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Hyundai Capital Sets Sights on Makeover on MacArthur

Hyundai Capital America is often identified locally in connection with the large, transparent building next to the San Diego (405) Freeway in Irvine known as The Michelson.

The Irvine-based company occupies the top four floors of the skyscraper in the Park Place complex and has transformed the space into an “engaging and aesthetically unique employee experience,” company executives say.

Design is a hallmark of the auto finance company, nearly as much as capital itself.

The company’s logo—written in its specially designed and proprietary font—is displayed at the top of the 20-story building, which has become something of an Orange County landmark since the inception of Hyundai Capital’s lease in the early 2000s.

And that’s just the beginning. Inside, attention to design detail is in every corner.

The top-10 U.S. auto financier, founded in 1989, supports the financial service needs of Hyundai Motor America and Kia Motors America. Hyundai Capital—an affiliate of parent company Hyundai Motor Corp.—served over 1 million customers and 1,500-plus dealers nationwide last year and has over $25 billion in assets. It employs about 550 people in its three Orange County offices and 1,800 worldwide.

It might seem odd that a numbers-focused company would bother so much with physical appearance.

“You wouldn’t necessarily expect a large finance company to have a creative work space,” said Jim Hazboun, senior director and head of Hyundai Capital’s human resources department. “It differentiates us from other captive auto finance companies, and it reflects the fact that we approach the business differently.”

Hyundai Capital employs three main concepts in its office design: light, symmetry, and collaboration. Both are manifested at The Michelson in an abundance of natural light, precise balance in construction, and open, collaborative workspaces. Recessed lights in the ceilings, for example, are perfectly aligned with the edges of the window panels and with individual work stations.

Speakers emit white noise throughout the open floor plan, muffling employee conversation and collaboration so as not to disturb people working at the other end of the floor. Doors and walls are scarce.

Hazboun credits the innovative design concepts to Ted Chung, chief executive of Hyundai Capital affiliate Hyundai Capital Services Inc. in Korea.

“Ted Chung, I think, is someone who fancies himself as a Steve Jobs of the finance world,” he said. “He is very progressive and wants to create space where people can think more progressively and more innovatively, and have a high quality of life.”

The company said the main focus in carrying out its design philosophy is on valuing employees and on branding through design that also aims to subtly emphasize corporate principles.

Glass floor-to-ceiling exterior and interior walls increase the level of natural light but also represent Hyundai Capital’s stated commitment to transparency. Executives say its precise lines and monochromatic interiors encourage nimble thought and are proof of attention to detail as a finance company.

They also say the space speaks to the company’s emphasis on engagement.

“The company focuses on how do we drive engagement, how do we maximize the employee value proposition, and how do we make Hyundai Capital a place where people can thrive and enjoy being here?” Hazboun said, adding that the Irvine offices reflect the company’s philosophy that engaging employees drives performance.

The philosophy is driven by a simple concept—when employees are happy, they will do good work. Hyundai Capital reserves the entire top floor of The Michelson as the “employees’ space.” The 3,500-square-foot space has a communal kitchen and gathering place and access to a large outdoor patio area with a panoramic view of the county, plus seating grouped around fire pits.

“In most companies, the top floor would be the executive floor,” Hazboun said. “Here, it is our common floor; it is the employees’ floor. It physically demonstrates to the employees that we hold them very prominently.”

Hyundai Capital’s Irvine headquarters office is similar in concept and execution to the company’s locations in Dallas and Atlanta—a cohesion that helps create consistency in corporate branding. The company, though, is in the process of designing what it calls “headquarters two” at 400 Macarthur Blvd. in Newport Beach, with plans for a more “creative and hip” design.

Slight Departure

“We deliberately went in a different direction with our MacArthur building,” Hazboun said. “The concept there is really about regionalizing the design and incorporating some of the aspects of Newport Beach and the coastal setting.”

“Our employees definitely take a lot of pride being in Orange County,” Hazboun said. “OC is a very cool place to be, and we want to be able to take advantage of that with regards to our facilities.”

The company says the space will have a nautical theme and a more casual environment than its other locations. The plans, though still in the development phase, will incorporate bright colors and natural materials, such as driftwood and sand.

The theme shift was a unique undertaking for Philippe Paré, principal and design director at global design and architecture firm M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates Inc., or Gensler for short, in Los Angeles. Paré leads Hyundai Capital’s global design team and is working on its new offices in Germany and China, as well as the new Newport Beach office.

“In subtle ways, we draw from the location, all tied together so you still know you’re in a Hyundai Capital office,” Paré said.

“There are some very unique things about the Newport Beach lifestyle—the beach culture, the surf— so there was a desire to have the design tie a little bit more into the local vernacular of Newport Beach. They are very excited about this location.”

Affiliate Influence

The company said that along with Chung’s vision and direction, it’s also influenced by its affiliate company, South Korea-based Hyundai Card.

Korea’s largest credit card issuer has created Hyundai Card “travel libraries” and “design labs” throughout South Korea. The former provide consumers resources to research and book trips, the latter materials to help them design personal spaces, and both settings feature carefully designed interiors.

Some of the libraries are open to the general public or to academic communities, though most can be accessed only by the company’s credit card holders and their guests.

“It makes people feel that if you have a Hyundai card, you get access to an enriched lifestyle,” the company has said.

Hyundai Motor America, by contrast, publicly values frugality, though Hazboun said that even Hyundai Motor understood the importance of design when it developed its distinctive headquarters next to the San Diego (405) Freeway in Fountain Valley—that the visual elements impact the employees.

Hyundai Capital executives say the company considers its expenditure of resources in facility design as an investment and believes that the return on the investment is significant.

“When employees are invigorated at work and know they are valued, they work longer hours without getting fatigued and simply do better work,” Hazboun said.

“I feel very strongly that it impacts our employees—not just from an engagement perspective, but it actually makes them more productive.”

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