures that are both well established and also emerging in Korea. Korea was once well known for its semi-military workplace culture, with strict hierarchies, endless workplace dinners and a strong concentration on building jeong (정) between workmates.
But how has this changed with the growth of the startup scene, when a startup becomes a giant like Coupang, what kind of workplace culture does it have? Does it retain the leanness of a startup, or does it begin to resemble what Jem describes as a legacy company?
Through their conversation, Jem and Alex are careful to avoid judging one workplace culture as being superior to another. Yes, there is probably more freedom in a startup, but then again, there are fewer people to turn to for support. A feeling of shared mission can exist in both, as can a sense of progress and achievement.
And what does this mean for a non-Korean coming into a Korean company? Whether as a senior leader, or in a working level position. Are they supposed to act as catalyst for change, or are they expected to localize fully? Undoubtedly, the truth varies company to company, but in almost all cases non-Koreans spend a great deal of their days working out what they can tweak, what they can’t touch and what needs real change.
Their conversation also touches on the impact of ESG on Korean public companies as well as the succession from family-owned company structures in chaebols and other companies to more professionally managed structures. As stakeholders become more diverse it seems unlikely that a corporate leadership deriving from a single family would be able to cope with the increasing complexity of a modern corporate.
Alex and Jem wrap up their conversation by looking at two factors that are impacting workplaces cultures today, the pandemic and political forces. What will happen once companies are free to return or not to previous practices? What will happen if another center-left government comes in. Yoon Seok Youl has promised widespread deregulation to business including abandoning the 52-hour week rule.
Today’s episode was brought to you by Eastpoint Partners Asia, offering you an unparalleled Asia-wide network of relationships with corporates, governments and investors.