I came to Korea to live only five months ago, but I’ve been coming here for three years. Also, I’ve been following Korean music for many, many years. I like Miss A and Big Bang in particular.
2. That’s very cool. What was the initial impression when you first visited here?
From outside before you come here, it feels like a very tough country to get to know because it’s not like Hong Kong or Singapore. But when you come here, it’s a very welcoming city, extremely different from what I expected. People are very warm and welcoming, and the culture is quite dynamic. I think it’s underestimated how wonderful it is. But when you come here, you can really feel it straight away.
3. I think you have some cultural difference that demands your adjustment. Do you have any situation, or episode, that stays in your mind?
Korea is my 13th country that I’ve lived in, and each country has its own cultural dynamics. One thing that really resonates with Korea is that I go running a lot particularly in Namsan Park, and I find that if I smile when I run, everyone smiles back. But if I don’t smile, then people don’t smile back as well. I find that it’s important culturally here. Thus, if you’re a foreigner, it’s important to engage. Then people will engage back. Also, the food is wonderful and the people are very proud of their country as well.
4. As you said, there are huge number of places to see, eat, and enjoy in Seoul. So, do you have any particular favorite place?
So much choice and I haven’t begun in only five months to really discover everything. But I’ve been everywhere, from the south the river in Gangnam area, to Itaewon, to this area near the palace, it’s beautiful. One thing that I love doing is walking and jogging, and so I can see the city is very easy to get around. You can go by taxi, metro, or walk, or bicycle as well. So, there’s a lot of choices.
5. Now, I’d like to start discussing about ANZ Korea. So, what was the main consideration when you first decided to move into Korea?
ANZ has been in Korea for 40 years, and we’re the only real Australian bank, amongst the top Australian banks, to be in Korea. And also we have a big business across all of Asia, from Singapore to Hong Kong and to China. So, Korea is a very important market because there are a lot of Korean companies looking to invest also outside Korea, into Australia, into Vietnam, and into Indonesia. And they need a partner, a bank they can trust. A bank that understands both Asia and Korea. So, it’s a real honor for me to be here, to lead the team and make sure that we add real value to the customers we’re looking after.
6. I see. So, I noticed that in Korea there are other foreign banks, such as Standard Charted or Citibank, that are more fully focused on personal service to individual customers, while ANZ is more focused on B2B business, such as transaction banking or special financing. So, do you have any plan to expand your business into the Korean B2C market as well?
The focus for me is to really make a difference to the clients and when I look at the retail business, there’s a lot of competition and a lot of very good banks from Shinhan Bank to KB in Korea. If I felt that we could bring something new, then of course I would look at it. But I think the main thing is, we have an existing business and I think we can still get better in doing what we are doing today. There’s still room for improvement. When we reach perfection someday, then I could look at other ideas. But at the moment my focus is really to improve what we already have at the moment. There’s still a lot of scope to improve.
7. I see. In your office, what is the workforce proportion between Koreans and foreigners and do you have any special aspects that you consider when you work with them?
We have only three foreigners and so about 95% is Korean, most of them women. They are the hardest workers, even more than Korean men generally. (laugh) I think it applies to many people that when you come to work, you want to feel valued and respected and to understand what your role is and what’s the purpose of your organization. ANZ is very clear on our role, our purpose, and what the role is for each of the team. We also have a measure to see how the staff feel about working and I see the scores are improving. But there’s still work to be done. But I think respect is very important and being open too.
8. How do you value the geographical advantage of Korea being in Asia?
It’s very critical, particularly in such a modern society as now. So, I think the value of the Korean is increasing all the time, more on the intellectual level rather than just labor. So, I think Korea is going through a transition as well, with the steel industry and ship building for example. There are challenges to them. But there is also a lot of great creativity. Whether it’s in TV program, in drama, in textiles, in design, or in Fintech for banking as well, that’s changing very quickly—Kakao Pay is one of the products of these great companies for example. So, I’m very excited about the next few years for Korea. But there’ll be some transition. Like anything, the society has to keep evolving.
9. I agree. And I know that you are really an expert in this industry with more than 20 years of experience and as you said you have lived in many other Asian cities, such as like Brunei or Vietnam. So, is there any other different residential condition in Seoul compared to other Asian cities?
I have to say the speed. When I arrived, the speed of getting everything set up was very fast, extremely fast, very efficient, very friendly. So, whether it’s setting up the Wi-Fi, the cable, or the mobile phone, or getting a car, driving license, all of that, it was just so quick. It was extremely fast. So, I’m very grateful. I think it’s partly because of my position, but also the system here is very efficient. Every country has its own beauty, but one thing about Seoul was the extremely fast speed. It’s a big city though, so I still have a lot more to discover about the whole city.
10. I read your article posted on LinkedIn, titled “Feeling Lucky in a New Country.” Do you still have the conviction that “What makes such a transition a happy one, is to always remember that “you are the lucky one”?
Yeah, absolutely. For any foreigner, especially if you come in a leadership position. I’ve seen many examples where some leaders come in thinking they deserve the position, that the company is lucky, or the country is lucky. This is completely mistaken. At any time, we’re very fortunate. There are so many people that would love to do my job, so I’m very lucky to have this job, and I’m lucky to have this experience, to live and work in Seoul for a few years. It’s important to appreciate that there’s other people that would want your job, no matter what level. It’s important to always remember that.
11. Finally, please share some advice that you would give potential investors looking to invest in Seoul.
I was in Australia recently, and I met some of ANZ, our bank’s clients who are interested in Korea. My first advice is, “Did you visit?” Many of them have not visited, but they want to visit. The first step, I think for any investor is, you have to visit because it will blow you away. Then the next part is to think about what model you want to do. Do you want to just set up a shop here, or an office here, or a factory here? Is it to serve Korean consumers, or is to export? Because there’s many good export programs, such as the K-sure or KEXIM support. I think you have to be clear on the model. Then, do you need a partner, or do you want to be by yourself? Both models can work. It’s just up to the foreign investor to be a bit clear. But the first step has to be you have to visit this beautiful city and then develop your plan.