Meet Mr. Washing Machine, the brand new CEO of LG Electronics

Final week, Korea-based LG Electronics appointed Seong-Jin Jo as its CEO. Beforehand in command of the corporate’s dwelling equipment division, Jo will now oversee every part from TVs and laptops to smartphones and automobile parts.

Nonetheless, the 60-year-old govt’s rise to go one of many best-known manufacturers on this planet has been removed from meteoric. As an alternative, it follows a 40-year profession that largely unfolded behind the scenes. Throughout that point, Jo has been instrumental in rising the LG dwelling equipment model, largely via dedication to laundry home equipment—a devotion that earned him the nickname “Mr. Washing Machine.”

LG Twin Towers, Seoul, South Korea

When Jo ran LG’s dwelling equipment enterprise, he was chargeable for a division that did greater than $15 billion in income worldwide in 2015. As CEO of LG Electronics, he’ll be in command of an organization greater than thrice that dimension—and with a much more various lineup of merchandise.

Confronted with sluggish smartphone gross sales and shrinking income throughout the TV trade, Jo’s mandate is to use the teachings he discovered whereas constructing the equipment enterprise to the corporate’s different endeavors. obtained the possibility to take a seat down with Jo over the summer time at his workplace on the eighth ground of LG Twin Towers—the large, matching buildings that home LG Electronics’ headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. In his first ever interview with the U.S. media, Jo spoke about his profession, the product growth course of, and his recommendation for company development.

Humble beginnings

A statue of LG Group founder Koo In-Hwoi stands in front of LG's Changwon factory.

Jo’s begin with LG was removed from auspicious. In 1976, Jo had simply graduated from highschool when he obtained a job with an organization known as Goldstar. It was primarily based within the southern metropolis of Busan, so he moved from Seoul and began work.

“Once you newly be part of an organization, you’re assigned a task or a job,” he mentioned. “All the opposite folks had taken the nice positions, so I went into the place that was left—which was washer growth.”

Seong-Jin Jo at his desk at LG Twin Towers in Seoul.

It was the fitting place to be. In line with Jo, just one tenth of 1 % of Koreans owned a washer at the moment, although that quantity would quickly develop. On the identical time, leaders within the manufacturing sector have been starting to consider exports.

However Goldstar solely made low cost washers primarily based on Japanese designs, and there was no manner they might compete on the worldwide stage. So Jo saved working, and new merchandise saved coming. “Ten years down the highway, twenty years down the highway, I got here to just accept the washer as my future,” he mentioned.

LG washing machines await export from Changwon, South Korea

Through the years, Goldstar moved its headquarters to Seoul and adjusted its title to LG. Jo—who by no means attended school—remained with LG, rising via the corporate’s ranks. His staff weaned itself off Japanese designs, benchmarked the competitors, and developed some lofty ambitions for LG home equipment.

“We set the aim of changing into primary for laundry machines within the Nineties,” he mentioned. “After we have been rating fifth and sixth available in the market, we nonetheless set the imaginative and prescient of rating primary, even when the corporate itself was extra centered on different merchandise like TVs.”

A quality control worker checks LG washing machines before they are packaged.

Ultimately, Jo set his sights on the US market—lengthy dominated by home gamers who understood the distinctive calls for of American shoppers. LG solely began promoting massive home equipment within the U.S. in 2003, however Jo mentioned LG’s speedy development within the U.S. is exactly as a result of the corporate waited and did its homework.

“For a few years earlier than that, we noticed the market,” he mentioned. As an example, Jo’s staff seen that the U.S. had a protracted historical past of top-load washing machines. However Jo had seen Korea, Australia, China, and Japan change from top-load to front-load, and had purpose to imagine that America was subsequent. So LG launched front-load machines, including options like steam and multi-colored finishes to additional stand out from the competitors.

LG research and development center in the Seocho district of Seoul, South Korea

At this time, LG is the market chief in front-load laundry. That success has led to development in different classes, and it’s now potential to outfit your complete dwelling with a whole suite of LG home equipment. New merchandise—just like the tech-focused LG Signature sub-brand and the upscale, built-in Signature Kitchen Suite—helped drive a year-to-date gross sales development of three.9 % in 2016.

The LG Signature lineup includes an upscale refrigerator, air purifier, OLED TV, and washing machines.


For his efforts, the Korean authorities awarded Jo the Bronze Tower Order of Industrial Service Benefit in 2007. However Jo didn’t make worldwide headlines till he obtained caught up in one of the crucial weird occasions to ever happen within the usually sedate dwelling equipment trade.

Again in September of 2014, LG was exhibiting at a serious commerce present in Berlin when Jo and a staff of fellow LG staff visited a neighborhood division retailer to take a look at the competitors’s merchandise.

A worker inspects an LG washing machine at the company's factory in Changwon, South Korea

In an obvious effort to look at the power of its hinges, Jo pushed on the door of a Samsung washer. The hinges broke, and a Samsung worker who witnessed the occasion known as the police. In whole, three machines at two shops ended up with damaged hinges.

