Wednesday, May 07, 2008

It's like college all over again

The man pictured above is Klaus Fassbender, CEO of L'Oreal Korea. I would have taken a picture in person, like the handful of other people in the rows below me, but couldn't quite muster up the confidence (for lack of a better word) to whip out the cam, despite my natural tendency to. It was quite a sight.

Upon introduction, Mr. Fassbender not only received about 3 rounds of applause, but also got quite a few loud woots and whistles, as though he had maybe just won Student Body President. I couldn't help but smile.

During the Q&A session, the crowd was quite shy so I figured, what the heck... "Mr. Fassbender, can you elaborate on the approach global companies like L'Oreal take when trying to apply and maintain their corporate culture onto foreign offices, such as Korea, given the cultural differences? What are the challenges?"

His response started out a bit cookie cutter, highlighting that communication and testing is key, but he later cited a few details, and added, "That's a very good question."
  • It was harder in Japan than in Korea, as the Japanese office environment tends to be more formal.
  • In France, losing face is not a problem, compared to Asia or Germany where it can really be an issue with workers, who might take great offense.
  • There are quite a few examples of multinational companies that have failed in Korea due to their inability to adapt, such as "that French retail company that starts with a C, not to mention any names."
  • Challenges in bringing foreign business to Korea are twofold. First, it's a very regulated market, so you lose 6-9 months. Second, the big challenge is in attracting good people, and retaining them. That's what makes a leader a good leader.
  • L'Oreal tends to bypass hierarchy, but Korea is more hierarchical in general.
  • You have to be careful not to be too direct here.
  • If you have an open mind, it's not difficult to integrate. But it's definitely not easy either.
I rather enjoyed his talk on "Leadership of the 21st Century." It brought me back to b-school days, and I felt like a college kid all over again, eagerly listening as if every word were a truth, earnestly taking notes, and later trying to question and dissect it all.

Sure, Mr. Fassbender didn't offer the magic potion to attaining strategic leadership skills - that, of course, comes with experience, time, the 5Cs, and 2Ls - but he did offer a little boost of inspiration and motivation which I fully appreciated. Not to mention a few nifty charts, some nice theory, lingo, and quotables, as well as a few fun facts. For example, did you know that...
  • The average Korean woman uses 30 beauty products every day? That's 12 for skincare, 10 for makeup, and the other 8 for something else... perhaps hair products or what not. (They rank #1 in the world for "most beauty products used.") WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU NEED 30 BEAUTY PRODUCTS?!
  • The average Korean man, on the other hand, uses about 4 products... shampoo, aftershave, lotion, simple stuff like that. (Makoto-san, you are obviously not Korean, nor "average" in this case.)
  • Korea is also the fastest aging country in the world. Imagine that! I thought Japan won the title for that one.
When Fassbender asked the audience, "What is strategy?" I had to chuckle. The room was dead silent, and no one dared move an inch, anxiously hoping someone, anyone, would bravely raise their hand. I thought about what I might say if the awkward stillness continued for an extra 20 seconds, but luckily, one courageous girl finally spoke up, circularly using keywords like competition, achievement, success, etc. to which Mr. Fassbender responded, "Right. It's the WAY you reach your goal." Laughter pursued.

What else do you need to know about the man besides his humor and charisma? Well, for starters, he loves Incheon Airport. Second, his 8 to 9 o'clock hour is dedicated to learning, whether it's reading up on case studies or practicing speeches in Korean. He also emphasized a few important, but easily forgotten, values:
  • Don't make comfortable choices.
  • It's all about trial and error. Great leaders have at least one big failure in life. You learn ten times more from one mistake than from two big victories. Of course, you always have to win 2 to 1. And when you're older, at least 3 or 4 to 1.
  • Successful leading (and life, really) is all about permanent improvement.
So there it is. ^^


Janice said...

cool post. how did you find out about the event? i like his first point of "don't make comfortable choices." can't argue on that one! ;)

Cheri said...

i saw a poster for it - literally that very same day, called up my friend, and there we went!