The joys of Corporate Culture
For those of you reading and possessing the skill of attention to detail, you may have noticed that I‘ve named the first blog entry ‘Miracle on the Han River’. This was because the general perception in Europe of Korea usually is limited by knowledge of Samsung, or its mobile/electronic gadgets, and the ‘few’ people studying economics recall the amazing economic growth South Korea has witnessed from the 1960s up to the East Asian Financial Crisis. I’m not trying to be boring here – people call it a ‘miracle. It is no miracle though, but the result of very dedicated and hard work and the working culture this has been shaping and has been shaped by.
And where could the work be harder than the key ‘Chaebol’ conglomerate which actually makes up 22% of South Korea’s GDP – Samsung… Commitment, hard work, dedication and respect to the elders, both age wise and management wise are key virtues in South Korea, and Asia for that matter, so turning up to the office 15 minutes on the first day doesn’t help. I’ve mentioned passing by the Samsung SDS office along my way to work after my arrival – apparently that only was the Samsung SDS Multicampus Building – i.e. the building where some of 12 000 Samsung SDS employees undergo their formal training and inductions. Our induction as interns, on the other hand, was to be delivered on the 12th floor on the Samsung SDS MAIN building, just about a 6 minute walk away from on the same street. Happy day.
Fortunately for us, our mentor, Mr. Jun Lee, or Jun, was amazingly friendly and we did not get told off for not paying enough attention to the addresses. Taking in the size of Samsung Group in South Korea is a bit difficult for us Europeans. By the way, I am originally from Lithuania, so it’s a smaller country and a smaller market, but I’m comparing Korea with Germany/UK/France in this case. The Samsung Group is the largest ‘Chaebol’ (look it up on Wikipedia if you never heard the term) in Korea, followed by other giants such as LG, Hyundai, Lotte and others. That’s way Samsung has offices literally everywhere in South Korea. And not only offices, but theme parks, hotels and other things are in one way or another connected to Samsung or other Chaebols most likely. So I shouldn’t have assumed that the first building I see in the area with Samsung SDS is going to be the right one. Now I know.
Apart from that, during the induction week, I was really surprised with how friendly everyone we met was. We surely had an amazing welcome. During the induction sessions with Jun the conversation quickly turned to more personal and ‘out-of-office’ aspects of our experience in here for which we were ensured plenty opportunities. Meeting everyone and remembering their names, especially Korean ones (as every uses an English name as well) proved to be a challenge. During the induction week we have also been taken to Yongsai University, where Samsung SDS completed its first ‘Digital Space Convergence’ project. In simple terms, it’s a fancy library with touch screens, smart student cards and monitors for aquariums in between sofas. But from the service, it was really interesting to hear the rationale behind certain solutions. A little birdy is telling us that the University of Birmingham is thinking of taking this to the next level with its new Library… Something to look forward to for the next generation I bet.
Nevertheless, the lessons learned about corporate culture from the first week were mixed: it is true, some people work 12 to 14 hours a day, especially as there have been management structure changes (hence we were placed in the “Global Business Development Department” and not the “Marketing and Strategy Dep.”. But the official line of the company is supporting people to leave at six. That is when the air conditioning is turned off (not helpful if you don’t have a fan). Lights go out at nine, just to remind you… Obviously you can turn them off. By the way, they also go off at 11:45 to encourage people to get out and get lunch. Now I’ve been working around a few places and this is my fifth internship and I have to say that it most probably has the best lunch culture – much better than the sandwich for lunch thing going on in Britain.
But there are strings attached… If you’re interested, read the next blog entry about the working culture and our specific assignments as interns. If you’re bored – skip that one, the next one will most likely be about the pass time and night life in Seoul – much more interesting I bet.
Regards from Seoul,