Seoul Man

A Memoir of Cars, Culture, Crisis, and Unexpected Hilarity Inside a Korean Corporate Titan

Frank Ahrens

Book

Recounting his three years in Korea, the highest-ranking non-Korean executive at Hyundai sheds light on a business culture very few Western journalists ever experience, in this revealing, moving, and hilarious memoir.

When Frank Ahrens, a middle-aged bachelor and eighteen-year veteran at the Washington Post, fell in love with a diplomat, his life changed dramatically. Following his new bride to her first appointment in Seoul, South Korea, Frank traded the newsroom for a corporate suite, becoming director of global communications at Hyundai Motors. In a land whose population is 97 percent Korean, he was one of fewer than ten non-Koreans at a company headquarters of thousands of employees.

For the next three years, Frank traveled to auto shows and press conferences around the world, pitching Hyundai to former colleagues while trying to navigate cultural differences at home and at work. While his appreciation for absurdity enabled him to laugh his way through many awkward encounters, his job began to take a toll on his marriage and family. Eventually he became a vice president—the highest-ranking non-Korean at Hundai HQ.

Filled with unique insights and told in his engaging, humorous voice, Seoul Man sheds light on a culture few Westerners know, and is a delightfully funny and heartwarming adventure for anyone who has ever felt like a fish out of water—all of us.

Reviews

“[Written] with humor and warmth… Amid the author’s personal journey reside priceless cultural and professional insights.” Kirkus Reviews

“A fun take on exactly what the subtitle promises.” —Tyler Cowen, Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics at George Mason University

“Ahrens’s great strength is that he is sensitive to the people around him…. describing the young people with whom he worked in a Korea struggling to move on from a forced collective march of industrialization to a more individualistic and creative economy.” Washington Post

“Hilarious” —Unshelved

“Engagingly written and full of funny, intriguing probes into the quirks [Ahrens] discovers in his surroundings and himself. This is a nuanced look at a nation where an image of Western modernity is reflected and illuminated by an off-kilter mirror.” Publishers Weekly

“This important book undertakes three stories in one narrative about a local man’s brief sojourn in a bewildering new environment… With wit about his personal dilemmas and a keen reporter’s eye…Mr. Ahrens gives the reader an accessible primer.” —Washington Times

“In this charming and affecting book, Ahrens finds out what makes this small but courageous country strive so relentlessly to be better. His portrait of Korea, the “shrimp between the two whales” of China and Japan, is filled with insights, youthful enthusiasm, and a zest for discovery.” —Tim Clissold, author of the international bestseller Mr. China

“Like Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad, Ahrens gets good mileage out of his many gaffes as a naïve American bred to act quickly, blunder through problems and disregard authority… Seoul Man also looks into the history, culture, politics and business of the remarkable success story of modern South Korea.” —Shelf Awareness

“Lively, engaging and deeply personal, Seoul Man is at once a fascinating primer on the auto industry, a perceptive and often hilarious ex-pat adventure into “Koreanness,” and the story of an ordinary man transformed through faith and the power of love.” —-Brigid Schulte, author of the New York Times bestselling Overwhelmed: Work, Love & Play when No One has the Time

“If you have ever worked in a baffling alien culture or endured a family separation because of your job, you will probably enjoy this book... An entertaining read.” —Financial Times