Hyundai Motor America CEO, leading execs headline Asia Business Conference

March 8, 2013

Entrepreneurship and Innovation Panelist Wesley Hom greets Dean David Schmittlein

Entrepreneurship and Innovation Panelist Wesley Hom greets Dean David Schmittlein

The “Engines of Asia” were at full throttle at the third annual MIT Sloan Asia Business Conference, held at the MIT Media Lab last weekend.

Nearly 200 people attended the one-day conference, which featured several prominent MIT Sloan alumni as panelists and speakers who candidly discussed some of the benefits and trials of doing business in Asia.

The conference theme, “Engines of Asia,” referred to the region’s “very robust growth rate that has helped to expand the global economy,” said Chengran Chai, LGO ’13, one of the conference’s three student co-chairs.

Home to 4.2 billion people, Asia faces distinct challenges in media, technology, and perception in culture when it comes to doing business there. MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Peter Kurzina moderated the Entrepreneurship and Innovation panel, where he asked panelists Wesley Hom, Peter Y. Li, and Anis Uzzaman (see here for speaker bios: http://mitasiaconference.org/speakers/) what the key ingredients to successful innovation in Asia are, as compared to some of the more mature world markets.

Li mentioned that the “capacity to innovate” is imperative, and fellow panelist Hom followed up with the idea that “collaboration” is a real challenge. “That’s the biggest difference in the system here,” he said. “In Boston, Silicon Valley, and New York, the culture set is to be innovative. You have to collaborate. I think that’s one of the challenges in China … a lot of it is because the school and education system doesn’t teach that. They are trying to change.”

Kurzina asked about the concept of failure and the panelists agreed that “failure is not an option” in the Asian culture. Hom recalled how his mother admonished him in high school for receiving a 94 in his Advanced Placement calculus class. “Many of you here are Chinese,” he said. “Failure is not accepted. You know that. Getting an ‘A’ is good. Getting an ‘A-’ is failure,” he said to knowing laughter in the audience.

Uzzaman agreed that many Asian families encourage their children to be doctors and lawyers, as opposed to being entrepreneurs, and Li said it’s difficult to overcome the longtime cultural challenges. The panel also addressed the ongoing question many international MBAs face when they have the choice of staying in the United States or going back home to Asia.

A success story

Hyundai Motor America president and CEO John Krafcik, SM ’88Hyundai Motor America president and CEO John Krafcik, SM ’88

In a lunchtime keynote address, MIT Sloan alumnus John Krafcik, SM ’88, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor USA, discussed how the Korean automobile maker overcame a disastrous debut in the United States in the mid-1980s to land at its most recent success with an all-time February sales record last month.

“It used to be that Hyundai was off the radar screen of a lot of our competitors,” he said. “That’s no longer the case.”

Krafcik, who joined Hyundai in 2004, outlined several factors that have made the car company successful—diligence, frugality, and harmony.

“We refer to ourselves as the hardest working car company on the planet,” he said. “And that’s not enough. But, it’s something that’s very necessary for success.”

Success for Hyundai has not been overnight, he pointed out, and the long road to accomplishment for the automobile maker was helped in part by Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung’s optimistic mantra, “Have you tried?”

“Just thinking positively, is often the way to get things done,” Krafcik said.

The Asian Business Conference was sponsored by NTT DOCOMO; Sohu.com; Hyundai; Pfizer; and Midtown Properties.