MEETINGS to last no more than 30 minutes; junior staff allowed to speak freely with superiors; a cut in bonuses for bosses whose teams do not take enough holidays. Since 2012 “Pride”, a handbook, has set a new tone for the internal culture of Hyundai Capital. Departments whose staff work latest into the evening are listed on the firm’s intranet: not to hold them up as models of hard work, but to tell them off for not working efficiently enough.

It is a striking departure from the norm for the consumer-finance arm of one of South Korea’s most culturally conservative chaebol, the country’s giant family-owned conglomerates. Established during Japanese rule of the peninsula (1910-45), most of the chaebol were fashioned in the working style of Japan’s pre-war zaibatsu, huge industrial companies; many chaebol founders were also educated in Japan, and their successors still have connections there. Lifetime employment, hierarchical management and pay based on seniority rather than performance all struck a chord with Korean Confucianist…Continue reading