Although not a native of the US, Hanna Yoon had visited all fifty states by age twelve. Born in Seoul, South Korea, she immigrated to the US at age four with her parents, only to return to Seoul eight years later. There, she attended an international school primarily composed of ethnically Korean students, the majority of whom were expatriates from a variety of countries.
At fourteen, Yoon returned to the US to attend boarding school in New Hampshire, throwing her into yet another multicultural environment. While most of her classmates hailed from the States, the school’s student body represented thirty-three foreign countries.
“I spent a lot of time with people who might have looked very American and sounded American, but were from a lot of different cultures,” says Yoon, senior counsel for IP at a major US healthcare company. Her classmates spoke perfect English, but their different backgrounds yielded diverse thought processes. “It was interesting to talk to people from different backgrounds, because that really puts into question assumptions you make in life and the things you take for granted,” she says.
Socializing with individuals from a variety of countries at an early age, along with her world travels, provided Yoon with her foundation for her life and career decisions. “That really set the stage for the rest of my decision-making,” Yoon reflects. “The priorities that I decided on still inform the way I think, and it’s the lens through which I assess all situations.”
This perspective motivates Yoon to withhold assumptions and keep an open mind, but it also leads her to ask questions with often obvious answers. To make decisions efficiently, she relies on human psychology, which naturally employs heuristics. Assumptions play a critical role in this process, and although her assumptions are often correct, they’re not correct often enough, giving her pause and prompting the need to ask an abundance of questions. “I’ve been burned too many times making assumptions from one culture to another,” she says.
Hanna Yoon started her twelve-year legal career at LG Electronics in South Korea but felt drawn back to America. “My formative years were spent in the US, and I guess my identity was quite solidified during that time,” she offers. Recognizing a great career opportunity, Yoon left South Korea and her family and accepted a job at Baker McKenzie in Chicago.
After two years, she moved to Fresenius Kabi, splitting her time between Illinois and Geneva, Switzerland, in the fields of biosimilars and medical devices. She remained there for eight years, becoming associate general counsel before moving to a major US healthcare company, where she continues to practice as a patent attorney.
When Hanna Yoon entered the field of biosimilars, it was a relatively new area of law, and she needed direction. “How do you learn unless you learn from someone who knows more than you do?” she asks. Yoon turned to outside counsel, which played a crucial role in her growth. “Everything that I’ve learned, everything that I came to acknowledge as a skill I’ve obtained, it’s been with the help of really good outside counsel,” Yoon says. “It changes the outcome of the in-house attorney’s quality of experience.”
The counselor’s extensive international experience informs the persuasive strategies she employs as a lawyer. She says there’s a spectrum across cultures for three parameters: hierarchy, individual versus collective decision-making, and achieved status versus ascribed status.
For example, South Korea presents a very different business atmosphere than the US. Firstly, the Asian country remains more hierarchical, meaning at LG, Yoon had to subscribe to and respect that established hierarchy to exert her influence. Further, South Korean companies adopt collective decision-making more so than US companies. Respecting that parameter, Yoon aligned the necessary groups she was trying to persuade. She says, “You might be barking up the wrong tree if you’re trying to persuade just the main stakeholder.”
Finally, in South Korea, ascribed status—e.g., one’s hometown, family/societal background, or lineage—proves surprisingly important in addition to achieved status. Yoon says, “When you’re trying to persuade in that kind of environment, issues have to be emphasized differently in Korea verses when you’re working in the US.”
Overall, she says, “It’s important to understand where your specific environment falls on that spectrum in order to make an impact effectively and persuade others.”