27 Aug 2016 17:12 IST

Working with Korean culture

IIM-B students learnt that the country’s culture is very similar to Indian values

The third day of the IIM Bangalore immersion programme started off with a guest lecture by representatives from Samsung’s Global Strategy Group (GSG).

After giving an overview of the role it plays within Samsung, the presenters challenged us to solve a problem by giving us a real-world business situation. The solutions we presented were thoroughly discussed, and the session concluded with helpful inputs on business etiquette in Korea.

This is what we learnt.

To be successful in any business operating in Korea, it is essential to be mindful of the local culture. Korean society is patriarchal, and hierarchy is strictly adhered to, both in personal and business settings. Interrupting a conversation or expressing dissent openly is frowned upon.

Koreans have a knack of getting their point across without seeming too confrontational; they are careful not to humiliate anyone in a group. In the few days of our stay, we picked up the nuances of their traditions quickly — gift giving is a way of showing gratitude, which we put to practice from the get-go. Gifts are offered and received with both hands, since using one hand is considered disrespectful.

A polite way of introducing someone is to mention the family name before the individual’s. We were able to internalise these customs effortlessly because they common to Indian culture as well. It is no surprise that Indian maxims ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ and ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ precisely capture the way our benevolent hosts treated us thus far.

In fact, the similarity extends even to the date of Independence Day, which is celebrated as the ‘National Liberation Day of Korea’ every August 15.

Visit to Korea Exchange

After a sumptuous luncheon in the cafeteria, we headed back to the classroom for a lecture on ‘Global Energy Geopolitics’ by renowned Professor Inkie Hong. With many firsts to his credit, the mild-mannered professor is no less than a celebrity in this country: he is the only CEO to serve two terms at the Korea Stock Exchange; first president of Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Co. Ltd; and a recognised expert on financial markets in Korea.

He spoke about his experience of visiting IIM-B and his affection for EPGP students. He walked us through the global geopolitical developments and their influence on India and South Korea. Educating us on the emerging trends, the industry veteran highlighted various business opportunities and challenges.

Professor Hong also joined us for a visit to Korea Exchange (KRX), where we were warmly welcomed by the staff. We learned about the rich history of the stock exchange, which started in 1899 as a rice and bean trading exchange. A certain Mr Cho at KRX informed us that Professor Hong is widely regarded as the father of derivative markets in Korea, and proceeded to give us an overview of all the divisions in the exchange.

Unlike in India, a large number of households in this country invest in the stock market and do not hesitate in taking calculated risks. With a market cap exceeding $1.2 trillion, KRX is one of the exchanges in the world with most liquidity and turnover.

As the tour concluded, the staff at KRX surprised the 70 of us with a memorable gift — a framed group photo taken at the start of our tour!

Nanta performance

We hopped on the KAIST shuttle bus to end our day at the Myeongdong Nanta Theatre. As in the majority of the world, Korea follows the right-hand drive rule.

Experiencing Korean culture is incomplete without a Nanta show, a nonverbal musical which uses kitchen items to produce music.

We were treated to magic tricks, acrobatics, fire stunts, and lots of comedy. The performers created music by mimicking everyday actions such as cutting, cooking and cleaning, all the while making fun of themselves and the audience.

Perfectly timed lighting, rhythmically dancing, and brilliantly executed comic scenes enthralled the audience. We were encouraged to clap, cheer loudly and stamp our feet to convey our appreciation. The lighter side of the otherwise disciplined and professional Korea was on display at Nanta.

We left the performance venue, watching in awe and amazement the well-formed queues at the exit and impeccably clean streets — despite a crowd gathered there. This was a lesson we could certainly take back to India. Hopefully, someday, ‘Swacch Bharat’ will become our second nature.

On the bright side, we are already striving to keep our daily appointments with the punctual Koreans and changing the notion of what is teasingly called IST — ‘Indian Stretchable Time’.

(Writer is part of the the Executive Post Graduate Programme in Management team from IIM-B, who are on an industry visit to South Korea.)