Jeff Johnson is not only the Managing Partner at JKR Advertising & Marketing, he also recently became the co-owner at Kia of North Grand Rapids. Along with many of his dealer counterparts, he was invited to tour the Hyundai-Kia facilities in South Korea … and he came back with an increased respect and perspective of the brands and the people.
It all started early on a Monday morning at the Orlando airport. “It didn’t take long to realize this wasn’t going to be a typical trip,” Johnson said. “We left Orlando about 9:30 in the morning on that Monday, and we didn’t arrive in Seoul until 6:30 the next evening. As you can imagine, we were exhausted. But as soon as we stepped off the plane, there was a paparazzi-like person snapping photos of our every move.” Eventually, Johnson and his new friends-to-be were bused to their hotel, where they were introduced to a tour guide who would follow them everywhere they went over the next two-plus days.
The following morning, things quickly got interesting as they were shuttled to the Namyang Design Center. “This large building is the workplace for 11,000 on-site engineers for both Kia and Hyundai,” Johnson recalled. “Upon our arrival we were shown a short film about Kia, then ushered into a room and told to hand over our cell phones. I found that to be a bit odd … until I found out what was happening next. Once we complied, we were allowed to view some of the Kia models coming in the near future, as well as some concept cars they are working on. After that, we were taken out to a track where we got to test-drive some of the models. As I looked around, I noticed that many of the cars still had the camouflage wrapping on them. Naturally, you can understand the secrecy involved here, but rest assured everything I saw was very, very impressive.”
After a memorable lunch at the luxurious Rolling Hills Hotel, it was back to the bus. Next stop, the Hyundai steel plant. “This place was massive,” Johnson said. “It is one of the largest in the world. They have an unbelievable, fully enclosed conveyor belt system that allows them to move raw materials across the facility. It’s the oldest steel company in Korea, and it produces a lot more than just sheet metal for cars.”
They arrived back at their hotel at about 5:45 and were promptly informed that a formal dinner hosted by Thomas Oh, Executive Vice Chairman of Kia Global Operations, would begin at 6:30 – and it was of utmost importance that they arrive on time for the event. “It is the custom for the host to greet every guest, so if someone was late, the host would not be allowed to go inside until the tardy person finally arrived. No one was late, and we enjoyed an incredible five-course meal, complete with a toast from Executive Vice Chairman Oh.” That, folks, was just the first day.
The next morning’s activities were kicked off with a visit to Kia Motors Corporation, Kia’s corporate offices. “Kia and Hyundai each have their own specific tower, and they share a very elaborate, ornate lobby area that features a number of both Kia and Hyundai models,” Johnson said. “We were given the history of Kia’s steady rise to global dominance. Did you know that it’s the 74th-most valuable brand in the world today?”
The rest of the day was spent checking out some of South Korea’s cultural spots, including the opulent Gyeongbokgung Palace. “Even though the building has not been completely restored to its past splendor, enough of it has been refurbished to make it a worthwhile piece of history to see,” Johnson commented. “We also did some street shopping at a place that was much like a giant bazaar in the United States.”
That evening’s dinner was particularly interesting for Johnson, as he was seated next to officials from Kia Motors Canada. “I discovered their market share is pretty similar to ours in the United States, and their businesses are much like ours in the states.”
The next morning saw Jeff board a plane in Seoul at 9:30 – and because of the time change actually arrive in Atlanta at 9:00! “It was a fun but exhausting two days,” he said.
Jeff Johnson the tourist was happy to once again be Jeff Johnson the husband, dad and business owner – back in his home country. Possessing 700-plus photos taken by his hosts, he has a detailed record of a trip he’ll never forget.