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What would Lee Kun-hee say?

Jan 04,2019
The sun rises on the first morning of 2019 above the Asiana Airlines cargo terminal at Incheon International Airport. [YONHAP]
Yi Jung-jae
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

From 1988 to 2014, Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee never failed to raise the idea of a crisis in his New Year’s addresses. Lee said that a sense of crisis is the essence of success. What would he say today if he were well? The following is Lee’s fictional 2019 New Year’s address made by compiling his past comments. I did not add or change anything. The year of the address being quoted is marked in parentheses.

This year, the perspective on the Korean economy is more pessimistic than optimistic and we have more worries than anticipations (1991). Today’s world has entered an era of economic war of pursuing self-interests of the country instead of ideology and system. Resources and technology are weaponized, and walls of trade protectionism are getting higher (1989). The new U.S. administration that is willing to sacrifice diplomacy and friendship for its economic development warns of a new crisis to Korea (1993). Japan, a technological powerhouse, has regained vitality and is getting ahead, and China is rapidly chasing Korea and will soon overtake Korea’s competitiveness (2007). Korea’s rivals are running ahead, but Korean society is still wrapped up in discord and fights, and selfishness for self-interests still prevail (2005).

Last year, the business environment had more frustration than hopes, more regulations than assistance, and more chaos than reconciliation. As the government’s unfair intervention and control of business activities discouraged our businessmen — and the arrest of the former president aggravated political chaos — I once again realized the backwardness of our society and had great despair this year (1996). Though politicians drove the economy with political rhetoric, and the government did not diagnose the crisis and respond properly, and leadership wasted valuable national capacity to correct the past, greater responsibility lies on companies (1998). Companies that are not acknowledged by the market and society will be faced with bankruptcy or liquidation (2001).

This year, too, our future is not so bright. The unrest on the Korean Peninsula over the nuclear issue, oil price and exchange rate will drag our economy down (2007). We have accomplished the legend of semiconductors getting to the top of the world in a short period of time. But if a second or third legend is not created, the success so far will be meaningless (2006). The rule that Samsung never fails doesn’t exist anymore (2001). As Samsung’s reputation increases, other companies will increasingly try to put the breaks on us (2013). We have the burden of resolving a crisis of internal environment, crisis of internal innovation and crisis of time all at the same time. It is a critical moment and if we don’t stay alert, Samsung and the country could fall to the second or third rate (1997).

Opportunity will always be the same size on one side of the shadow (1997). There is no secret or shortcut to get over the crisis. International competitiveness is the only answer. Our economy should be freed from political rhetoric, bureaucratic rhetoric and public opinion, and be allowed to flow freely (1998). While caring for struggling neighbors, we need to develop the relationship with partner companies as a community (2004). With the pledge — “There is no country without nation and there is no self without company” — let us tighten the belts and share the pain (1998).

Last year, I said “Change everything but the family” as a sign for changes to prepare for new things (1994). We have to change once again (2014, Lee’s last New Year’s address).

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 3, Page 30