South Korea Meetings

First meetings can often be completely dominated by the need to start the relationship-building process.

Therefore, very little might be discussed which relates to the actual business in hand with most time being spent exchanging pleasantries, discussing travel and other such-seeming trivia. It is important not to show impatience or irritation at this stage. Rather view the meeting for what it is – the essential first steps in creating a, hopefully, rewarding and long-term business relationship.

It is important in these early stages to be viewed as a man of honour and this can be achieved by avoiding impatience and confrontation as well as by showing the right amount of respect to those people to whom respect is due – older more senior contacts. Try, therefore, to do some research on the people you will be meeting – who are the most important contacts?

The relevance of your delegation could also be judged by who you take with you. Their senior people would not be expected to have to deal with younger, more junior contacts from another organisation. Ensure a compatibility of levels within meetings. It is also important to be able to answer fully any technical questions thrown at you, so ensure that your delegation has the requisite level of expertise at its disposal in order to avoid seeming ill-prepared or amateurish.

Punctuality is important, as is dress and body language.

Gift Giving

Gift giving is an endemic part of Korean business life and should not be confused with notions of bribery and corruption. Gifts should not be too lavish but should always be of good quality. It is important to take a number of small gifts to Korea to distribute to new and existing contacts.
Gifts should always be wrapped. Alcohol, especially good single malt whiskey and brandy is always an appreciated gift. Do not open the gift in front of the giver. It is polite to seem to refuse the gift a couple times before accepting.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in South Korea

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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In little over half a century (since the end of Korean War), South Korea has managed to transform itself from a deeply impoverished nation to one of the world’s leading economies. It achieved this whilst at the same time restricting Direct Foreign Investment (FDI) and with a strongly interventionist government which dictated policy and goal-setting to local industry. Over the same period, it moved from being a follower of product development to a global leader of innovation. And this has massively improved the overall affluence of its citizens.

How did South Korea succeed where so many other countries have tried and failed? What does South Korea have which other countries lack? In a word, the answer is culture. South Korea is steeped in key Confucian attitudes which have enabled this economic miracle to occur. Confucianism extols the virtues of education; South Korea’s approach to education is universally lauded and endlessly studied. Confucianism places emphasis on frugality and loyalty; hard work and acceptance of temporary hardship, bringing their own rewards over time.

If you are thinking of doing business in South Korea (and you really should be), then one of the key elements of successful engagement with South Korean counterparts and potential partners must be linked to gaining a better understanding of South Korean business culture. If you don’t understand how companies are structured locally, how do you know who you should be speaking to? If you are not aware that South Korea is group-oriented in its approach, how can you understand the local decision-making process?

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of South Korean business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips