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Another Korean Carmaker Gets Its House Cleaned

Posted by: David Kiley on February 11, 2008

If I’m one of the Big Three automaker, or one of the leading Japanese auto companies, I’m showing very limited fear of Koreans Hyundai and Kia.

Kia’s Korean management over the weekend appaarently threw some kind of a hissy fit, resulting in the ouster of CEO Len Hunt and marketing chief Ian Beavis. That shake-up came two months after Hunt was elevated to CEO from COO. Hyundai last year, of course, parted ways with its COO, Steve Wilhite, after less than a year on the job. The COO before that was axed shortly after promotion, as well.

Hunt’s and Beavis’s “resignations” were announced at the annual meeting of the National Automobile Dealers Association. Hunt replaced Peter Butterfield, who was fired as CEO of Kia Motors America at a dealer meeting in October 2005.

Talk to most Americans during informal off-the-record moments who have worked for the two Korean car companies and you get a picture of management that is at worst, crazy, and at best, impatient to the point of screwing up any continuity of management.

Kia sales last year were up 3.8% in a tough year. Sales of the Sorento SUV were way down by 28%, and Sedona minivan sales were down by about as much in a very tough year for minivans. But sales of the new Rondo crossover redesigned Sportage SUV made up for the decline in demand for the bigger vehicles.

We frequently hear ambitious sales targets for Hyundai and Kia. I suspect they won’t reach them in the U.S. until Korean managers grow up and put stability ahead of ego and a headstrong and dictatorial culture.

Reader Comments


February 11, 2008 1:45 PM

put your prejudice aside and write a composed piece


February 11, 2008 2:03 PM

I don't think I would put all the blame on the Koreans, most of it perhaps. But one must consider just what kind of semi-civilized barbarians would go to work for them, most likely with the usual American bluster/attitude baggage of 'do it my way or don't bother me'--and 'I am not about to learn your language or respect your customs'...


February 12, 2008 8:58 PM

Boy, most of the guys that have been shown the door at Hyundai/Kia have been pretty highly respected at the car companies from whence they came. I've gotta agree with David on this one: any place that has that much turnover at the top has some serious issues back at their world HQ. Their product continues to impress, however...


February 13, 2008 2:01 PM

I think the Koreans might need to learn our culture. They fire people with no warning and give no explanation to their dealer body. Not the way things work here. And by the way Len Hunt was British and Beavis was Australian so I don't think American Bravado had anything to do with it.


February 14, 2008 1:27 PM

This is only prejudiced (pre-judged) if the beliefs were held prior to experience with the carmakers in question. If it comes from second or third hand sources it is at worst hearsay. If it comes from direct experience it is, if reported accurately, simply fact. To judge by those I know who have worked with these companies and are both educated and culturally sensitive, these conclusions are accurate.


February 15, 2008 10:37 AM

First of all, regarding the kinds of people working for the Koreans with "American Bluster"--Len Hunt is not an American, he's from England.

I wish we could get the real story--is it based on poor sales performance (which is certainly not 100% valid given that Kia is up in sales) or is it the "soap on a rope" commercial upsetting the Koreans?

It's close to impossible to identify a great performance in the auto sector right now--3.7% increase sounds good when you look at most brands, but I'm guessing Kia holds itself to a higher standard.

I do believe that Len Hunt has done an excellent job and has provided clear leadership. The Koreans are rolling the dice that they can do better.


February 15, 2008 1:54 PM

When you see grown men in business suits toss cow dun on American Beef in protest, you can't help but wonder why Korea even exists. Or watch as they rip a live pig apart in yet another protest against NAFTA. Korean civilians are not civilized enough to even send a grown man to prison for raping an eight year old child. Grow up or shut up Korea!


February 15, 2008 9:29 PM

That was a composed piece. It's a perfect description of what happens in Korea. A small example: Working for a Korean Car company, I misplaced my phone. We looked everywhere and it could not be found. I called my own number and someone answered then quickly hung up. Discussing this issue, I stated three **possibilities**: 1. It was taken. 2. It was found and thrown away. 3. It was found but the person didn't speak English and didn't know what to do about the phone. After a day-and-a-half, I figured the phone was gone.

Mind you, these were still just possibilities. Just stating these possibilities - that an employee there would even consider possibly taking or throwing away a phone - created unsolveable problems with several of the people.

This *IS* how many people in Korea think. It's not brain storming/problem solving for them, it's insulting to even consider all the possibilities.

People doing business in Korea would do well to keep this in mind and self-censor.

Add to this that Korean businesses are often not integrated (If Jinsu is out, nobody can do his job because nobody knows what he was doing. Anything to do with Jinsu just has to wait till he gets back.) because it is considered insulting to question what someone is doing. The implication is you must think they must be doing something wrong if you are asking.



February 24, 2008 5:23 AM

Is that really WORST ?
How can a journalist write that way?
It's even, as described, off the record that makes the image of Kia or Hyundai so bad to peopl who doesn't know the truth.

Also, I wouldn't agree with example of 'EXPAT' It's just funny to read that kind of story believed to represent Korea.

It makes to think that People seriously should have a wide view when looking things happening around the world so they not being fooled.

Whatever the truth or lie is, we'll see how Kia makes progress in what they are doing.

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