KDB Chairman Kang Man-soo
By Kim Jae-won
Recently, two leading figures in the banking industry used poems to express their feelings during meetings with reporters but they received contrasting receptions.
The first was Kang Man-soo, the new chairman of the state-run KDB Financial, while the other was Lee Chong-hwi, who has left Woori Bank to lead the Credit Counseling and Recovery Service, a fund aimed at helping to restore the credit-worthiness of delinquent credit holders.
When reporters trooped into the basement cafeteria at KDB last Tuesday, they found a copy of Kang’s poem placed on each seat. Then, without a warning, a female KDB employee read the poem aloud.
Former Woori CEO Lee Chong-hwi
It was titled, “Yearning,” which describes the loneliness and emptiness of a man who had lost his lover. Kang wrote the poem in 1999, after he stepped down as vice finance for failing to prevent the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.
The woman’s soft tone fit the poem that included repetitions of the words “yearning,” “miss” and “life.” Still, the reporters were left wondering why that poem was being read until the first finance minister in the Lee Myung-bak administration referred to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the 19th century American poet, commenting that his works were not popular when he was alive, but have been loved by many since his death.
Kang was either reminiscing on his
disgraceful exit during the financial crisis or his unpopularity as President Lee’s finance chief, believing his comeback as the KDB chairman would qualify as a shot at redemption or that his legacy will later be given what he sees as a fairer assessment. Kang may have been caught in a whirlwind of emotions as when Narcissus looked in fascination at his reflection in the still water of a pond.
The former special economic adviser to President Lee has often been the target of public outcry and the local media. Kang was criticized over his currency policy in 2008 when he was the finance minister under the Lee administration.
Recently, he faced intense criticism when it was rumored that he wanted to take the helm of Shinhan Financial Group, which had been struggling to find a new chairman due to an internal feud.
But the bureaucrat-turned-banker did not mention current issues such as the privatization plan of the government-controlled group and the so-called mega-bank theory, the idea that Korea needs a giant lender by assets to compete on the global stage.
Former Woori Bank CEO Lee Chong-hwi, who left his job Thursday, also offered a poem at his final breakfast with reporters, Wednesday morning, for a different reason.
The lifetime banker chose his favorite poem titled “Today I want to go home early” written by Lee Sang-guk, a poet and elementary school teacher living in Gangwon Province.
Lee said the poem impressed him because it described so well exactly how he felt.
The modern poem goes in part, “I wandered out of my home for a long time. But, now l want to go back home early to have dinner with my wife.” It sounded as if he was leaving the bank he had worked at throughout his life, not with bitter feelings but with a light heart. Compared with Kang, Lee showed a more earnest appreciation for poetry with the heart of a poet, touching a romantic streak that exists in just about everybody.
Lee hoped for a second term as Woori Bank CEO but this was not so. His deputy Lee Soon-woo was named his successor. However, it was not clear whether Lee had known of the new role he was about to take over at the credit recovery committee, a noble job aimed at helping credit delinquents.
The 61-year-old banker added he is happy to be able to spend more time with his family.