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 answerable for the corporate’s residence equipment division, Jo will now oversee all the things from TVs and laptops to smartphones and car elements.

Nonetheless, the 60-year-old govt’s rise to move one of many best-known manufacturers on the earth has been removed from meteoric. As a substitute, it follows a 40-year profession that largely unfolded behind the scenes. Throughout that point, Jo has been instrumental in rising the LG residence 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 residence equipment enterprise, he was accountable for a division that did greater than $15 billion in income worldwide in 2015. As CEO of LG Electronics, he’ll be answerable for an organization greater than 3 times that dimension—and with a much more various lineup of merchandise.

Confronted with sluggish smartphone gross sales and shrinking earnings throughout the TV business, Jo’s mandate is to use the teachings he realized whereas constructing the equipment enterprise to the corporate’s different endeavors. acquired the possibility to take a seat down with Jo over the summer season at his workplace on the eighth flooring of LG Twin Towers—the huge, 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 acquired a job with an organization referred to as Goldstar. It was primarily based within the southern metropolis of Busan, so he moved from Seoul and began work.

“If you newly be a part of an organization, you’re assigned a task or a job,” he mentioned. “All the opposite individuals had taken the great 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 best place to be. In accordance with Jo, just one tenth of 1 % of Koreans owned a washer at the moment, although that quantity would quickly develop. On the similar time, leaders within the manufacturing sector had been starting to consider exports.

However Goldstar solely made low-cost washers primarily based on Japanese designs, and there was no means they may compete on the worldwide stage. So Jo stored working, and new merchandise stored coming. “Ten years down the street, twenty years down the street, 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 altered its identify to LG. Jo—who by no means attended school—remained with LG, rising via the corporate’s ranks. His crew weaned itself off Japanese designs, benchmarked the competitors, and developed some lofty ambitions for LG home equipment.

“We set the objective of changing into primary for laundry machines within the Nineties,” he mentioned. “Once we had 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 targeted on different merchandise like TVs.”

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

Finally, Jo set his sights on the US market—lengthy dominated by home gamers who understood the distinctive calls for of American customers. LG solely began promoting massive home equipment within the U.S. in 2003, however Jo mentioned LG’s fast 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 crew seen that the U.S. had an extended historical past of top-load washing machines. However Jo had seen Korea, Australia, China, and Japan swap from top-load to front-load, and had motive to consider 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

Right now, LG is the market chief in front-load laundry. That success has led to development in different classes, and it’s now attainable to outfit your complete residence with a complete 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 acquired caught up in one of the vital weird occasions to ever happen within the usually sedate residence equipment business.

Again in September of 2014, LG was exhibiting at a significant commerce present in Berlin when Jo and a crew of fellow LG workers 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 referred to as the police. In whole, three machines at two shops ended up with damaged hinges.

LG paid to restore the harm 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 referred to 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 referred to 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 will be widespread sense to not have our executives straight perform such acts,” an LG consultant wrote.

Nonetheless, Jo and two different LG execs had been indicted. There was speak that Jo could be barred from leaving the nation, and public prosecutors raided LG’s places of work 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 truly occur the way in which it was portrayed.

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

Finally, LG launched surveillance digital camera footage of the second the door’s hinges gave means. Set to dramatic music with a Arduous Copy visible aesthetic, it proved there had been no roughhousing. This summer season, 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 referred to 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 instructed

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 reasonably speak about TwinWash—a singular equipment that places a smaller washer beneath a bigger one so customers can wash two masses on the similar time on totally different cycles. The product hit the market in 2015, however solely happened after a decade of trial and error.

Initially, Jo wished to mix the advantages of an easy-to-load top-load washer and the vitality effectivity of a front-load washer. So he assembled a confidential crew—a laundry skunkworks—devoted solely to creating his dream a actuality. How the venture advanced throughout its decade-long growth course of presents some clues to Jo’s management and administration fashion.

LG TwinWash

“It’s tough to say that TwinWash was the end result of this venture that began a very long time in the past,” he mentioned. “The outcomes we acquired had been truly 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 had been too difficult 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 slicing the washer in half, the place we’d have the entrance loader on the prime 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 could 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 prime, and the entire equipment would begin to transfer by itself, as if somebody was crudely wrangling it throughout the room. On the earth of washing machines, that’s referred to 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 crew of engineers and designers simply stored working. When TwinWash lastly hit the market in the midst of 2015, it regarded nothing like Jo’s authentic concept—however it additionally regarded nothing like the rest available on the market.

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

Arms-On With the LG WD100CV TwinWash System

Work to do

Again in July, Jo attributed LG’s development within the residence equipment business to its give attention to innovation—particularly when it helped clear up the issues customers 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 take pleasure in various levels of success: Whereas residence 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 stable 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 automobile.

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

“When there’s one thing that have to be performed and must be improved, we’re the one ones that can achieve this,” he mentioned. “So I feel that’s what has helped us succeed.”

Outside LG Twin Towers in Seoul, South Korea

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