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Samsung's Year Abroad

A woman uses a Samsung Galaxy Tab device in Accra, Ghana

Photograph by Alfredo Caliz/Panos Pictures

A woman uses a Samsung Galaxy Tab device in Accra, Ghana

I recently wrote an article about Samsung Electronics and its 20-year evolution from second-rate TV maker to world’s largest electronics company. Manufacturing prowess and engineering excellence have contributed to Samsung’s successes, but another factor is a relentless drive to become a global company. And to achieve that, Samsung (005930:KS) goes to some pretty extreme lengths to understand the countries it operates in.

At the core of Samsung’s globalization effort is what’s known as the regional specialist program. Since 1990, Samsung has identified promising young employees and sent them abroad for one year. Many companies dispatch employees to the four winds, but in Samsung’s case, the program is distinguished more by what the employees don’t do when they arrive in their appointed country.

“They don’t work,” says Tae Gyun Shin, president of Samsung’s Human Resources Center. “They are given three missions: Learn the local language, learn the local culture, and become an expert in their specialty.” Since the program began 23 years ago, Samsung has sent more than 5,000 employees to more than 80 countries.

Shin himself is a product of this system, having gone through the program in 1995. He was sent to America, where he lived in southern Florida, Philadelphia, and San Diego. He traveled around the country, visiting 40 states by the time his year was up, and took classes at Florida State University and Wharton.

“After a year, I got a global perspective,” says Shin. “The regional specialist program is about enhancing one’s capabilities.” Referring to his cultural education as well as the classes he took in the U.S., Shin’s thoughts turn to Lee Kun Hee, Samsung’s chairman. “The Chairman has a saying: Kill five birds with one stone,” he says. “Do not only achieve one purpose; achieve multiple purposes.”

Grobart is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek and the managing editor of Bloomberg Digital Video. Follow him on Twitter @samgrobart.

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