Sunday, January 15, 2012

Launching Anew at Samsung...and I'm moving to South Korea!!

All the way back at the beginning of my time at Darden, on our third day of orientation, we discussed a case with a special guest speaker: Dr. David Steel, Executive Vice President for Strategic Marketing at Samsung Electronics America.  Before returning to the US, Steel had spent ten years working for Samsung in Korea.  Steel began with two years in the Global Strategy Group, an incubator with a goal of producing international managers in Samsung with industry expertise, a strong appreciation for working across cultures, and a global business perspective.  Little did I know back then that I would be walking in his footsteps!

In my very first blog posting at Darden, I wrote about the travels I did between leaving my last job and matriculating at business school.  My trip was truly an eye-opening experience.  I wrote:
Between my job and Darden, I took a few months off to reset by travelling around-the-world. Literally. Over 63 days I visited 11 countries. I loved the cultural exposure one receives from seeing so many different places, and I now have a much greater appreciation for how big and diverse our world actually is.
The next step to becoming a global business citizen, naturally, would be to live and work abroad.  When I started at Darden, I wasn't even considering this possibility.  By living and working in the US my entire life, my mind was honed in on the straight-and-narrow path of staying domestically after my two years in school.  When at home on a break during first year, my father suggested the possibility of going abroad, maybe to Europe.  I told him this sounded interesting...then submerged the thought deep in the back of my mind.  I didn't have any idea how to enable an international career or what this might provide me.

A way to enable this rapidly became clear during fall recruiting: the Samsung Global Strategy Group was recruiting full-time employees at Darden.  I attended the company briefing and rapidly became fascinated with some of the company's new cleantech business ventures: $21 billion into rechargable batteries, solar cells, and new LED technologies, $5 billion into reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and producing more environmentally friendly products, and $6 billion into solar and wind energy projects in Ontario, Canada and California.  I learned that the Samsung conglomerate does far more than produce cell phones, TVs, and PCs; it also constructs skyscrapers, builds ships, and writes insurance.  I saw a company with a vast global footprint and the courage to commit to huge initiatives.

My winter holiday travels included a visit to the Samsung Experience store along New York's Columbus Circle

I talked with a couple Darden alums in the program and decided to take a flyer by dropping a resume.  The objectives of the interview process were clear: demonstrate problem solving skills, a clear communication style, and the ability to acclimate into the Korean culture.  The interviews were tough and I was shocked to receive the offer!

At that point, a really tough decision needed to be made.  Would I be willing to put aside everything from my life in America — my family, friends, and memories — and start anew in a foreign land?  The reality is though I've been to many places around the world, I've never visited Korea.  I once enjoyed the Korean BBQ restaurants along the DC Beltway, had a night of karaoke with a group of Korean students in Hawaii, and worked with a Korean guy at my old company, but clearly my life's experiences fall far short of giving me an idea for whether I can hack it as a foreigner in Seoul.

I did everything I could to try to wrap my head around this decision.  I interrogated the Darden alums at length about what makes someone happy to work at Samsung.  I talked to everyone that I knew who had visited Korea.  I consulted my family, my friends, and my close advisers in my network.

I also watched Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement speech several times.  A few passages stood out for me:
You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life...
...You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle...
...Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

From this speech, I saw a few key lessons.  First, I saw in Jobs' speech the importance of passion to doing great work and how this must be motivated from within.  In addition, I saw that although I might not know exactly where this adventure called "life" might be taking me, if my direction feels right then I'm probably doing well.  After all, you can't plan your life like a chess game and know every possible future outcome.  Had I not chosen to apply to business school, I would have never received an interview to work for Samsung.  Had I not traveled around the world prior to my MBA, I probably would not have been considered seriously for the position. 

Desiring to be thorough in developing a framework for evaluating my choices, I wrote out a long list of pros and cons for taking the offer.  Reasons to consider other opportunities included: "far away from home / potential for extreme loneliness"; "potential misalignment with culture of a big company"; "cultural/language barriers"; and "potential delay in starting a family" (I'm currently 29 years old).  All valid concerns.  Basically, this might not work, and I would be a long way from reentering my comfort zone if it did not.

However, the reasons to accept seemed stronger: "global experience"; "large investments in green energy"; "the opportunity excites me"; "like a 3rd year of an MBA program"; and "I don't feel that I'm settling".

But the biggest reason to accept, by far, was the potential regret factor.  Would I be second-guessing myself in the future if I didn't accept?  Certainly such an opportunity would never come again.  I was excited about moving abroad, and the inner voice inside me woke up for several weeks telling me that moving to Korea was the right thing to do.  I wouldn't be able to fully connect the dots forward to figure out where I would end up after joining Samsung, but I knew that looking back I might be wondering why on earth I didn't stick my neck out and take a chance when I was 30.

Author Mark Twain once said:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

And the decision to accept the offer was, all of a sudden, simple.

I have felt an incredible rush since accepting the Samsung offer.  I'm pinching myself as I can't fully believe that this is true.  Have you ever had that funny feeling after you make a big decision that everything you read confirms your decision to be the correct one?  For instance, I read a Poets & Quants article profiling Darden's Bob Bruner (congrats on Dean of the Year!!).  The article states that Bruner "sees globalization as the new inflection point for management education."  It then goes on to talk about Darden's strategy shift from making students "globally aware" to being "globally ready."  The topic of globalization featured prominently in Darden's application essay this year.  I'm also reading a book right now titled "Passion & Purpose", written by a group of recent Harvard MBAs to talk about the shifts in how new business leaders view the world.  Globalization is one of the key themes shaping emerging leaders in the book.  In a survey of 510 MBA students from top schools, the authors find that the average student has worked in 3.8 countries prior to business school.  I have worked in only one — so I am behind!

I have a great appreciation for the international students at Darden who were willing to take two years away from their homelands to receive a top business education in the US.  I now plan to mirror their experience abroad.  A classmate of mine, an American that worked in China prior to Darden, tells me that I will need six months abroad before I can tell whether I am able to hack it overseas.  In August 2012, I start this voyage of self-discovery when I move to Seoul, South Korea.

When applying to business schools, I cast a cynical eye towards claims that the MBA could truly be "transformational."  I believe this now.  Without a Darden MBA, the upcoming chapter of my life simply wouldn't be possible.