[Viewpoint]Ability or loyalty?Xiang Yu, a prominent general at the time of the fall of the Qin Dynasty in China, was in a better position than his rival, Liu Bang, in every respect. Yet Liu still defeated him.
Anyone can have a bad day, but it seems hard to believe even now that such a great hero succumbed to such a man of low origins. What was the turning point of the decisive battle that determined who would rule China?
The Chinese classic, “Records of the People’s Qualifications,” attributed the results to the personnel management style of the two generals.
Xiang had a self-centered style while Liu was the practical one.
Xiang was equipped with both power and talent. He burned down almost all castles he conquered, making his enemies tremble with fear.
Liu, meanwhile, never personally directed a battle until he fought against Chu, the kingdom founded by Xiang, He had never before produced a great strategic plan. The only thing he did was recruit talented people such as Zhang Liang, Han Xin and Chen Ping.
Xiang did not even use the talented people around him because he was arrogant and constantly suspicious of them, ultimately kicking them out.
In contrast, Liu purposely attracted people he thought would be useful and trusted them completely.
When the arrogant Xiang got rid of the talented Han Xin, Liu accepted Han as his subordinate. Liu even accepted former subordinates of his enemies without asking about their past. He only cared whether they were talented or not. He used a completely pragmatic personnel management system.
The Lee Myung-bak administration aims to be pragmatic, but the early rounds of personnel appointments have had many holes. It is still debatable whether the presidential secretaries and cabinet ministers were selected based only on their abilities and pragmatic standards.
The process of liquidating ideologically biased officials in charge of cultural and art organizations was not smooth and failed to differentiate gems from pebbles. There are rumors that another personnel reshuffling typhoon will blow in right after the National Assembly elections.
The problem is whether the administration will select talented people through proper procedures. The fundamentals of personnel management should be clear, based on rules and standards as well as fair procedures. Driving out a group of people on the grounds that they were appointed by the former administration or served as bureaucrats in the previous government, is not acceptable. In addition, public posts should not be doled out to people who helped get the president elected. After all, that’s not a pragmatic attitude, is it?
One bad rumor in the financial circles is that the people who belong to “Lee Hun-jai division” will be removed. That refers to the group of financial officials who occupy high posts at various financial companies allegedly due to their personal ties with Lee Hun-jai, the former deputy prime minister in charge of finance and economy who settled the foreign exchange crisis.
The Lee Hun-jai division is now a group to be shunned in the financial community. This began when President Lee Myung-bak is said to have given the order: “Do not allow any groups, like the ‘Mofia’ [retired Ministry of Finance officials] or the Lee Hun-jai division, to set foot in the financial world.” However, there is no official Lee Hun-jai division. It is difficult to classify people as belonging to the group because they were picked up by Lee Hun-jai or worked with him, and there is no evidence to condemn them as a group. Under such vague standards, almost everyone in the financial community is suspect.
Forcing a personnel reshuffle on vague grounds is not reform. It is far from pragmatic, either. For instance, let’s take a look at the case of Woori Bank President Park Hae-choon.
Lee Hun-jai asked him to revive Seoul Guarantee Insurance, which was suffering a 20 trillion won ($20.5 billion) deficit when Park was managing director of Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance. He turned Seoul Guarantee Insurance, which had been on the verge of bankruptcy, into a profitable company in five years.
Park was recruited again to solve the insolvency of LG Card in 2003, which was ailing from a 9 trillion won deficit. He revived LG Card, which had recorded a deficit of hundreds of billion of won every year, in one year. Then he was appointed president of Woori Bank through a fair public nomination process.
It would be unreasonable to call such a man a member of the Lee Hun-jai division, or classify him as someone who was appointed by the previous administration. He was chosen because the country desperately needed his talents. He got his present position after proving his ability. Will the new government follow in the footsteps of Xiang, who drove out talented people, or will it learn a lesson from the wisdom of Liu, who recruited talented people from throughout China solely on the basis of their abilities?
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-soo