first heard this from David Miller, outgoing managing director of Leo Burnett
Korea as I was coming in to the country as a managing partner with our
“Your best speakers are not
always your best employees“, he said, and went on to explain that
as a new foreign manager that I would have an immediate withdrawal reflex
and lean immediately on those who could speak English, bypassing a whole
building full of people who could possibly solve my problem. And he could not
have been more right. In America a manager might be challenged with
Spanish-speaking employees – and in other countries, a plethora of other
is a story from my Korean company, but the lesson can be applied to employees
from any culture, different from yours:
From Wild Wild
Kim was our motorbike delivery man at Leo Burnett. He was also a TV producer,
but as the low cub on the totem pole, was stuck with delivering tapes, first to
the censors, then to the TV stations at god-awful hours in the morning. But
Jinook’s boss, the head producer, was such a lazy-do-as-little-as-possible
staff, that I came to rely on Jinook for anything of importance.
His boss, a Mr. Park, had been trained at Columbia College in
Chicago, arguably the top broadcast school in the city, and it was obvious that
during his time in Chicago, he had done nothing but take the train from
Korea-town, attend class, and go back to Korea-town and drink beer with his
buddies at the end of the day. He could speak English but was creatively
worthless, had never been to a Bears, Sox or Cubs game and didn’t even know who
Al Capone was (I’m serious).
conversely, couldn’t speak a lick of English but spent his entire day in the
office, while waiting to do his evening editing and deliveries watching videos.
Hundreds of videos. I called him Tarantino, (he had no idea
what that meant) because Quentin Tarantino taught himself to write and direct
films by working in a video shop. Jinook had gone to a not very good trade
school and was treated like dirt by the other Koreans. He was also paid less
than even a secretary and was my lowest paid staff.
time I came to realize than Jinook’s talents lie not just in his technical and
creative ability, but in his negotiating skills in getting persnickety censors
to approve stuff at 4am.
day we had a huge issue with a Reebok commercial. The censors had rejected it
because it featured Shaquille O’Neal having his head shaved to reveal a Reebok
logo on the back of his head at the end. Harmless. But the censors had called
head shaving “degregating to the human spirit” and refused to put it
on air. We, of course, had just received the film from the US and put a Korean
voice over on it.
the next morning, I was apprised of the situation and informed by Jinook that
he had already created a solution. Remember, Jinook could speak no English to
me aside from things like video, movie and Spielberg.
showed me the revised cut and my jaw dropped. It was brilliant. “How, how,
how”, I said, “did you think of that?”, I asked him.
“Because, I know your mind”, he said, “I know your mind”.
had simply re-cut the commercial, using the same voice over to run the entire
film in reverse, beginning with Shaq and a Reebok logo on his head, and ending
with a happy Shaq and a full head of hair. Crisis averted. Censors appeased.
Jinook would go on to
teach himself English and become one of Korea’s top commercial film directors.
In his time at our company he increased his salary by 50% and earned a trip to
the US to produce our most expensive commercial to date. He also taught me that
in many jobs, language was not the most important part – but doing a fabulous
Everitt-Carlson – Partner/Friend, Infinite Wisdom Consulting.