[Viewpoint] Korea’s invisible talents

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[Viewpoint] Korea’s invisible talents

Last week, I related the story of Andy Rubin, the pioneer of the Android operating system for mobile devices, who is featured in Stephen Levy’s bestselling book “In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives,” and how Samsung Electronics missed the golden opportunity of acquiring Android ahead of Google.

I received interesting feedback on the article. A blogger wrote to me and said: “To impress Korean corporate human resources managers and board members, a potential executive in Korea should have graduated from one of the three top universities, look sharp, smile all the time and be modest enough to take orders.”

The blogger imagined what would have happened if any one of the famous tech-wizard CEOs in the world had even applied for jobs at Korean companies. Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates, Steve Jobs of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook would all have failed at the first stage, the resume review, because they do not have university degrees.

Andy Rubin’s degree from Utica College in upstate New York would hardly be considered impressive enough to move onto the interview stage. Sergey Brin and Larry Page - co-founders of Google - and Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, would possibly get interviews but would eventually be turned away because they all dropped out of graduate courses at Stanford. Intellectual Ventures’ founder Nathan Myhrvold’s academic and career record would please Korean bosses, but he might be questioned for his work ethic and loyalty due to his dedication to cooking.

We shouldn’t simply laugh off the blogger’s comments. They contain some hard truths. Corporate recruiters have more than 500 reasons to drop an applicant, but a good company should be searching for the one remarkable merit that could potentially eclipse the minor demerits on a candidate’s record.

Koreans have long been so obsessed with brushing up their resumes that they have little time to cultivate their inner selves. University students have given up on artistic aspirations and creative work because they are taking tests and undergoing cosmetic surgery to fit the predilections of recruiters. Job placement bulletins are filled with anxious prayers asking about grades and English proficiency test scores - “Are mine sufficient?”

Google announced that it would spend $12.5 billion to buy Motorola Mobility. Android-dependent manufacturers Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics politely welcomed the deal, saying it will help them if Google, which licenses Android for free, has as many patents as possible.

But they are naive if they think of Google as a charitable institution. It would not have staked such a princely sum to maintain Android as an open-source operating system for all smartphone devices. Google must have seen that Apple has been raking in profits from an exclusive software platform; hardware it makes itself and applications it creates and sells. Google must want the same, and that means the Koreans will be cut out someday.

Apple held a mere 5 percent of the global mobile phone market in the second quarter, but earned $8 billion, or 66 percent of its revenues from the wireless sector. Its high profitability springs from its proprietary business model as well as high customer loyalty. Google must have been envious.

Korea has no choice but to stay put under the Android umbrella for a while. But, once Google becomes confident in hardware manufacturing, it may become less charitable - and fair - in how it offers Android to device manufacturers. It may start charging fees. Earlier this year, Nokia announced a partnership with Microsoft and it is set to release smartphones with the Window operating system next month.

The global information and technology landscape is under the control of three players - Apple, Google-Motorola and Nokia-Microsoft. Without coming up with their own sustainable wireless habitat, Korean companies will turn into mere parts suppliers. Our mobile future may fall in the hands of foreign software giants.

Apple’s history has had its humble moments. Novice staffers and interns worked day and night in 2001 to develop the stylish iPod portable music player. Those employees were not Ivy League graduates or tech wizards.

Our technology industry has developed without the soul necessary in IT - software. Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee proclaimed that the company could look into software companies to buy. Software has become the basic weapon on the IT battleground.

Talents that could change our future may be around us. Companies have just not been looking hard enough.

The economy at the end of the day is all about people. We must change the yardstick we employ to measure talent.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Chul-ho
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