Learning from the South Koreans

19 September 2011

European competitors adopt South Korean work practices to remain competitive in the Middle East

There is an old adage in the entertainment industry that states it usually takes around 20 years to become an overnight success. With South Korean engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractors, it has taken even longer – 30 years.

The recent success enjoyed by the South Koreans in the Middle East EPC plant market has taken decades of hard work and also a considerable amount of risk. The risks have paid off. Almost $50bn-worth of work is now under execution by South Korean contractors in the region, which is almost $35bn more than its nearest rival, Italy.

What is refreshing is that many Western competitors are now putting aside tired old stereotypes associated with the South Koreans and are expressing genuine respect for their business model.

The South Korean’s model is not about aggressive pricing coupled with hard work. It is far more complex and sophisticated than that.

Many contractors from the US and Europe have now realised that while their engineering capabilities are world-class they could learn a lot from their competitors in Seoul when it comes to procurement and construction.

Forming extremely close links to suppliers during procurement and implementing affective project management strategies does contribute massively to making the difference between South Korean success and failure. 

But it is simply being prepared to take the risk to bid low and execute well that is the real game changer. The day Western contractors are prepared to do that is the day they will start to win work again.

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