The Ideal Pharma Country Manager: South Korea


Two leading executive recruitment specialists – DHR International’s Helen Park and Egon Zehnder’s Eugene Kim – outline the qualities they look for when hiring pharma country managers for the challenging South Korean market.


In terms of what qualities recruitment firms are looking for in a South Korea country manager, DHR International’s Park notes that “the major agenda for these global companies for Korea is commercial execution,” and highlights four frameworks of competencies that the ideal candidate would possess: technical (a good understanding of market dynamics), functional (a proven track record of success, good stakeholder management, international experience), leadership (foresight, managing complexity, results-driven, problem solving, collaborating), and cultural/personal fit (creative, empathetic, accountable).

For Egon Zehnder’s Kim, the role of the country manager in South Korea increasingly requires a transformational profile. He notes that “More and more, multinational companies are asking Korea GMs to transform their local operations; not merely grow revenue and increase profitability. They want Korea GMs to develop and implement new business ideas regarding how the local team creates value and manage operations that fit into the larger picture of the global organization.”

More and more, multinational companies are asking Korea GMs to transform their local operations; not merely grow revenue and increase profitability

Eugene Kim, Egon Zehnder

He continues, “This need to transform comes from being in a market that is heavily regulated by the local government, while new, more agile competitors are appearing faster than ever before. Transformation thus is necessary, not just to preserve market share, but also to remain relevant in the marketplace. Even under the best of conditions, this is not an easy task and what makes this particularly challenging for the Korea GMs is that they are likely to require strategies that are quite different from those that have worked before.”


Opinions are split on the ideal professional profile or pathway that candidates for country manager positions in South Korea should have. Park feels that they need a firm foundation in direct sales/marketing experience, adding that “a solid career progression to become a business unit’s profit & loss manager is a basic requirement.” She continues, “On top of that, regional/global assignment experience and track records of business turnaround and talent development can be good evidence for high potential leadership talent.”

Kim, however, is slightly less prescriptive, opining that “There is no set path; it is a journey.” He elaborates, “candidates aspiring to become Korea GMs must not focus on the position at hand but more towards what they will be learning from the given role. The days of self-promoting a candidacy based on the name value of the company worked for, title and the size of the team managed are gone. “What did you do?”, “How did you do it?”, “Why did you do that and what were you thinking?” become more relevant and important than just going about business as usual.”


Park highlights three main challenges facing new country managers in South Korea: maintaining profit & loss growth in a mature and highly competitive market with several products losing exclusivity; negotiating a good reimbursement price with the relevant bodies; and negotiating with the labour unions which have grown in size and strength in recent years.

Kim again foregrounds the need for innovation and initiative to successfully undertake a country manager position. He posits that “rather than diligently executing the direction given to you (which will enable one to achieve targets and goals), see if you can come up with your own strategy, making sure you know where your ideas come from and how they came about. One will need to constantly reinvent oneself and this cannot be done by just being part of a well-oiled machine.”


To read the full article from Eugene Kim of Egon Zehnder, click here

To read the full article from Helen Park of DHR International, click here

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