[VIEWPOINT]Words of wisdom silencedOn the day that student protesters blocked Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee from attending a ceremony to receive an honorary doctorate, I was on the Korea University campus. I was with some aging alumni who flew in from all over the world to attend the special cultural lecture series, one of the programs celebrating the university’s centennial.
Journalist Lee Kyong-won, who is known as KW Lee in the United States, was there too. The veteran journalist has been inducted into the Newseum’s Journalism History Gallery in Arlington, Virginia, and is currently working on a book on the centennial history of Korean immigration.
Through the program, I was able to meet with some of the biggest stars in the country, including Seoul National University professor Hwang Woo-suk, Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak and samulnori master and Korean National University of Arts professor Kim Duk-soo. If it weren’t for the student disturbance, the one-week visit to my alma mater could have been a more beautiful memory.
Indeed, even Bill Gates, the richest man on earth, never loses his smile although he is occasionally hit with pies. Harvard University found itself a target of protesters after its president made gender-discriminating comments about female scientists.
However, these protesters are different in that they express their opinions but never disturb other people’s events. It is hard to find a case in which these sorts of protesters forced the cancellation of a ceremony.
In the aftermath, nothing has been lost. Given a chance, the protesting students gathered and conveyed their messages first. The university received an ultra-modern building from Samsung. Mr. Lee displayed both humility and tolerance by initially declining to accept the doctorate degree and then by saying later that he understood the protest of the students as stemming from young passions.
However, the audience lost a chance to hear the speech at the ceremony. Usually, the recipient of an honorary doctorate gives a speech when accepting the degree, and the speech is the highlight of the ceremony. Some 300 businessmen and 200 Samsung executives attended the ceremony along with their families to celebrate the event. Far more people who were not invited to the ceremony were anticipating what Mr. Lee would say on stage.
After all, the star of the day was the hermit tycoon who has repeatedly declined the offers by his alma mater, Waseda University in Japan, to receive an honorary degree. His decision to accept the degree from the first university that was founded by a Korean means Mr. Lee was having the outing of the century.
Mr. Lee was supposed to receive the honorary degree in philosophy, not in business administration. People were probably hoping to listen to the philosophy of life beyond business from arguably the most successful entrepreneur in the country. He is not one of the most articulate speakers but is celebrated as a poignant speaker. He has famously said that Korean politics was third grade and businesses were second grade, and claimed to change “everything but the wife and children.”
Mr. Lee does not have an MBA degree and was not educated at an Ivy League school. When he was in elementary school, he used to skip school to watch movies. He reportedly watched more than 1,000 movies and developed imagination and creativity. While Korean conglomerates are criticized for unreasonable management, foreigners are interested in Mr. Lee’s intuitive management philosophy.
Why is foreign capital averse to Korea? What would happen to the country if people try to pull each other down? A company is not a charity organization. The nation should not just demand money from business conglomerates, but ask them to share their knowledge and leadership with society.
Samsung Group employs some 3,500 doctorate degree holders, possibly more than a university would have. While the protesters criticized the “no-union” policy of Samsung Group, they should have studied the business management of the “no-union” company instead of driving away the tycoon.
Wouldn’t you want to hear the words of the CEO of a company that produces 21 percent of the country’s total exports?
Many audience members must have been perplexed as they looked at a stage with no speaker.
* The writer is a columnist. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Kyu-jang