Purpose - This paper aims to explore how cultural forces and historical events interact to form a country's organizing principles. Design/methodology/approach - Culture influences management in significant ways. In order to understand true influences of culture on a country's economy and management, the paper looks at the dynamic interface between cultural forces and historical events that occurred in the country during the particular time period in point. It proposes that cultural forces and historical events are combined to form organizing principles in the country, which guide managers and workers in the economy to develop unique sets of work ethics: particular historical events reinforce or suppress particular elements of culture. Detailed case studies in Korea are used to support the proposition. Findings - Based on the case studies in Korea, the paper shows how the country's culture and modern history have been intertwined to form organizing principles, which in turn have influenced and guided the country's economic development and firm's management. Originality/value - This paper makes a rather unique contribution by suggesting an exploratory perspective that the dynamic interplay between cultural forces and historical events forms an economy's work ethics as organizing principles.