Sunday, July 28, 2013

LTW - NK Ship Caught, Asiana Finger Pointing, & Hyundai Dispair

1. National
1) North Korean ship caught in Panama Canal

 A North Korean ship on its way from Cuba to North Korea was found to be holding two MIG 21 fighters and missile radar systems hidden under sacks of sugar when it was intercepted by Panama government while crossing the Panama Canal. The captain of the ship tried to commit a suicide when the vessel was raided by Panamanian forces.  North Korea being under U.N. sanction banning arms trafficking, the U.S. government gave strong support for the seizure while U.N plans to send an investigation team to Panama next month. North Korea claimed the aging weapons were transported under a legitimate contract with Cuba for repair in North Korea, and demanded immediate release of the vessel and 35 crew members.

Kim Jong-un might be wishing former Panama strong man Manuel Noriega still in power. Kim’s ship would not have been captured in the canal. Noriega could have joined Kim to raise a middle finger at the U.S., and they could have set up a flourishing joint venture called Marijuana & Cocaine Company.

2) Fingers are pointing at each other over Asiana accident
 Asiana crash update. While the NTSB is talking more about pilot error, the Korean government and Asiana are in the position it is still too early to pinpoint the true cause of the crash. Ribbeck Law Chartered, a law firm representing the passengers, filed a petition against Boeing in Chicago to kick off the legal compensation process.  A Korean woman and her son in the passengers also sued Asiana in federal court in California for 5 million in damages, alleging that Asiana flight crew committed “an extensive litany of errors and were improperly trained, that caused the crash.” A retired Boeing instructor pilot, Anthony Keyter, also joined in, saying B777 has a design flaw in its speed control system. Three people died in the accident and many others injured, and finger pointing just started.
The NTSB and KTVU of Oakland had to apologize to Asiana when an anchor at the Fox TV affiliate gave the names of pilots as Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow.  KTVU got the joke names from an intern at NTSB who got fired immediately. The intern was probably an Asian whose name was “Me No Zhob.”

2. Economy

1) 40% CEOs from trio Korean universities

 According to a survey by head hunter Unico Search, 39.5% of the CEOs in Korea’s 1,271 largest companies were graduates of Seoul National Univ., Korea Univ, and Yonsei Univ., the so called SKY taken from their initials. The largest portion was taken by SNU with 259 or 20.4%, followed by Korea University with 125(9.8%) and Yonsei with 118 (9.3%). The next were the graduates from Hanyang University with 90, and Sungkyunkwan University with 50.  Those with science and engineering backgrounds took 45.3%, followed by CEOs with business administration degrees with 20.7% and those with economics at 7%.
While the SKY universities took nearly 40% of the CEOs, they did not have the luck of producing Korea’s two most powerful CEOs. Lee Kun-hee, the CEO of mighty Samsung Group, is from Waseda Univ. in Japan, and Chung Mong-koo, the CEO of Goliath Hyundai/Kia Automotive Group, is from Hanyang University.  The cakes sold at the cafeterias in SKY probably have no icing on it.

2) Audi Volkswagen Korea keeps losing people
 Good news. Audi Volkswagen Korea had 1.5 trillion won sales in 2012, whopping 37.1% increase from the previous year, with 52 billion won profit, the best of all importers. Now bad news. It has lost 11 employees, 10% of its 118 employees, in the past 6 months. There are rumors that real numbers might be more than 11, and that the company is having hard time to fill the positions due to lack of applicants. Auto industry insiders say the organizational rupture started when the company fired its Korean marketing director who was credited for successfully increasing the brand value of Audi Korea, and replaced her position with a German expatriate who was not familiar with actual circumstances in Korea.  Audi Volkswagen Korea said, “the staff’s turnover has been mollified for now and the German executive has recently been more reticent in the castigations within and out of the company.”

While most of American companies tend to let local Koreans take care of their Korea operations, German companies are likely to send German executives to manage the companies, from my experience in auto industry in Korea Pros and cons for each concept. German companies are to give enough culture training in advance, and never send an expatriate until he or she fully understands why it can be perfectly O.K for two straight men slow dancing each other at a night club.

3. Auto Industry

1) Despair in Hyundai because of protesters in Hope buses

 Hyundai’s Ulsan plant turned into a war zone on July 20 as some 2,500 members of Korea Confederation of Trade Unions, a hardcore union umbrella, clashed with Hyundai security guards and employees when the protesters tried to break into the Ulsan plant. The protesters came to Ulsan by so called “Hope Buses” to show support for Mr.BS Choi and his friend who have been waging sit-ins for nearly 9 months on the top of a power line structure near the plant. Mr.Choi has been demanding “immediate transformation of outsource workers to regular employees” while Hyundai has been insisting on gradual step by step approach. Over 110 people have been injured during the violent scuffle in which the protesters wielded sharp bamboo spears and steel pipes while the security guards used water cannons and fire extinguishers. At a wrap-up the following day, KCTU announced they will be back.

