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CEO Lee applies ‘The Art of War’ to Woori Bank

June 09,2010
Lee Chong-hwi
Lee Chong-hwi, Woori Bank’s chief executive, cites Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” in managing the bank by moving swiftly like the wind, staying calm like a forest, attacking ferociously like a fire and standing strong like a mountain.

That attitude has so far proved successful as he has overseen the bank’s recovery from a low point in 2008, when Woori suffered losses of 1.6 trillion won ($1.29 billion) on bad investments in collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps under its previous chief executive, Hwang Young-key.

The bank under Lee reported a net profit of 953.8 billion won, the best performance among domestic commercial banks. For the first quarter of this year, net earnings amounted to 459.8 billion won, raising hopes that it may report profits of 1 trillion won for the full year, which would be the first time since 2007.

Lee told the JoongAng Ilbo in a recent interview that he will remain unsatisfied despite the recent performance until he turns Woori Bank into a global financial group by expanding overseas.

Lee said he will execute corporate restructuring swiftly like the wind in the second half of this year. In preparation, the bank is building up loan loss reserves in case of more corporate defaults. “If you can’t avoid it, you need to push forward,” Lee said.

Like the forest, Lee said he will remain calm as he focuses on improving sales and earnings performance. But he said he would not do this by pursuing local mergers and acquisitions, but rather by cutting costs.

Like fire, he wants to ferociously pursue overseas expansion. Woori recently bought the largest Korean-American bank in the U.S., Los Angeles-based Hanmi Bank.

The bank has set up branches or sales representative offices in Chennai, India; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Tianjin, China. “A bank is only competitive when it is not satisfied with domestic sales but wants to expand abroad,” said Lee.

Lee is like a mountain when protecting the interests of the employees and the organization.

He has tried to help employees who were forced to retire early due to the global financial crisis to find other jobs, securing posts for 44 persons.

This year will be particularly significant for the state-owned bank as it awaits privatization, with the government expecting to announce plans in about two weeks.

The Korea Deposit Insurance Corp. now has a 57 percent stake in the bank.

The KDIC is trying to decide the best way to dispose of its stake to get the highest returns, including selling the bank to another financial institution.


By Kim Jong-yoon [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]



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