At only 38 years of age your career path has been full on. You have had, and indeed still have a great deal of responsibility across various areas. How do you manage to maintain high standards in your area of work throughout your line management team?
Ha-ha, thanks for saying “only” 38 years, because I have been feeling my age these days.
Technology is evolving every day, and as you can imagine, this means lots of complex issues or changes to handle at the same time to the Mobile and Electronics industry. For me, it is like when I was in the ZLOG program. Like many other ZLOGers did and still do, I also had to manage many important things together – the case study preparation, group-tasks, exams, thesis project, and also job search during the short 9-month period, which I had never experienced before. During that period, not satisfied with just things done by themselves, I put more value on how best I could complete all of the tasks. Probably, this experience helped me manage the team across the whole product group of Samsung, ranging from fast moving Samsung mobiles to TV and big size domestic home appliances.
As Head of a SCM team in a major international company, did you ever dream that you would attain such a position as an alumni of the ZLOG program at ZLC in 2009? Without the ZLOG program, how could I dream of this position?
Of course not. Up to now I have almost 15 years of professional experience, and the first half of experience was not in the supply chain area. After the ZLOG program, I think I got a job easily with Samsung Mobile in Italy thanks to my experience as a telecom operator. Then, it was SCM knowledge and analytical skills from ZLOG that made me fly at Samsung. At that time, nobody at Samsung Italy knew safety stock calculation, or Winter-Holt model. I still cannot forget the surprised faces when I presented Winter model. Also, when I suggested a collaboration project to minimize the bull-whip effect to customers, they were really impressed by the idea, as telecom operators are not normally so specialized in the Supply Chain area. Thanks to the ZLOG program, I was recognized as a SCM expert, not only at Samsung Italy but also at Samsung Global, and accordingly a series of promotion opportunities presented themselves. When somebody asks me what my best decision in my life has been, I would say, the first is getting married, and the second best was the decision to join the ZLOG program.
How did you cope with the language barrier? Was it a case of communicating in English at first and learning Italian as you went along?
When I tried to find a job, the language was one of the biggest barriers. With only English, it was not easy to find a job where global languages such as Spanish, German, French, etc, are spoken. Therefore, I changed my job search strategy – non-global language spoken areas, but international companies, or where my native language (Korean) could be an advantage.
As it turned out, I was right, and I joined Samsung Italy, where the official working language is English. Also, I was lucky, as my customers were normally fluent in English. Therefore, professionally, I did not have any difficulty working in English.
Instead, in my personal life ((like bureaucratic issues), I faced several language problems, but my warm-hearted Italian colleagues or neighbors have willingly helped me out.
Probably that’s why I’m bit lazy in learning Italian. Even though the company provides me with an Italian language program, shame on me – my Italian level is still A2 (survival level) even after 7 years of life in Italy.
How did you cope with the culture shock of living and working in a country with such a strong identity as Italy?
My first experience of living abroad was when I took the ZLOG program. During that period, it was suchan amazing experience to study with other classmates from more than 15 different countries and cultures and to go out for beers with them after group work, which trained me to face my next challenge in Italy.
The first cultural shock in Italy was when I saw the TV discussion program. Normally, on TV, when one part speaks, the others listen. However, here in Italy, both parties speak at the same time, not listening to each other, but strangely it seems that they understand what´s going on.
As you said, Italians are really different from other Europeans. Especially as an Asian, in order to be well accepted among Italians, additional effort was needed to understand them, and to consider how to approach them. I have tried to respect and understand the Italian way of working and living.
Generally speaking, for Italians, relationship are important, and therefore, once you get to know them, they open up. Also, for an Italian, a meal is not just for survival, but is conversation time or life itself. Therefore, one of my efforts made was that even though there were several Koreans at Samsung Italy, I had always had lunch with Italian colleagues for over a year. During lunch, people normally talk about their personal life in their native tongue, and even though I did not understand the main part of the Italian conversation, I did my best to be together. Later, Italian colleagues appreciated my effort, and approached me in a more friendly way. Also, in this way, I have made several Italian friends in my personal life.
You have demonstrated your unquestionable talent several times, redesigning, bringing innovative ideas to the table, both inhouse with schemes for the personnel and externally with the Samsung customer-friendly index. It certainly looks like you bring success on a plate to your company. Does this represent fulfillment and contentment in life for you, or is there a personal price to pay for such achievements?
Most of my achievements in my professional life were from self-generated ideas or self-initiated projects, because my previous boss was not an expert on Supply Chain, and therefore trusting me, he always empowered me to implement my idea. And guess. What is the origin of my ideas? The ZLOG program: case studies, Supply Chain book of Chopra & Meindl, etc.
I normally feel that I can devote, my all more passionately, to the tasks that I initiate. While working on this kind of task, time flew so fast so I occasionally went home at midnight, without stress. So, the work-life balance was the price to pay for those achievements. If l look back, my previous boss was a blessing for my career, but a curse for my personal worklife balance.
And now that old chestnut, is there life after Samsung?
Frankly speaking, it is not easy for me to find a work-life balance due to my personal character. However, utilizing the weekend, I always travel somewhere in Europe. If you look at the map, you will notice that Milan is located in the heart of Europe, surrounded by many attractive destinations within a few hours’ drive. Also, there are many activities & events, foods to enjoy in Milan. This is my life outside work.
My next place after Samsung? Well. I’m open to any thing. Supply Chain has a wide range of functions, and also the relevant Supply Chain skills / knowledge are different depending on the products and depending on the company. Even though I’ve accomplished many things at Samsung, I’m still hungry in my career and I want to learn and experience another industry. However, I sometimes feel that my future area is limited due to the fast promotion at “young” age, so probably my next life might be within Telco / Electronics / Retail industry. Who knows?