From South Korea to the Soviet Union and the United States to the United Kingdom, organizations around the world are looking to grow through global expansion. In fact, in most industries, the term “business without borders” is already a reality. By working in technology for more than two decades, I have experienced this move to a global economy for the past several years as tech companies, such as IBM and Microsoft, have long realized the revenue potential of expanding outside of the U.S.
However, more recently, I have had the opportunity to play a central role in building a global corporation. As a native South Korean, I had lived and worked in that country for most of my life. Several years ago, I found myself serving as CEO for a software company that was expanding outside of South Korea to the U.S. With that experience under my belt, in 2010, I helped $1.4 billion South Korean giant SK C&C strategize a plan for the global growth of its mobile commerce technology. I became CEO of CorFire, the mobile commerce business unit of SK C&C USA, with the understanding that I would open its North American headquarters.
I was excited about bringing the mobile commerce lifestyle to its full potential in the United States — technology that South Koreans have embraced for nearly 10 years. However, I was equally enthusiastic about building a truly global company — one that would sell its technology platform around the world and partner with companies regardless of geography. I also understood that building and managing a global work force brought a unique set of challenges, or in business-speak, “opportunities.”
Think globally, act locally
While this phrase is often used to refer to environmental issues, the term’s essence was central to the decision-making process around building CorFire’s global operations. As CEO, I needed to create a vision for our work place and culture. To be successful on the business side, we would need to bring the best practices from South Korea. However, we also would need to establish a local presence and integrate new ideas and cultural nuances, from the U.S. or other countries, into the environment.
In order to do this, I was keenly aware that I’d need to surround myself (and listen to) other people who had experience in managing global workplaces. Together, we could identify the guiding principles for our new company, brainstorm recruiting strategies, set the corporate tone and, in sum, determine who we wanted to be when we “grew up.”
Communicate, communicate, communicate
It is no coincidence that successful companies typically have strong, effective communicators at the helm. Effective communication is even more critical for new companies and ones that are bringing diverse cultures together. For executive teams that are building diverse workplaces, it is critical to examine various communication styles and develop ones that work within the framework of the organization.
For example, there are many South Korean workplace practices that are similar to those in a U.S. office environment. Yet, there are South Korean business customs that U.S. workers haven’t accepted or even experienced. In setting the tone for our company culture, I drew on the value management system of SK, which is based on respecting the dignity and creativity of each employee. I also kept an open mind to other communications methods that worked best for the entire team — regardless of my comfort level or familiarity with them. In the end, we landed on a philosophy where employees are encouraged to talk openly and often and where divergent opinions are heard and respected.
More is more
The business of yesteryear was one where many ideas became synthesized into one. The world’s most successful companies have tossed that approach for one in which more ideas, more strategic thinking and more tactics to solutions are examined, accepted, and executed as they make sense. In a global company, the tenet of open-mindedness is especially critical. While fundamental processes to conducting business must be in place, there also needs to be the willingness to keep the door open for new ways to work, build teams and cultivate innovation.
To build a successful and innovative global company we need more diversity than ever, and we are not going to achieve that within the confines of a rigid, inexpressive workplace culture. Differences in culture and business backgrounds are good and, in fact, are a valuable asset. The richness and varying experiences of our new team is helping us deliver the passion that will, in turn, create the profits and help us be the global company we want to be when we grow up.