Kwon’s priority - making LG No. 1 again
As we were waiting for Kwon Young-soo to appear for an interview at his reception room adjacent to his office, we felt a mixture of eagerness and curiosity.
The team of four — three reporters and one photographer — were in anticipation to find out whether Kwon would be as outspoken as widely is reported and were curious to hear what interesting things he had to say.
Lately, Kwon is successfully helping his boss and LG Electronics CEO Koo Bon-joon in his fight against Samsung Electronics in a 3D television war.
Koo had needed something to call a victory over Samsung, which was once LG’s rival but now is far ahead of the troubled second best. LG’s internal trouble began because Nam Yong, the hired-gun CEO, failed to recognize the right timing to move on to smartphones, allowing Samsung and Apple to leap ahead.
Koo was called in to replace Nam. Kwon, known for his aggressiveness, a rare characteristic within LG’s culture of caution, is one of Koo’s top lieutenants.
Our waiting didn’t last long as the 54-year-old CEO of a key LG component maker entered by a side door.
Kwon wore no jacket with his blue shirt open at the neck, as he was probably yanked out of work for the interview.
When the photographer started to shoot, Kwon obviously was taken aback momentarily, pointing out that he was not ready to be photographed. His mild protest proved to be short-lived, as he appeared to be already engrossed in conversations with us even during a typical exchange of pleasantries.
In order to verify whether reports about his outspokenness were overrated or not, the first question was about Kwon being one of two LG CEOs who most resemble CEOS at Samsung.
The so-called Samsung men are known to be quite regimented, very methodical and purpose-oriented. In contrast, LG’s corporate culture is more tolerant.
Kwon smiled at first and admitted that he is aggressive but not in the same way as Samsung. Rather, he said that he cherished the LG culture that can be even more explosive when combined with the right factors.
When asked about rumors that he had a run-in with his boss, he shook his head firmly.
He said that one of his main duties is to serve his boss, adding that he can speak to his boss freely and he thanks him for that privilege.
If one expected more controversial comments the answer was a letdown but it was a confirmation not just in Korea Inc. but also in the corporate world of any other country that hierarchy is adhered to.
But Kwon showed his true colors when he spoke about LG’s 3D TV battle with Samsung.
He said that LG’s technology has prevailed, China choosing to adopt it over Samsung’s.
China’s adoption of LG’s 3D standard is the result of a couple of factors — first its superior technology and, equally important, marketing and PR strategies that helped steer top Chinese makers and vendors to the LG way, he said.
The U.S. is the next target, a consumer report giving LG a leg up, he said.
But he acknowledged that a pickup in 3D TV sales is important to make real LG’s victory because so far the consumers’ reactions have been tepid amid a global economic slump that has dampened TV purchases.
The expensive price also is cited as a reason.
Regarding the outlook of the global economy, Kwon was optimistic and a realist at the same time, saying the world’s economy is in a state of slower growth, not contraction.
But his company is still planning to invest but at a smaller scale than in the previous years. “We have to prepare for a climb in the cyclical curve,” he said, pointing out that those who don’t invest in down time can’t cope with increasing demand.
Kwon was the same as other CEOs of big firms in that one of his priorities as CEO is to secure talented people and maintain two-way communications with those who are under his command.
He said that a mid-level manager can be a bit rough and tumble with his junior officers but at the CEO level, it won’t work. “Rather, speaking with them as often as possible and sharing your thoughts so as to get them on the same page and the same line is the key,” he said.
As the interview came to an end, he posed with our group for a picture and after finishing a round of handshakes, he went back to work.
By all signs, he appeared to be ready for another long night. By all appearances, he knew that he, as CEO, was not just working for a paycheck but to create a legacy.
“When I joined the company, we were ahead,” he remembered. “I feel regretful toward my company seniors for allowing us to fall to second. I want to reverse the order and turn it back to the previous ranking — LG first and Samsung second.” He believed that he could help make it happen. We all know of the power of the “friendly competition” that contributed greatly to making Korea what it is now.