[OUTLOOK]Let’s nurture talented peopleWolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri were contemporaries. Salieri was known to be spellbound by Mozart’s genius, yet he was a little jealous too. Salieri, who taught Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, was himself an extremely talented composer who dominated his time. In his time, he was much more famous than Mozart, but now we remember Mozart far more. We remember Mozart because of his genius, which needs no explanation.
The saying “No matter how good second place is, it is smothered by first place” is applicable to companies too. The relationship between a company’s productivity and its employees’ ability is generally proportional. First-class technology is produced by first-class human resources. The slogan “A company’s success depends on its employees” may sound stale, but it is a catchphrase in the minds of many people these days.
Nowadays, business competition is more a contest of brains than of diligence. If a few geniuses come up with a single, revolutionary new technology, they can make billions of dollars and provide thousands of jobs. That is why interviewing quality people is always a part of my business trips overseas, which take up more than 150 days of my year.
However, it seems that we haven’t been doing serious thinking about how to effectively get useful results out of these hard-to-get talents. The ultimate goal of personnel management lies in materializing achievements through the work of the talented people we have cultivated. But we seem to have some ill-conceived ideas about talented people.
It is regrettable, but I have had fewer successes than failures when it comes to making effective use of the talented people we have recruited. There are probably many reasons for this. Others in the workplace might have disliked and ostracized the most talented people, because they are different from them. Perhaps there was too much pressure for fast results. The company might have failed to provide a sufficient environment where the talented person could demonstrate his abilities. The workplace culture might have been too stringent about making mistakes. There are many possibilities. At any rate, recruiting a talented person and then letting him go without making use of him is like killing him twice.
A while ago, the world’s best business school, Harvard Business School, picked the success of Samsung Semiconductor Co. as a compulsory case study for first-year students, and asked me to give a special lecture. I was surprised to see the classroom filled with more than 1,000 students. I was even more surprised to hear that far more students had attended my lecture than had attended the special lectures given by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
Harvard Business School students are, at the very least, semi-geniuses. Why did they stand in the aisles to hear from me, when I am no international celebrity? It was their pure passion and thirst for knowledge that drew them to my lecture. Harvard has an infrastructure that allows students to concentrate solely on their studies.
What about Korea? Some people here go so far as to insist that Seoul National University should be abolished, on the grounds that it has led to an old school cronyism and that it greedily dominates the best human resources in the country. Even though Korea desperately needs an elite school that is first-class by global standards ―a school that, like Harvard, is known throughout the world ― these people want to get rid of the best educational institution in the country.
Have you ever heard of anyone in the United States saying that Harvard should be closed because it promotes academic cliques? We need to understand that the fundamental problems of academic cronyism and elite cliques have to do, not with “elite education,” but with the chronic disease of factionalism in our society.
If you don’t educate a child prodigy, on the theory that he is born with talents, he will grow up to be a dull, normal person. That is why child prodigies need customized elite education to maximize their individuality. This is still in the beginning stage, but Korea is becoming more active in establishing special education facilities for the gifted, like science high schools.
Samsung Electronics is sponsoring a program under which the company funds the establishment of special semiconductor departments at some universities, and works on giving talented young people customized education from an early age. Foreign language high schools and art schools are good examples of this. It is regrettable that we are a little late in making these changes, but it is a relief that we are at least getting started.
Geniuses are born with good genes, but the value of genius is acquired later. The government and businesses must provide our unripe geniuses with an environment where they can comfortably concentrate on studies and research. After all, human resources are all we have.
Let’s help great people become greater, so that others won’t hesitate to follow them. Let’s also create a meritocracy where talented people who work hard can enter society’s top 5 percent.
Isn’t it wiser to sharpen an angular rock than to hammer it down to make it look like all the others?
* The writer is the CEO of Samsung Electronics. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Hwang Chang-gyu