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Ex- Homeplus executive shares leadership knowhow

"10 Leadership Lessons to Win and Grow” by Hee-man Harry Ahn (Amazon)

Hee-man Harry Ahn, who worked in various managerial positions at South Korean discount chain Homeplus shares his experience as a leader in his book “10 Leadership Lessons to Win and Grow.”

The majority of his tips are based on leading different divisions as an executive at Samsung Tesco, the Korean subsidiary of the world’s third retailer Tesco since 2001. Ahn worked for almost twenty years at the company. In 2011, Samsung Tesco changed its name to Homeplus.

On top of this, he also shares stories about being a leader while serving in the military for fifteen years, after graduating from the Korea Military Academy.

“In the military, I became a leader for the first time. That was when I realized the need for leadership training,” Ahn told The Korea Herald. “At the time, I looked through lots of books about leadership and also took classes.”

He added that he wanted to write a book about leadership that is compatible with Korean business culture.

Ahn first published “10 Leadership Lessons to Win and Grow” in Korean in 2018 and the book’s English version came out this March.

“I published the book in English for leaders of multinational companies entering Asian countries, particularly Korea,” Ahn told The Korea Herald. “There are many multinational companies in Korea like Google nowadays. The leaders of multinational firms tend to apply global standards to Korean workers. When I was working for Samsung Tesco, the headquarters also tried to enforce some of the global standards for us to follow. We had to explain that the culture is different here and some of them do not fit.”

Before explaining the 10 lessons, the book defines what good leadership is. In this part, the author emphasizes that a leader must know their authorities and responsibilities.

The book argues that it is crucial for leaders to know their legitimate powers and use them wisely. Moreover, Ahn also said the leaders can distribute authority and tasks to their followers but they also have to know that leaders are the ones who should take ultimate responsibility.

In the chapters detailing the 10 lessons in the book, Ahn touches on different factors that leaders should have and provide to their teams, including having clear values as well as providing clear vision and mission. In this part, he especially emphasizes that the leader must value people.

“Some companies manage their employees solely based on financial terms. They consider employees to be costs. This way it is hard to lead people successfully,” he said.

Moreover, Ahn shares his own efforts to recognize individual members in the company and encourage them to voluntarily contribute to the company’s vision.
"10 Leadership Lessons to Win and Grow” author and former Homeplus executive Hee-man Harry Ahn (Yonhap)

“I thought that executives should know all the employees,” Ahn said. “So, at the end of the year, I wrote letters to all of my employees. Everyone received different letters. I started preparing this after work in July. In the process, I realized that I did not have many interactions with some of my staff. Then I would have a tea time or meeting with them to get to know them better. This employee recognition process is important for a good leader.”

More detailed examples based on his experiences are included in the book.

When explaining the 10 lessons in the book he also is not afraid to share his mistakes or misunderstandings as well as success stories.

For instance, he talks about a meeting with an executive of the country’s top instant noodle maker Nongshim. During the meeting, he joked about how Nongshim was doing well in the market without much effort thanks to one instant noodle product that it created 30 years ago. Ahn said in the book that the Nongshim executive immediately expressed that he was uncomfortable about Ahn’s comment and said employees and the company’s chairman are working hard to maintain and improve the product’s quality.

Through talking to Nongshim’s executive, Ahn learned that to maintain one’s position as the leader of an industry, it is crucial to constantly work toward a clear vision.

By Song Seung-hyun (