Thomas Oh, senior executive vice-president  and chief operating officer of Kia Motors
Thomas Oh, senior executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Kia Motors
A view from Thomas Oh

Look to the moon and learn from Shakespeare: lessons from Kia boss Thomas Oh

"During times of great success, we should be prepared for the crescent moon- the uncertainties of the future. But when facing difficult times, it is encouraging to know a full moon will come around," says Kia Motors chief operating officer Thomas Oh, speaking to Marketing.

Treat people the way you’d like to be treated

Over the years, I have come to have faith in the human element as the most essential part of any business, because every decision-making process involves interaction with people, be it business partners, colleagues or customers. Being a good listener is a prerequisite to success and treating people the way you’d like to be treated is vital to gaining the trust of those who work for you.

I believe in the 7 Ps

Being proactive, precise, punctual, principled, positive and professional while prioritising at all times. Of these, the most important are to encourage my staff to be proactive in everything they do and to act professionally in any given situation.

Korea’s success is down to education and hard work

After the Korean War in the early 1950s, the entire Korean peninsula was devastated, with no infrastructure or natural resources. People from my parents’ generation found themselves in dire straits, and the human spirit of survival and Koreans’ inherent work ethic were the only resources available to rebuild the country. So education became the most important driver of the country’s development. In fact, those who say that many Koreans spend much of their earnings on their children’s education are not exaggerating, and this was the case with me. Korea has been able to thrive economically in recent decades based on such a strong emphasis on education and hard work. As a business leader, I believe investing in people is the most important way a company can ensure success.

Big business must learn from start-ups

Today’s start-ups, especially those in the digital field, have obviously had a dramatic impact on the media landscape, as well as consumer purchasing behaviour. They have rewritten the book on how companies must engage with consumers. Consumers are becoming numb to the messages that TV and print ads deliver. In this sense, the strength of digital marketing lies in the fact that consumers can relatively easily experience brands/products, which can lead to word of mouth through comments and sharing via digital platforms. Companies can use third-party opinion leaders, auto experts, bloggers and so on, providing more trustworthy information to sceptical consumers. 

Look to the Moon

There are times when the car business seems like a never-ending series of problems. This points to the sheer complexity of developing, producing, marketing, selling, and after-servicing an automobile – the second-most expensive purchase a typical person makes in their lifetime. But it also points to the extremely cyclical nature of the business. When facing downturns, I like to remind myself that the auto industry is like the Moon at night, which waxes and wanes from a full moon, to a half-moon, to a crescent moon and back to a half moon and a full moon once again. During times of great success, we should be prepared for the crescent moon – the uncertainties of the future. But when facing difficult times, it is encouraging to know that a full moon will come around.

Face challenges with your team

Unknown challenges await me every day. Understanding this and knowing I am in a position of responsibility to proactively overcome them with the great team of people around me provides me with all the motivation I need to start my day on a high note. 

Shakespeare taught me about hard work

During my college years, I was an active member of the acting club. One of my most cherished memories was a performance of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in which I played the principal antagonist Shylock. As a non-native English speaker, the countless hours I had to invest in practising, rehearsing and memorising my lines, all for a performance that lasted less than two hours, instilled in me the belief that nothing ever comes easy and everything needs to be earned through hard work and dedication. I have carried this into my daily life and try to lead by example by imparting to my staff this simple, but often overlooked, truth.

Finding sustainable growth

Although the Kia brand has grown remarkably, with global sales rising from 950,000 units in 2002 to 2.7m in 2012, I am facing one of the biggest challenges of my career: to ensure that we as an organisation do not rest on our laurels and lead a paradigm shift from dramatic quantitative growth to a more balanced path. While we at Kia would enjoy the chance to replicate the previous decade of staggering growth over the next 10 years, the real challenge lies in effecting a change in mindset across the organisation, so that we can create a truly sustainable business model centred on the customer experience with the brand at all customer touchpoints.

We sell before we produce

Pre-marketing is becoming more important in business, especially for automakers operating in this digital world where information is instantaneous and traditional venues for launching products, such as major motor shows, are losing their lustre. So communication for any new product should start well before it is manufactured and by leveraging all the new channels, like social media. We at Kia are making an effort to cut through the noise of the hundreds of vehicle launches every year, so stay tuned in for innovative early marketing activities for these.



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