1stopKorea recently sat down with John Bourke, a 40 year old Aussie who maintains a very busy life as chairman of the Korean Cricket Association and oh, just happens to be the president of Gillette Korea.
In this interview he tells us about some new products introduced by Gillette, his advice to other would-be executives coming to Korea and the prospects of Korean Cricket.
1stopKorea: When did you first come to Korea and how long have you been president of Gillette Korea?
John Bourke: I came in 1989, left in 1995 and went down to New Zealand to work for Gillette until 1998 and returned to Korea again in 1998. I originally came to Korea with SC Johnson (they sell Raid insecticides, Glade air fresheners, etc.), worked for them for two years and then joined on with Gillette and became president at the end of 1991.
1stopKorea: Can you tell us a little about the success Gillette has had in the Korean market and any future plans Gillette may have in Korea (i.e. new products, expansion, etc.)?
John Bourke: To many people Gillette is just shaving, however 'The Gillette Company' is a global leader in much more than just men's grooming products. Gillette has acquired many other well-known global leading brands such as, Oral B toothbrushes, Braun electrical appliances, Parker pens, Watermen pens and Duracell batteries. Gillette has also acquired the two local Korean made battery brands of 'Rocket' and 'Sunpower'.
Gillette grooming products have been in Korea for over 15 years and have successfully built a strong and loyal shaving franchise. Mach3 (the new revolutionary 3 blade razor) is now the fastest selling razor in Korea.
Oral B is the leading foreign brand toothbrush in the Korean market and with the launch of the new high tech 'CrossAction' toothbrush this month, Oral B's market share will continue to build against local competition.
Gillette Korea Ltd. is the largest seller of batteries in Korea with world famous brands such as Duracell and number 1 and 2 local brands, Rocket and Sunpower.
Braun continues to innovate the dry shaving market with new and advanced technologies in electrical shaving products and the rapidly growing oral care market of Braun / Oral-B electrical toothbrushes.
Parker and Waterman pens are the market leaders when it comes to premium writing instruments and the continual updating of old models in vibrant new colours as well as the introduction of new models will help keep these two brands popular among Korean consumers.
1stopKorea: Among the five most recent products introduced by Gillette, which one is the biggest seller in Korea?
John Bourke: The new Gillette Mach3 razor has been an outstanding success for the company, however the new Braun/Oral-B electric plaque removing toothbrush has been an tremendous performer as well.
1stopKorea: Looking back on your time here in Korea, what impressions will you bring back home with you?
John Bourke: Well, I think Korea is the hidden jewel of Asia. I just love Korea. I think it's a really neat and unique place. There are so many great things here and the people are great. In my experience, the Koreans are always friendly, always laughing and they're such great party people. So…I really have a high admiration for this race where a lot of people don't. I've also had the chance to meet so many international people and…I mean that's what the last 10 years has been about.
1stopKorea: How has living and working in Korea affected you? Do you find yourself wearing a Hanbok around the house and eating kimchi at 5:00 in the morning?
John Bourke: I have now worked in Korea for over 7 years, and I'm still wearing my first ever Hanbok! Still, to be honest I must say the taste of kimchi has never mellowed my sensitive palate however I do enjoy many different types of Korean food, dwen jang chi gae being my favourite.
Many foreign businesses come to Korea with the intention of 'changing' Korean ways to Western ways. This tends to be the failing of many foreign ventures. While I believe Korean businesses can learn a lot from Western business practices (i.e., corporate governance, transparency etc.) there are many things Western businesses can, but unfortunately don't, learn from the Koreans.
1stopKorea: Being the president of Gillette Korea, what atmosphere is reflected in the office? What I mean is, how much Western business philosophy do you incorporate, if any?
John Bourke: We try to integrate the Western ideals into areas of the business that require corporate reporting. Our work conditions, compensation and benefits are highly competitive within our industry and much of this is due to a Western work philosophy. We have also gotten rid of the ho bong title from salary increases.
1stopKorea: I'm sure our readers would be interested to learn your views on the differences between Korean and Western business practices. Could you give us a few examples?
John Bourke: Performance management is a Western business tool used by Gillette to reward and identify top performers, irrespective of age or sex. Many Korean companies still use the years of service (seniority) as a tool for promoting within.
Women are given equal conditions, salary and benefits in whatever position they are to their male counterparts. Many Korean companies still discriminate between the sexes.
After-hours entertainment and relationship building are used in Korea far more than most countries. Business in Korea is done on a networking and emotional basis whereas western countries operate more on a competitive and rational decision making basis.
1stopKorea: Do you have any advice or recommendations to foreign executives that might be coming to Korea for the first time?
John Bourke: Well my biggest issue in running business in Korea is not so much the Korean people but instead explaining to regional management, the people who don't come here much, how the place works. There are so many idiosyncrasies and nuances that happen in this market that are very hard to explain. What looks superficial or doesn't make sense to a Westerner all has rhyme or reason of why it is that way. So, I would say any executive coming here should have a high willingness to adapt.
Secondly, I think a big fault of many of the new executives is their attempt to be too ambitious because…this is not the market to bring a 'go-getter' into. While that works in other places it just doesn't work here. Too many want to rush in here and change the way thing are done rather than settle in and understand why things are done they way they are. In fact I'd suggest not to even change the color of a doorknob or garbage bin for at least 6 months. You need that much time to understand how things are done here.
1stopKorea: I know you are also the chairman of the Korean Cricket Association. What are your responsibilities and what do you hope to achieve?
John Bourke: I have played cricket for over 35 years and have a true love for the game. Its spirit of competitiveness and team building attributes are something that I have brought into my everyday life. My duties as chairman are to oversee the running of our local competition (run every spring and fall) and to continue to develop cricket through the Korean and international schools here in Korea. It is very much a weekend hobby for me but one that I enjoy doing.
1stopKorea: Last month Allan Border, one of crickets' best, made a two-day Ambassadorial tour to Korea to help promote the game on the Korean peninsula. Are there any other promotional plans in store that you'd like to let us know about?
John Bourke: The 'Allan Border Tour of Korea' was a tremendous success and has raised the knowledge and awareness of the game beyond our expectations in Korea. We are now planning as a committee to stage an international cricket sixes tournament in Korea later this year, probably in September or October out at the Seoul Olympic Rowing Village. This would see 12 international teams come to Korea to play a shortened version of the game staged over two days.
Additionally we would expect to see some former international test cricketers attending the event to raise awareness of the game in Korea. More and more Koreans are becoming interested and knowledgeable about the game.
Seung-Woo, the managing partner of Korea Arthur Andersen
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