All about the work

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Sunday, May 25, 2014


“This guy is easily around 30 years old,” some people would be quick to jump to conclusions. “I get that a lot,” replies 46-year-old Kim Sungwook, almost with a smile on his face, evidence of a delight he tries to suppress.

Sungwook is the newly appointed general manager for the Cebu branch office of Korean airline carrier Asiana Airlines Inc. The air transportation company is currently based in Seoul, Korea, and has been in business for about 25 years. At present, Sungwook is assigned to handle the sales and operations for the airline. His duties include overseeing the flights that take off daily from Cebu, Philippines, to Seoul, South Korea, and vice versa.

For a man who has dedicated a huge part of his life working for a single company, Sungwook has certainly managed to appear young and happy. Even until today, stress seems to have not caught up with him since 1993, the year he first joined Asiana. Back then, he did several jobs such as check-in agent at one point and supervisor for the operations control during another. Doing the math, Sungwook has been with Asiana for around 20 years.

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“I have a degree in foreign languages, major in English, when I studied at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies,” Sungwook recalls. “Although, I am not very good at that until now,” he quips with regard to his mastery of the English language.

“When I graduated, I applied for work with the Kumho Asiana Group. We applicants had no ‘power’ to select what kind of work we would end up doing. But all I knew was that I wanted to work for this company. It was then after awhile that I learned, that I was assigned to work for Asiana Airlines, a Kumho subsidiary,” he says.

As an online description suggests, Kumho Asiana Group is a large South Korean conglomerate, with subsidiaries in the automotive, industry, leisure, logistic, chemical and airline fields. Asiana Airlines is one of the many sister companies of Kumho. According to Sungwook, Kumho has a tremendous name value in Korea, and therefore to be affiliated with the group offers an aspiring individual a sense of accomplishment and prestige in varying degrees. He adds that the welfare services and benefits for the workers are top-class as well, and all these have been essential to his many years with the company.

After a few years juggling logistical paperwork with sales and contracts, he learned the ropes of what it took to excel in his field of work. Sungwook, at one point, was promoted as senior manager of airport operation at the Asiana Airlines headquarters.

After two years, he had his first international appointment as general manager for operation in the company’s Vietnam office. He spent four years there helping improve the company’s system under his watch. After that, he was assigned back to Korea for three years overseeing ground handling contracts. Then, just last year in June, he was assigned here in Cebu as the general manager for sales and operation.

As a boss, Sungwook has his goals set.

“Last year, we flew about 150,000 passengers in and out of Korea. I think that’s very nice,” he shares. “But I would like to grow that number, maybe provide more seats—maybe request for another aircraft—a bigger one, to be able to seat more passengers.”

Not surprisingly, one of the things he first noticed that was different with the working environment in Cebu, was how people often smiled. “In Korea, the smile was up to the face. Here in Cebu, I feel like smiling comes from the heart.”

“The smiles of the Cebuanos—all the faces were just encouraging,” he describes his impression. “Sometimes, we Koreans may come across too strict or too focused at work, but people here seem to know how to live their own lives with pleasure.”

This observation, supported by many other factors as well have all the more inspired Sungwook to go for the gold with regard to his company’s presence in Cebu: “Customer satisfaction through superiority in safety and service,” borrowing from the company’s management vision.

“I would like to call it ‘service beyond expectation,’” Sungwook says of his desire for the company’s work output. “This is our strongest ‘item’ in Asiana; to improve the service that passengers will be happy and that they will continually avail of our services.”

Besides work, Sungwook is learning how to live life in Cebu. A lifestyle that is more tropical in nature, the sweating is something he and his family had to get used to at first. Along with getting warmed up to the weather, pun intended, the Kims are learning how to dine in Cebu as well.

“I’m not sure I can recall what the food is called, but what I did for the few months I was here was that I would take photos of the food with my phone, and whenever I would dine out, I’d show the waiter the photo and ask if it was on the menu,” Sungwook light-heartedly shares.

Besides food trips, he takes his family on long road trips during his days off, as well as going as far as Bogo or Moalboal to experience nature at its finest. And if long road trips are out of the question, a good game of basketball is his best recreational option. A leader as well on the court, his knack for leading has made its way to the game. Standing at 5’8’’, he enjoys playing the point guard position, setting up plays for his teammates.

Then of course, his mastery of the dialect is starting to grow as well, with members of the local staff working with him giving him “lessons.”

“One word or phrase a day,” Sungwook shares. “Gimingaw ko nimo,” he says perfectly in Bisaya (“I miss you” in English). Incidentally, although he is enjoying life in Cebu, he terribly misses his father who is back home in Korea. Visiting him one of these days is surely on Sungwook’s bucket list.

Sungwook is definitely blessed with a stable career and seems to be excelling at it.

His secret? “Discipline. The company has a set of regulations and policies which I simply abide by. Sometimes it can be very tough. But I always remind myself that these guidelines are what I simply have to follow.”

Looking at his 20 years with Asiana Airlines, Sungwook is a kind of man who is obviously devoted to work. And with the next four years spent here in Cebu, the time spent could very well be worthwhile.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 26, 2014.

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