Hyundai Motor Company sends ‘superstar’ executives to Cornell’s Johnson School in quest to enter Global Top 10 Intense eight-month program restricts family visits, demands academic excellence

In an attempt to become one of the world’s dominant automakers by the year 2000, the Hyundai Motor Co. in Korea is arming its future executives with the business acumen, skills and knowledge found only at an American university.

Hyundai has dispatched more than two dozen of its “superstar” executives to the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University for an eight-month stay to learn business management skills and gain a global perspective on manufacturing. The participants, who range in age from 37 to 50, are being groomed as the next generation of senior and top-level managers.

The Johnson School’s Hyundai program is the longest non-degree executive education program ever developed at Cornell and one of the longest ever developed by an American school.

However, the program is noteworthy not only for its length, but also for its stringent requirements: except for a brief vacation in July, participants have been forbidden to return to Korea or have their family members visit them here. Grade reports are being sent home to corporate headquarters.

Such requirements are designed to ensure that the motor company’s future leaders are performing to their fullest potential, with no excuse for failure.

“We see this program as an investment in Hyundai’s future,” said Carl Lee, the company’s director of human resources. “We want our future executives to have the skills needed to take advantage of the global opportunities that exist in areas such as marketing, finance and manufacturing and to fully understand the American government’s relationship to the business world.”

In addition, Lee said, the program addresses Hyundai’s belief that the company needs to reinforce and educate management personnel to be more competitive in the global marketplace.

Hyundai selected Cornell, Lee said, because it offered a prestigious name, a special emphasis on manufacturing and a strong reputation – especially in Asia – in the area of business management education. Two other Korean companies, the Korean Power Co. and a Po Huang Steel, have had contracts with Cornell for executive education programs and services.

Another vote in the university’s favor was its location: the rolling hills of New York’s Finger Lakes region, far away from the distractions of a big city such as New York. “We wanted them to be in a place where they can just study,” Lee said.

One Hyundai executive studying at Cornell said the restrictions – including the prohibition on family visits – are uncomfortable but necessary.

“There are a lot of benefits of being alone abroad,” said Yang-su Kim, an assistant general manager. “We are freed from the everyday job and family worries. Our mission is to study, and Ithaca is the best place for it. We can rethink ourselves and be more objective by being outsiders."

The Hyundai program marks a dramatic departure from the usual executive education programs offered by Cornell. Existing programs run from two days to four weeks, but no program in the history of executive education ever has lasted eight months.

“They wanted a very intensive and comprehensive program in which their executives could be fully immersed in a culture they seek to better understand,” said William J. Anderson, Cornell manager for the Hyundai program. The 25 executives were given a 12-week intensive English-language instruction program after arriving at Cornell in February. The curriculum included a two-week (May 27-June 8) module on the “American Experience,” which provided executives with an overview of American history, politics, government, culture and values. Participants also took a field trip to Washington, D.C., with tours of the White House, the Capitol and the Supreme Court.

The Hyundai executives now are spending 15 weeks (June 10-Sept. 27) learning about manufacturing, leadership and organizational development, corporate strategy and economics, as well as finance, marketing and accounting. As part of their training, they will visit several U.S. auto manufacturers, including Chrysler operations in Detroit.

For the remainder of the program (Sept. 30-Oct. 25), executives will receive additional English-language instruction and participate in advanced business seminars on selected topics.

The executives are being taught by faculty from the Johnson School, as well as from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, College of Engineering and College of Arts and Sciences.

The first task for the executives upon their return to Korea will be to sell their new ideas and skills in the workplace.

“It is usual to expect some sort of confrontation or argument when new ideas are introduced, but our company’s harmonious and cooperative environment can help resolve this,” said Young-jin Lee, a director at Hyundai who is part of the Cornell program. He suggested that continuous education programs at Hyundai’s facilities in Korea will help ensure these new ideas are accepted and implemented.

But it may not be long before the skills and ideas taught at Cornell are part of every Hyundai executive’s portfolio: Hyundai already is committed to sending a second group of executives to campus next year for a similar educational experience.

Hyundai Motor Co., with production facilities in 10 countries, including Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia and Egypt, plans to sell 1.2 million cars at home and about the same number abroad in the year 2000, for annual sales of $25 billion, more than double 1994 sales figures. To reach these goals, the company has made substantial investments in its production, research and development facilities. By 2000, the company plans to manufacture 500,000 cars annually overseas and 1.9 million cars domestically. Hyundai’s U.S. headquarters is located in Fountain Valley, Calif.