CEO turns Eximbank into global player
The Export-Import Bank of Korea (Korea Eximbank) has been perennially picked by jobseekers as one of the best places to work. The lender’s CEO, Kim Yong-hwan, hates that reputation with a passion.
In a recent interview with The Korea Times, he declared that the bank has successfully taught its employees to be fighters and this is beginning to show in real results.
“What I consider most important for our employees is their skill and willingness to negotiate, persuade and convince. When I first came here, our workers didn’t really show that kind of aggressiveness and spirit. I told them they needed to toughen up because I would be expecting a lot more out of them when they mix it up with their international business counterparts in global markets,” Kim said.
“Look at how we helped the Korean industry land that massive nuclear power plant deal with the United Arab Emirates. I think it helped that our people are now trained to be more aggressive and direct and they have really been getting things done recently.”
The United Arab Emirates contract is just one of many big deals being handled by the bank that is emerging as a leader in big project financing. The 60-year-old bureaucrat-turned state banker is making efforts to completely change the bank.
While pushing his employees to be more industrious and intense, Kim also understands that they won’t realize their full potential as global finance movers without a certain level of autonomy.
“We have a lot of directors who explain our activities to diplomats and businessmen in South America. Our recent conference for companies and banks from Middle East and North African countries, a region we conveniently call MENA, was also handled by employees at a working level,” Kim said.
The bank’s MENA Conference last month saw government officials and representatives of major companies such as the Saudi Electricity Company, Aramco and Riyadh Bank participate. The event was well received by the business sector here as Korean companies are increasingly interested about opportunities in the cash-abundant Arab world.
The Eximbank also recently hosted a seminar for diplomats from South American and Caribbean nations last year to explain Korea’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund, or long-term, low-interest loans the country provides to developing nations.
Kim’s vision for a more aggressive Eximbank is dependent on the creative input provided by employees. This requires stronger cohesion and collaboration between different divisions of the bank, Kim said. He has created many task forces where employees from different offices get to share their ideas and expertise and discuss new areas of operation.
“Kim lets working-level employees go overseas on business trips, allowing them to learn more skills and know-how. This change drew applause from lower-ranked workers,” said a manager at the bank who declined to be identified.
“While Kim has been requiring more intensity out from us, he is also protective of our freedom to set a work-life balance. He has set apart Wednesday as a family day, and will not permit any employee to stay late in the office.”
Through all the changes he is pushing, Kim is determined to make the Eximbank a different institution to what it was. That’s why he wants a new name for his bank.
“We will be pushing a new name, the Korea Bank for International Cooperation, and this idea will be submitted to government officials and lawmakers by the end of the year.”
The bank says that the new name will reflect the lender’s wide range of tasks from export and import financing to overseas investment finance and offshore economic cooperation.