Friday, April 18, 2008

Lee Myung-bak: CEO of Korea, Inc.

I closely watch South Korea's new president. Notwithstanding that Lee Myung-bak was a former Hyundai Group CEO and that I have a strong interest in Korean corporate culture, I find many in Korea looking for aggressive leadership. In fact, South Korea success in the 1960s and 1970s, was under the firm leadership of Park, Chung-hee and his authoritarian regime. This strong leadership model is also a characteristic of Samsung, Hyundai-Kia, SK, LG, Doosan, and many of Korea's most successful conglomerates. Even today, when a Korean firm wants progress they appoint a bold, aggressive leader.

Here are some highlights from Korea media covering Lee Myung-bak's US visit and a talk delivered at the Korea Investment Forum in New York

I Am CEO of Korea Inc.

I envision the construction of a Global Korea, with a global standard running through every corner of society to ensure a business-friendly environment. I will foster entrepreneurship, harness market forces for the betterment of people's livelihood and uphold the principles of democracy and a market economy to unleash free individual creativity.

All rules and regulations that do not conform to global standards will be revised.

I have been a man of action throughout my life, knowing that action speaks louder than words. I will take bold actions toward creating a business-friendly environment. The newly established National Competitiveness Council in the President's Office will work toward this goal.

As you know, I am Korea's first CEO-turned-President. The good half of my life was with a company, which is now a global household name.

During my three decades there, I experienced all corporate ranks in the private sector. It is a testament to my understanding of business activities and their importance.

Excessive regulations are always the biggest barrier to business activities of both foreign and domestic companies. Since I was also a foreign investor, I can relate to you in this regard.

This reality is urging me to put highest policy priority on regulatory reforms. I will establish a small but efficient government. Tax system will be revised and the rule of law will be applied.

All this is for a business-friendly environment where investment is encouraged, jobs are created and entrepreneurship is promoted.

Some criticize me as too business-friendly. I disagree. I am prepared to be more business-friendly if it helps to revitalize our economy.

I know well that many foreign investors perceive labor relations as a big stumbling block to investing in Korea.

However, the changes we seek are already taking place in labor relations. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions ― Korea's largest labor union ― has declared ``no illegal dispute" and participation in nationwide efforts in reviving the economy.

As I pledged, my government will also stabilize Korea's high labor costs and expensive real estate prices in order to induce foreign investment. We will provide plant sites at affordable prices for business companies.

Improved productivity will offset the negative effects of wage increases. We will strengthen our competitive edge by creating skilled workers through educational reform and training programs. We will also reduce corporate tax from the current rate of 25 percent to 20 percent.

Equally important is creating comfortable living conditions, particularly for foreigners. I know that quite a number of foreigners and their families have expressed difficulties about living in Korea.

To alleviate this concern, I will ensure that first-rate educational facilities and hospitals are available, so that foreign investors and their families can live in greater comfort in Korea.

I am no stranger to improving surroundings. As the mayor of Seoul, I restored Cheonggye stream, which had been covered with concrete for 40 years, and overhauled the public transportation grid.

As President, I will once again stick to the basics and reform the educational and healthcare systems to make foreigners feel at home in Korea.

As part of efforts to create a business-friendly environment, Korea has been actively engaging in FTAs. Central to this is the ratification of the KORUS FTA by Korea and the United States.

Then will follow the Korea-EU FTA this year, which will increase Korea's attractiveness as a site for investment by making it a gateway to East Asia.

Once we finalize our FTA talk with China and Japan, Korea will become the link to the four largest economic entities of the world. These initiatives will have the cumulative effect of transforming Korea into one of the most open, business-friendly environments in the world.

As you know, Korea is home to many leading global companies in high-tech industries including automobile, shipbuilding, semiconductor, display panel and IT.

Investing in Korea means opportunities to establish global cooperative networks in these leading industries to make your businesses prosper. I am sure you do not want to miss this opportunity.

My administration will put priority on fostering the knowledge-based service industry, with a special focus on the development of the financial services industry.

To this end, we will pursue more financial deregulation on a broad scale and foster highly qualified, globally oriented financial professionals.

Korea developed greatly in the 20th century. We now want to go beyond that toward becoming a leading global player. We are determined to step forward to move to the next level.

A good investor looks for the best CEO. I am the CEO of the Korea Inc. I truly hope you will come aboard by investing in Korea. Your success is our success. Let Korea be your gateway to success in Asia. I would like to see the United States and Korea win success together as partners.

Please join me and my fellow Koreans in our stride toward a Global Korea.

Questions, comments?


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