Kohl, MK, Byrne
By Oh Young-jin
Assistant Managing Editor
I usually stick to the rule of ``one subject for one column'' because I suspect columnists, who write brief opinions about multiple subjects on one platform, either suffer from a lack of in-depth knowledge or are overambitious.
Today, I find myself in a position of having to break this rule for exactly the reasons that I abhor the multi-subject column. In my defense, however, I would like to mention that the three subjects of today's column ― former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong-koo, often nicknamed "MK," and Tom Byrne, vice president of Moody's Investor Service ― have a great deal of relevance to what is currently taking place around the world.
It was not until I recently saw Kohl in a photo in the Wall Street Journal that I realized how I, perhaps as well as the world, have underappreciated the man that played a pivotal role in the unification of the ideologically-divided Germany and contributed greatly to the unification of Continental Europe.
In the photo, Kohl is no longer the man with the imposing stature I had seen on television or in news media 20 years ago but now a frail wheelchair-bound 80-year-old man.
I recall I had thought of Kohl as the one with the least class among the history-making trio toward the end of the last century, which included British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
However, I was dumbfounded to read Kohl's recent declaration: ``Today, I am more convinced than ever that European unification is a question of war and peace for Europe and for us.''
It was a moment of truth as I realized how emotional with joy I became when the Berlin Wall collapsed and East and West Germany united from the perspective of a child of the still-divided Korea and how I saw a chance for meaningful coexistence in the world as a global citizen.
Now, the architect of what had been widely seen as two impossible political structures is beseeching his fellow denizens of the world as well as compatriots to cooperate and help Europe stay united.
I want to give my full support to his call, believing that a united Europe is an experiment that the world can't afford to let fail despite all its flaws and failings.
More realistically, Germans can't deny that they are better off thanks to the euro, the key symbol of the European unification that lacks a federal government, because the common currency has indisputably raised their export competitiveness.
A large portion of the great pile of its currency reserves sitting in the vault of the Bundesbank, no doubt, has been generated by Teutonic frugality but also from the profligacy by the Greeks and other new members of the united Europe.
In a way, I understand the renewed call from euro-skeptics for the dismantling of the common currency, kicking out the weakest links among its 16 members or doing away with it completely.
But it should also be pointed out that it was the Germans that insisted on a cap on a debt ratio against an individual member country's gross domestic product but backed down in the face of French refusal.
It is plain to see the solutions to the current chaos encasing southern Europe. Perseverance is all that is required as Kohl demonstrated in the lead-up to his two great achievements to fix the problem. It would not be wise get panicky and revert to the ways of the old days.
MK's pair of big hands
Hyundai-Kia Automotive Chairman Chung may not seem all that charming. He appears to be shy in public and is not an impressive orator.
It is hard to put him on the same page as Hyundai's current successes ― the Genesis, YF Sonata, K-5 and Equus, among other best-selling models. Hyundai was once derided for making cheap, unreliable cars, with its vehicles comparable to the Yugo (yes, that small clunky, dirt-cheap mini-car) in the United States. Now, U.S. consumers like Hyundai cars and experts laud them with equal enthusiasm.
Some insiders comment that Chung has two characteristics that other second-generation chaebol leaders lack.
First, he is a leader who is not afraid to get on his hands and knees for mechanical checkups, something he learned from his days in virtual exile, working for a car parts factory set up by his late father and Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung. This experience enables him to have a better grasp of a certain situation and get to the root of any problems occurring at factories.
Second, Chung has big hands like his father. According to some former Hyundai officials, Chung, together with executives, visited Europe during wintertime and Chung did not have a pair of gloves. His hands were so big that he was unable to find a pair that fit. Then, one of the executives, who obviously had hands as big as his boss, offered his gloves to Chung and they proved to be a perfect fit.
The executive had to go the rest of the trip without his gloves but afterwards received a series of promotions before he retired. It was not clear whether giving his gloves contributed to his success but Chung had since often referred to him as ``the guy with big hands'' in executives' meetings. This shows one aspect of Chung's leadership style that some criticize for being haphazard and impromptu but that obviously helps keep his subordinates on their toes, contributing to Hyundai's success.
Moody's going Dutch
A couple of weeks ago, my column was entitled ``Who paid for Moody's dinners?'' inquiring whether Tom Byrne, a Moody's executive, and his two colleagues, were wined and dined at the expense of the Korean government.
Also in that column, I left the door open for Byrne to respond to this question. He did last week. We talked for about 20 minutes with two other Moody's officials in a conference call of sorts. His answer to the title of my column was, ``Moody's paid for our three participating members when we had dinner with (Korean) ministry officials.''
A Strategy and Finance Ministry official also called and corroborated Byrne's response. ``I understand rating agencies' officials had meals paid by the officials of Asian countries that they were visiting for appraisal out of courtesy for local customs but that is no longer true.''
This clarification helps me as well as my readers breathe easier, at a time when there is a great deal of skepticism over the role the rating agencies played regarding double economic crises over the past two years. I hope that Moody's, Standard and Poor's and Fitch will reinforce their levels of public trust in fulfilling their duty as watchdogs for future economic instability. Way to go, Moody's!