Samsung's European boss says the relationship between Korean execs and local teams has done a complete 180

Rory O'Neill Samsung ETOLinkedInSamsung ETO Rory O’Neill.

The relationship between Samsung’s Korean HQ and its international teams has been notoriously strained for some time.

A source told Business Insider that back in 2012, there was a huge rift between the US team and HQ — the head office accused the US team of falsifying sales and bribing the media because its “Next Big Thing” marketing campaign led to a huge uptick in market share. They ran an unannounced three-week audit (and found nothing wrong) and at one global meeting the executives told the employees to clap for the US team as encouragement since they were the only group failing the company.

But Samsung’s European boss (or ETO, which stands for “European telecoms operations”) Rory O’Neill told Business Insider at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that things have changed.

He didn’t comment on the US incident specifically — he only joined Samsung (from BlackBerry) 18 months ago — but he did say his experience has been “totally opposite.”

He explained that the Samsung model is split between global and local — and it seems those local teams have far more autonomy over marketing and advertising decisions than they ever used to. The global team makes the big picture strategy decisions, but local markets like the recently created ETO team, decide themselves on advertising creative and investments.

Business Insider understands that Samsung’s local marketers had very little autonomy before. But that appears to have changed. It’s evident in the UK for example. Last year its UK vice president of corporate marketing Russell Taylor launched a country-specific brand marketing platform called “Launching People,” which included an ad-funded TV show, as it bids to become “the most loved brand in the UK.”

O’Neill admits the very R&D-focused culture at Samsung is different to other companies, but that shouldn’t be seen as an issue.

Communicating that culture was even evident at Samsung’s Galaxy S 6 launch event ahead of MWC on Sunday, according to O’Neill. Samsung’s CEO JK Shin quipped: “I’m not the best public speaker, my first language is engineering.”

O’Neill thinks the reason it was a great line and got some hearty laughs from the audience was because it was true. And it’s now his job to communicate that culture to the European market.

But other than perhaps with Apple, which has a fanatical fanbase that laps up any new updates from the company, most consumers don’t like being talked at by brands. We put that to O’Neill.

He responded: “We are not them, we are very different. The trick of great global brands is to be who you are.”

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