When trying to develop a business with Korean companies such as clients, distributors, suppliers or partners, it is very important to understand from the beginning whether the Korean contact has the authority and ability to decide regarding the deal, transaction or the issue in question.

The structure of a typical Korean corporate is very hierarchical. The company is headed by the CEO or President and when under them there are many positions, some with general or specific executive authority, some positions are grouped into a work and administration teams and there are even unofficial representative positions.

The hierarchy in South Korean corporations is expressed not only in the powers given to the various employees, but also in the type of titles given to them. These titles do not always exist or correspond to the titles accepted in the Western labor market. It is interesting to share in this context that the employees of a Korean corporation do not call each other by their first name but by the name of their rank or title.

Understanding and knowing the rank and title of the Korean contact is critical to the development of successful business with the Korean companies. As mentioned, this is not always simple and it is necessary to examine the title according to the internal role structure of the Korean company. The difficulty is that it cannot be learned from a meeting or a number of meetings with the Korean companies.

One of the simpler ways to learn with the true rank and title of the Korean contact is by examining his/her business card. Usually a business card of Korean employees is double-sided, one in Korean and the other in English. When examining the side in the Korean language in most cases it will be possible to know if the contact has authority and executive ability. Care should be taken in this regard to rely on the role described on the side in the English language as as stated above in many cases does not correspond to the Korean rank or title.

The following is a list of titles and ranks with executive authority in Korean corporations:

  • 회장 (HoiJang) - Chairman
  • 부회장 (BooHoi Jang) - Vice Chairman
  • 사장 (Sa Jang) - President / CEO
  • 대표이사 (DaePyo EeSaa) – No English equivalent but can correspond to President / CEO
  • 전무이사 (JunMoo EeSa) - No English equivalent but can correspond to Executive VP/CFO/COO
  • 상무이사 (SangMoo EeSa) - No English equivalent but can correspond to VP/Managing Director/COO
  • 이사 (Ee Sa) - Director

There are titles and ranks that seem to have executive authority, mainly because their English-language counterpart sometimes has such authority. While they may not have executive authority the Korean contacts with such title can be still very relevant and valid for the development of the business:

  • 부장 (BooJang) - Division Head/Senior Manager
  • 차장 (ChaJang) - Deputy Head of Division/Senior Manager

This is not an exhaustive list and there are additional titles and ranks, but it can be said with almost certainty that if you meet and try to develop a business relationship with a contact with one of the above ranks, the chances of developing an effective relationship increase and so does the chance of closing a deal.

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