Mr.Choi might be shouting four letter words at the KCTU protesters who came to support him. With grueling cold last winter and blistering 35C heat these days, Mr.Choi is about to come down. The protest over the weekend is forcing Mr.Choi to stay another two years high in the sky.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

LTW - The Crash, PGH in Beijing, & Ivy Ban

1. National
1) Asiana plane crash lands in San Francisco

 Asiana Airlines flight OZ214 from Seoul to SF crashed and burst into flames while landing in SF International Airport on Saturday morning, killing two Chinese students and injuring some 182 passengers. The tail portion of the plane apparently hit runway during landing, and the plane broke off. The B-777 jet got on fire soon after the passengers were scrambling down the chutes to their safety. There were 307 passengers including 141 Chinese, 77 Koreans, and 61 Americans. No signs of terrorism, and pilot errors and plane malfunction are suspected. Founded in 1988, Asiana is the 2nd largest airline in Korea after Korean Air, and the SF crash was Asiana’s third plane crash since its first one in 1993 and the 2nd one in 2011. 

Here is a strange thing. The 7 year old B-777 crashed with 77 Korean passengers on board. The flight was OZ214 which makes 7 when 2,1,4 are added. Asiana’s logo looks like 7. Seven was definitely not a lucky number for Asiana that had its plane crashed in SF on Jul 7 Korea time.

2) President Park visits Beijing
Korean president Park Geun-hye had a summit meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Jun 27. In the joint communiqué after the meeting, Xi expressed his support for Park’s effort to have a dialogue with North Korea, and was standing smiling when Park said, “We agreed that a nuclear-armed North Korea will never be tolerated under any circumstance.”  The two leaders also agreed to speed up free trade agreement process between the two nations.  Park gave a speech at Tsinghua University, Xi’s alma mater. Speaking in perfect Mandarin Chinese, Park quoted a classic Chinese lesson to stress the importance of education.

I was amazed at Park’s Chinese speech. I learned Chinese for six months in 2003 in Ansan, taking advantage of a small Chinese language institution next to my office. While reading and writing were a piece of cake as I had learned Chinese characters in middle school, speaking and listening comprehension were totally different because of the four intonations unique in Chinese. I finally gave up after being tired of hearing “Bu Tingdong” ( I don’t understand) from my Chinese teacher each time I said something to her in Chinese.  

2. Economy
1) Ivy league names banned for crammers

The U.S. court has ruled that private crammers can not use the names of prestigious universities like Harvard or Yale, in a lawsuit by Yale against a crammer chain called ‘Yale Academy.’  Terry Yang, the owner of Yale Academy, claimed it was a combination of his family name, Yang, and his wife’s surname, Lee, and said he chose Yale’s blue and white color because those are his favorite colors. The court didn’t buy his story. The court ruling will impact private education industry in Korea as there are 16 crammers and 52 private study rooms registered in Seoul that have the names of Harvard , Princeton and other Ivy League names. Much more if to include those not registered.
Though not an Ivy League school, University of Michigan is as much known to Koreans, partly thanks to an English text book. Most of people in my age took Michigan Action English from U of M as their college English text book in the early 80’s. Its strong selling point was that the speakers in the Michigan Action English tapes were using the most standard American English. Never did I know at that time that, in 20 years, I would be working for a standard auto supplier based in Michigan under a boss from U of M.  

2) Expats in Korea getting close to 1.5 million
According to the government statistics, the number of expats has reached 1.44 million, 2.8% of South Korea’s 51 million registered populations. The 1.44 million includes naturalized Korean citizens, long-term expats and children of foreigners in Korea. Chinese nationals, including ethnic Koreans, accounted for over half the number with 775,474(53.7%) of the total, followed by Vietnamese with 176,988(12.2%) and Americans with 69,704(4.8%).  Foreigners in Korea for work took 36% of the total with 520,906, while 10.2% (147,591) are in Korea because of their marriage with Koreans. Ansan was the city with most expats with 64,709 foreigners, comprising 9 percent of the city’s total population, followed by Seoul’s Yeongduengpo District with 53,666.
The number of expats began to sky rocket from early 2000’s when there was lack of workers in 3D (Dangerous, Dirty, Difficult) industries in Korea, and young brides in rural area became rare because of Korean ladies preferring to live in big cities. Expats are finding Korea O.K to live in. Jasmine Lee, a woman from Philippine who married a Korean man, even became one of the 300 law makers last year while a Korean has yet to become a law maker in the U.S. or in any other key nations.

3. Auto Industry
1) A Korean auto supplier in Georgia in labor dispute

Some 30 people from GSJA, AFL-CIO and NAACP held a rally in front of Sewon America in LaGrange, GA, on Jun 29 to protest the death of Teresa Pickard who died on the way to hospital after suffering from short breath at work on May 29. The protesters claimed she died after working in extreme heat on the company’s “project weld line,” but Sewon released a statement that says “Pickard’s death was not work related. Sewon has been committed to the safety of employees. Sewon is an air conditioned facility, provides fans at employee stations and has water placed for the employees’ use.” OSHA has an ongoing investigation, but no conclusion yet. It was the first time a labor rally occurred at Hyundai-Kia suppliers in the U.S.

Korean suppliers operating in North America are to be careful about different culture. One of my friends at Hyundai went to Alabama in 2003 to build Hyundai Alabama plant. In shaking hands with friends, he had a habit of scratching his friend’s palm with his index finger. He did it because he believed it was a friendly gesture, but one of Hyundai Alabama female employees reported it as a sexual harassment. He had to return to Korea just a few months after he moved to Alabama. It was lucky for him to use index finger. Could have been a lot worse had he used middle finger.