[Viewpoint] The tears of Chairman Lee

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[Viewpoint] The tears of Chairman Lee

Various emotional scenes unfolded after Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, announced that Pyeongchang had won its bid to host the 2018 Winter Games. President Lee Myung-bak and other bid committee members beamed with joy, and Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na shed tears of happiness and relief. Also wiping emotional tears was Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee, an IOC member.

A recent newspaper report said Samsung Group’s revenues of 260 trillion won ($246 billion) last year accounted for 22 percent of the country’s total gross domestic product of 1,172 trillion won. GDP excludes production costs, such as raw materials, while corporate revenue figures do, but we can get an idea of the power of a year’s worth of Samsung’s revenues.

Samsung’s 200,000 employees sold products at home and abroad equivalent to more than one-fifth of what our entire population has earned in a single year. Some raise concerns over a single business group’s share in the economy. We cannot deny conglomerates’ contribution to the Korean economy, with the combined revenue of the five major groups - Samsung, Hyundai Motor, LG, SK and Lotte - totaling 500 trillion won and accounting for up to 70 percent of the country’s GDP. We talk of polarization and a “double-structure” in our society because of their prominent place in the economy.

But at the same time we cannot tell large companies like Samsung to stop earning so much because they have turned too big. It is true some of the conglomerates have gotten greedy and want to encroach into the restaurant and stationary businesses, the traditional domain of mom and pop shops.

But people are born with certain abilities. Some are good at earning money. Samsung has become a global company through strong leadership and the mighty toil of its staff. Without a competent leader, it could not have reached the status it owns today. We tend to applaud people who have paved the way to such undeniable successes, but are less appreciative of corporate successes in themselves when they can’t be attributed to an individual human being.

Our hearts warmed as the residents of Pyeongchang embraced the news of its city finally winning on its third attempt to get the Olympics. They are filled with pride and expectations of the potential financial rewards the international event will bring. Lives will turn richer and better with various new infrastructure projects, higher asset values, the inflow of tourists and more jobs. The Olympics can benefit not only one city, but all of Gangwon.

It is the same with a nation. The economy must grow in order to create jobs. Companies must prosper to drive the economy. Distribution ends once wealth is shared, but growth can keep the income flowing in through new jobs. Enterprises and entrepreneurs make jobs. We should encourage them to keep growing, not cut back. Instead of chastising large companies, we must help smaller companies expand so new jobs can spiral out and enrich the national economy.

Democracy values equity: every citizen is entitled to a vote. But other areas in life, like the economy, culture, arts and sports, are not guaranteed to be fair. One must excel in those areas in order get ahead and develop. Quality is honed through competition. Achievement is not a given shared equally by everyone.

Some say Samsung’s Lee shed tears of relief, having been pardoned by the president for a three-year tax evasion sentence to help the country win the Winter Olympics. But he undoubtedly felt more than mere personal emotions. Lee certainly believed in the value of the nation and his own responsibility while representing the country. He may have had a new realization of what Samsung means to this country. His tears could have been a crystallization of his feelings for the country.

The triumph of hosting the Winter Games in Pyeongchang is the culmination of efforts by many people in many areas. The corporate role should not be underestimated. Without large corporate brands, we could not have won such a huge international event.

We hope the exhilaration over Pyeongchang’s victory can unite the people’s hearts. The role and passion of large companies and entrepreneurs in vying for the Olympics should be appreciated. Silent tears from an entrepreneur should not be unappreciated.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Moon Chang-keuk
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