GBS Korea: Developing an International Business in Asia

GBS Korea has now been operational for a year. Over that time, we have faced some challenges and broken some new territory with GBSK now starting to get some solid traction. GBSK has completed some small projects and is now undertaking some larger projects as we build our expertise and credibility.

Below are 5 key points on our experience and learnings (good and bad) in developing an international business in Asia.

  1. Know the market. In English speaking countries and where you are an English speaker, it is generally easier to communicate. However local rules, etiquette and ways to do business can be variable to say the least. New Zealand and Australia for example have many similarities, but there are still localised differences in approaches and in relationships. With Korea, this is certainly exacerbated. There is a language barrier of course, but the nuances of the differences in business cultures are quite wide. You can research a market as much as you like remotely, but there is nothing like being on the ground.
  2. Related to the above, finding your way around opportunities and how to bid for those is – or can be – a nightmare. While there are standards, each opportunity we’ve come across has significant differences. These can relate to budget constraints and rules, qualifications, existing experience and relationships. For example, the practice of government in Korea is to change peoples’ roles every 2 years or so. If you’ve built up a relationship and the rules of engagement have been agreed, the RFP finalised etc, that can all change. Consequently the building of a new relationship has to happen, and suddenly the goal-posts have moved….more than a few metres.
  3. Use local resources. This is especially true with such a homogenous country like Korea. All we can say is that without top quality local people, we would be nowhere in Korea. This is primarily because of the preference for organisations to engage with local people (especially with government contracts), who understand how things operate, but also because of the obvious language differences. So getting a local manager of top quality was essential.  We are very lucky to have Minjung Shin as our CEO.  Min spent 13 years in the IT business working across the spectrum in Australia before moving back home – so she understands our culture (or at least an Aussie version of it).  Having her there to get things going and bring in new people has been absolutely essential.  This underlines why it is important to have reliable, innovative, hard-working and creative people managing and working locally.
  4. GBS Directors meeting with members of a Korean Trade Delegation earlier this year

    Having a local ‘partner’ for us has been essential. This partner (in this case Esri Korea) has been extremely helpful to us in establishing GBS Korea in terms of how to actually set up – including banking, investment rules and requirements, and providing us with accommodation. Furthermore, they are helping us with leads and opportunities which is extremely valuable (and for which we are very grateful). This relationship with Esri Korea has been a couple of years in the making before we ‘took the plunge’. Or in the words of our partner, ‘get on the can, or get off it’ – almost like Yoda! So while that relationship is strong at the top level, there was (and still is) a lot of work to establish relationships at the more operational levels (professional services staff, sales and marketing staff, and even administrative staff). GBS has always been strong on building relationships and without this, again we don’t think we would have made it

  5. Last, enjoy the ride. There will always be ups and downs. Being on-site in Korea for our GBS staff is a challenging but very rewarding experience. The Korean culture is fascinating and the food is outstanding. Not having known a lot about Korea previously, being there and meeting the people has been absolutely enjoyable. They are a resilient people and while they are very polite, unlike their neighbours they are not shy of saying what they think. And they do love to socialise! At the end of the day, it is all about the relationships right?

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