Baby boomer won’t go gentle

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Baby boomer won’t go gentle

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After retiring from Woori Bank, Lee Tak-soo found work at the much smaller Mirae Fats & Industry. By Han Ae-ran

Korea’s baby boom generation is about to leave the working world.

Many of the about 7.12 million people born in the few years after the Korean War, many of them executives in the corporate world, are reaching retirement age this year. But some refuse to go quietly.

Lee Tak-soo, a 55-year-old former banker, is one of them.

“What change did I go through? Oh yeah, now I don’t wear a bank badge,” a smiling Lee said, pointing to the place on his suit coat where a name tag had hung for the past 37 years.

Lee is now working at Mirae Fats & Industry, a used oil recycler located in Pocheon, Gyeonggi. He started there as an executive managing director on April 12.

After graduating from a commercial high school in Seoul, Lee got a job at Hanil Bank, one of the predecessors of Woori Bank, in 1973.

He worked his way up the corporate ladder to become head of a branch in Changsin-dong, Seoul, until retiring last month.

Moving from Korea’s second-largest bank, which employs 15,000 people, to a small firm with 26 workers total - including executives - might be a strange or even bitter experience for some. Lee calls it a blessing.

“Among my 50 colleagues who were born in 1955 and started at Hanil Bank with me, only 20 or so have been promoted to branch head. I have no regrets there,” he said. “The bank also helped me find a new job. I am just grateful that I found one.”

Earlier this year, Woori Bank launched a program to help its branch heads who are about to retire get new jobs, called the “Baby Boom Generation Branch Heads Re-employment Project.”

Baby boomers are those born between 1955 and 1963. The oldest may have survived the massive layoffs in the wake of the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, but they can’t stop aging, and age 55 is the first year at which most banks start applying a wage peak system. They have to choose to stay at the bank for five more years with dwindling wages or leave.

Lee chose to get an early start on his second career.

“Even if I manage to stay at the bank until I turn 60, then what? I can’t stand the idea of idling away my days at Pagoda Park like the other elderly,” he said. “More baby boomers will join the retirees, and I need to get a firm footing in society before that.”

So Lee applied for a new job through the re-employment project and waited for a reply. It was not easy to find a company that needed people with a career like his. Some of his colleagues applied for the same project, but many of them are still waiting to be hired.

Finally, Mirae Fats & Industry called. Lee went to a job interview and heard they needed a person that could handle the fiscal management of the company - exactly his area of expertise.

Kim Seong-cheol, president of the company, has been satisfied with Lee so far.

“I am weak at numbers, and think, who else could manage the fiscal condition of the company like a bank branch head like Lee?” Kim said.

Lee said he feels he must shine in his new job, as one of the first baby boomers entering a second career. He said he will work hard to build a positive image of re-employed baby boomers for the ones who follow him.

He is at Mirae on a two-year contract. Though not accustomed to working on a short-term contract, Lee is less worried about it than he was in the past.

“I will just keep working hard, and who knows, the company might renew the contract,” he said. “I will definitely make it happen.”



By Han Ae-ran [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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