Economist: Overseas study not for everyone

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Economist: Overseas study not for everyone

“Don’t send your children to study abroad at an early age. Wouldn’t it be better to send them after they have graduated college here in Korea?”
It was an unexpected response from Sohn Sung-won, 58, chief economist at Wells Fargo & Co., who went to the United States right after graduating high school in Gwangju, South Jeolla province.
Mr. Sohn studied economics at the University of Florida and earned his doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh before serving on former U.S. President Richard Nixon’s Council of Economic Advisers in the early 1970s. After leaving the White House, he joined Norwest Corp., which merged with Wells Fargo in 1998.
His is one of the few highly recognizable Korean names on Wall Street. So it may seem odd that Mr. Sohn is worried about Korean parents sending their children to study overseas as youngsters. “Children sent abroad at an early age to study may lose their competitiveness if they decide to return to Korea,” he explains.
Mr. Sohn says that his is a rare case, not one to be held up as an example. He adds that competing with Americans on their own turf is not easy. When he left for the United States in 1962 all he had was a $100 bill. As a student at Florida, he paid his way working in a library for 85 cents an hour.
Mr. Sohn said he was fortunate to find good mentors like Marina Whitman. Professor Whitman was teaching at the University of Pittsburgh when she was appointed to Nixon’s Council of Economic Advisers. She invited Mr. Sohn to join her at the White House.
“When living abroad it is important to have mentors in order to survive. I had several who gave me great help in my life,” he says.
Mr. Sohn was working at the White House when he first met Allan Greenspan, who is now chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board. At the time, Mr. Greenspan was working as a consultant. “If I knew he would become this famous, I would have treated him better,” Mr. Sohn jokes.
Mr. Sohn spends half of every year on the road and advises his married subordinates to bring their wives along on at least one business trip each year. “Family harmony is most important,” Mr. Sohn advised. “If a wife travels on business with her husband, she can better understand what he does.”


by Suh Kyung-ho
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