LG paid to restore the injury and admitted that hinges broke on the machine Jo dealt with, however Samsung wouldn’t again down, demanding that Jo be held accountable for what it known as an act of sabotage. Samsung even flew the broken washer again to Korea for examination—Exhibit A within the spin cycle of the century.

Jo, inspecting a Samsung washer, as seen on security camera footage from the Saturn department store in Berlin.

In a press launch, LG known as out the absurdity of the scenario. “If our firm had an intention to destroy merchandise of a sure firm to tarnish the picture of the product, it might be frequent sense to not have our executives instantly perform such acts,” an LG consultant wrote.

Nonetheless, Jo and two different LG execs have been indicted. There was discuss that Jo can be barred from leaving the nation, and public prosecutors raided LG’s workplaces in Seoul and Changwon. Jo even confronted a 10-month jail sentence—all stemming from an act of vandalism that, because it seems, didn’t really occur the way in which it was portrayed.

LG employees assemble washing machines at the company's Changwon production facility.

Ultimately, LG launched surveillance digital camera footage of the second the door’s hinges gave manner. Set to dramatic music with a Laborious Copy visible aesthetic, it proved there had been no roughhousing. This summer time, an appeals court docket put an finish to any menace of punishment for Jo, and the case was formally behind him.

Shortly after the case was dismissed, LG spokesman Ken Hong known as the entire occasion a “distraction,” including that LG at all times maintained the fees had no benefit. “Ultimately, we’re simply glad the court docket agreed with us,” he informed

LG builds TwinWash at its home appliance factory in Changwon, South Korea

Analysis and Growth

With the case of the damaged washer formally closed, Jo would a lot quite speak about TwinWash—a singular equipment that places a smaller washer beneath a bigger one so shoppers can wash two masses on the identical time on totally different cycles. The product hit the market in 2015, however solely took place after a decade of trial and error.

Initially, Jo needed to mix the advantages of an easy-to-load top-load washer and the power effectivity of a front-load washer. So he assembled a confidential staff—a laundry skunkworks—devoted solely to creating his dream a actuality. How the undertaking developed throughout its decade-long growth course of provides some clues to Jo’s management and administration fashion.

LG TwinWash

“It’s tough to say that TwinWash was the end result of this undertaking that began a very long time in the past,” he mentioned. “The outcomes we obtained have been really fairly totally different from the outcomes we meant to get to start with.”

The primary try—a washer that tilted on its facet after you completed loading it—was a complete failure: The mechanicals have been too sophisticated and it did a horrible job cleansing garments.

LG's washing machine assembly line in Changwon, South Korea

“There have been 1000’s of design renderings and trials and analysis concerning the associated mechanisms that continued for 2 or three years,” Jo mentioned. Issues weren’t wanting good. Then, a flash of inspiration struck. “A good friend and I considered this concept of chopping the washer in half, the place we’d have the entrance loader on the high and the highest loader beneath,” he mentioned.

Whereas the prototype cleaned garments, one main drawback nonetheless remained: Becoming a member of two machines that spin at totally different frequencies may cause a phenomenon often called resonance—which has baffled engineers for hundreds of years. Resonance is what triggered the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to break down and the Lockheed Electra airplane to fall out of the sky.

Workers assemble LG washing machines.

Within the case of TwinWash, vibrations from the underside unit would amplify these up high, and the entire equipment would begin to transfer by itself, as if somebody was crudely wrangling it throughout the room. On this planet of washing machines, that’s known as “strolling.”

“I went for lunch throughout a take a look at, and once I got here again the washer had fallen over,” Jo mentioned. “We had made a strolling machine, not a washer.”

A worker assembles part of a TwinWash machine at LG's Changwon factory.

However Jo and his staff of engineers and designers simply saved working. When TwinWash lastly hit the market in the course of 2015, it appeared nothing like Jo’s unique thought—nevertheless it additionally appeared nothing like the rest available on the market.

“In some methods, we labored the method the opposite manner round to provide you with a totally new product,” he mentioned.

Fingers-On With the LG WD100CV TwinWash System

Work to do

Again in July, Jo attributed LG’s development within the dwelling equipment trade to its concentrate on innovation—particularly when it helped remedy the issues shoppers had with necessities like meals, clothes, and shelter. As CEO of the entire of LG Electronics, nonetheless, Jo should convey innovation to leisure, communication, and mobility—all classes with far shorter growth cycles than washers and dryers.

Inside the lobby of LG Twin Towers in Seoul, South Korea.

He’s additionally taking cost of an organization whose divisions get pleasure from various levels of success: Whereas dwelling equipment has seen regular development, gross sales of LG smartphones have fallen—largely on account of lackluster curiosity within the firm’s flagship mannequin. TV revenues are strong due to superior expertise like OLED, however competitors from Chinese language producers and tight margins are threats to future success. There’s additionally a nascent automotive enterprise—LG labored carefully with GM to construct the Chevrolet Bolt electrical automotive.

Nonetheless, as just lately as July, Jo appeared assured about LG’s future.

“When there’s one thing that should be completed and must be improved, we’re the one ones that may accomplish that,” he mentioned. “So I believe that’s what has helped us succeed.”

Outside LG Twin Towers in Seoul, South Korea

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