Korea has archived a marvelous economic miracle following the Korean war. Most of this economic growth has been archived by family owned and controlled conglomerates with close connections to the government. However most of this growth was archived in a state of “catching up” to the developed world. It is this catching up mind set together with the Korean culture that created this modern looking society.
However my observation form working several year in the corporate Korean world is that, most of the conglomerates lack a future strategy. The research and development horizon is small, usually 3-5 years. That is due to the pressure that builds up in the corporate hierarchy. Executives have a short life expectancy thus are poised to delivery results in a short timeframe. Starting projects which could take 10 year or more is usually difficult to impossible and as a result research and development is very product development oriented. That leaves many companies without any core technology to develop a business strategy on. If the core technology is missing, business becomes more opportunistic and market driven. Management is looking for chances instead of developing new markets by applying new technologies.
In general Korean seem to have a strong follower culture, very loyal and dedicated. Individualism is not appreciated and people that stick out are usually marked. Thus the corporate management is looking to other companies for inspiration and examples to follow. The very best example is Samsung and Apple, but you could extend this to basically all areas of the corporate Korea.
This lack of vision and strategic planning is one of the reason of the dwindling competitiveness of Korea’s economy. It seems very likely that Korea to at the beginning of a long recession or low growth period, with significant restructuring and painfully adapting to the new China reality.