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Telling the Innovation Story with Dr. Sokwoo Rhee, Corporate SVP at LG Electronics, Head of North America Innovation Center (“LG Nova”)

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Storytelling defines how we see ourselves in the world. Telling the story of one’s own life can be empowering or disempowering, depending on the story a person tells. This is true for companies too. The story of a company’s work can be told in a limited or an expansive way. The difficulty is that not only does the company tell its story, their audience — consumers, media, and even other companies — all help tell the story too. For a legacy company, that story can calcify until an effort is made to rewrite the narrative. Dr. Sokwoo Rhee, the Corporate SVP at LG Electronics and Head of North America Innovation Center (“LG Nova”), explains how he is rewriting LG’s story to reflect that it is a company promoting all kinds of innovation. 

Main Takeaways

  • Strengthening Innovation through Partnerships: LG has created a center of innovation in Silicon Valley, LG Nova, to support innovation from diverse startups across wide-ranging industries. Ultimately, LG Nova becomes partners with select startups and backs them with LG’s might so that they have the ability to scale. 
  • Telling the Story Differently: LG is primarily known as an electronics and appliance company. The true story is that LG promotes innovation across many sectors and has the capacity to support that aim. Dr. Rhee honors LG’s legacy but is sharing the story that LG’s interest in innovation is very expansive.  
  • Close to the Action, High Above It, and in the Middle: Rhee tells the story of his career. First, he found himself close to the creative action in the startup world. Then, he worked in government, was high above the action, but could shape policy, etc. Finally, he has found a balance at LG in working with startups yet having the power of LG to make a difference.

For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.

Article:

Storytelling defines how we see ourselves in the world. Telling the story of one’s own life can be empowering or disempowering, depending on the story a person tells. This is true for companies too. The story of a company’s work can be told in a limited or an expansive way. The difficulty is that not only does the company tell its story, their audience — consumers, media, and even other companies — all help tell the story too. For a legacy company, that story can calcify until an effort is made to rewrite the narrative. Dr. Sokwoo Rhee, the Corporate SVP at LG Electronics and Head of North America Innovation Center (“LG Nova”), explained how he is rewriting LG’s story to reflect that it is a company promoting all kinds of innovation. 

“LG Nova specifically has a mission to find the sectors and applications that LG is currently not focusing on,” Rhee said. “Currently, obviously, LG electronics does a very good job in the washers and dryers and TVs and so on. But there are thousands of engineers who are experts, lifetime experts on that in the R and D center and those business units. Our job is to find something they’re not thinking 24/7. We want to look at platform business, and we want to look at software business. We want to look at different sectors that LG electronics is not in today.” 

Simply talking about something doesn’t make it real but it does help people understand what’s trying to be accomplished. Creating the best institution with the greatest talent won’t be easily sustained if the very people who can provide it energy don’t know about it. Changing the narrative takes a two-pronged complementary strategy that combines both action and communication.

On a recent episode of IT Visionaries, Rhee shared all about LG’s new innovation center that he heads, LG Nova. He explained how LG is developing partnerships with startups to encourage diverse innovation. He also told the story of his own career from being on the ground floor initially in the startup world to the sky view from his position in the governmental sector and how these disparate experiences led him to his current position at LG. 

“I started working on IOT,” Rhee said. “I had my own startup and I raised the money and all that. I sold the company. And then after I did that, I realized a lot of things I did instead. I was extremely focused. And you have to, for a good reason, because if you want to survive as a startup, you have to focus. And it’s a very narrow thing you do. You make products. You try to sell it. And that’s what it is. And I started thinking, well, maybe there is a different type of work that I can do that can have a much broader impact.”

Then, Rhee ultimately worked in the US government and focused on smart cities. But eventually he sought a balance between the focus of the startup world with the influence of a governmental position.  

“What I also realized for the last seven years in the government is that, yeah, I am making [a] lot of impact at probably 5,000 feet above the ground,” Rhee said. “And this was very exciting because now I can impact the whole United States and also globally, but I missed those days in the startup that I really made something [and] I really created something and then made an impact, where it was pretty much [more] narrow, but still made an impact. So when this opportunity for LG electronics for me to lead this center came on, I thought this was the best of both. I can still create real, tangible products and services that can make a difference, but I can do it in a much bigger scale.”

LG is creating true partnerships with selected startups.

“When we combine our process or our capacity with a startup’s capacity —  and by the way, I want to emphasize that we are creating a joint business —  whatever we create together is our business as much as [the] startup’s business,” Rhee said. “We have skin in the game. What that means is when you go to investors, when you go to the customers, we are going to go together, hand in hand with these startups.” 

Rhee is expanding LG’s story to include diverse innovation across many technological areas and many different types of startups too.

​“Innovation is, in some sense, unpredictable,” Rhee said. “You really don’t know where the next big thing is going to come from. We have the same mindset. There are a lot of smart people inside of LG Electronics, but there may be other smart people outside and probably more smart people outside…We believe there are a lot of great ideas outside of the company. Startups can be anything. It can be a large, fairly large series C or ready to go public type of startup. Or there are startups, which [are] only a team of entrepreneurs, innovators, who just came up with the idea [and] who came up with the prototype.” 

One area where LG can really help startups is in scaling up.

“We have scale,” Rhee said. “We can make [something] scale. We have the process. We have the channels. We have the talent that can help make that happen.”

With LG behind him, Rhee is a leader who has the capacity to guide diverse startups to bring their innovations to life. He’s also a storyteller, writing the next chapter of his career at LG while simultaneously retelling LG’s story as a company innovating with technological breadth and scale.

To hear more about how Rhee and LG Nova are partnering with startups to support innovation, check out the full episode of IT Visionaries!

To hear the entire discussion, tune into IT Visionaries here

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Episode 322