[Viewpoint] Eliminate the unqualified first

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[Viewpoint] Eliminate the unqualified first

What happens if there are 100 candidates vying to become CEO? If they are all qualified, having a big pool is a good thing. In fact, successful companies are full of competent and talented leaders. So KT is likely to grow drastically. The “Group of 100” is working in and out of KT. KT Chairman Lee Suk-chae said he was doing his best as this would be his last service. And he joked, “The Group of 100 is shaking me up.”

The Group of 100 refers to the 100 people who want to become the CEO of KT, a wired and wireless telecom service provider.

GE is known for considering many candidates for CEO positions. For every division, two or three people are selected among the managers and executives as a potential successor. Those who are included in the list are intensively managed and provided with systematic leadership education. In 1994, Jack Welch reviewed the credentials of 23 candidates.

Four years later, he picked eight people, and by the end of the year, he shortlisted three candidates. And he made a near-perfect managerial competency evaluation. In 2001, then 45-year-old Jeffrey Immelt was selected to succeed Jack Welch as chairman and CEO. Khang Sung-wook, the CEO of GE Korea, sums up the corporate culture of GE, “People first, strategy second.”

In the history of the Joseon Dynasty, heir selection from multiple candidates happened during the reign of King Myeongjong. The king had one son from the queen, but the only son died at age 13. Unlike other kings, Myeongjong had only one royal concubine but had no son with her. Having no heir put great pressure on the king, and the king drank heavily and had a short temper, often getting angry and punishing the officials and servants for trivial reasons. In the end, the candidates came from a pool of close relatives, and three sons of Prince Deokheung, King Jungjong’s seventh son and Myeongjong’s half brother, were considered.

One day, Myeongjong called them to the palace. He took off his official headpiece and offered them to try it on. “I want to see if your head fits the crown.” While the two eldest brothers did not hesitate to try it on, youngest Prince Haseong politely turned it down and said, “How can a vassal put on the king’s headpiece?”

When Myeongjong became sick, he called Prince Haseong and had him attend by his side, suggesting that he had picked Haseong as his heir. Prince Haseong became King Seonjo, the 14th monarch of Joseon. He was a clever man who earned sovereign power with his wit. However, Seonjo is considered one of the worst kings of Joseon. He was incompetent and was swayed by factional strife, ultimately allowing the invasion of Japan.

A president is the CEO of the country, and Koreans are about to select a CEO to run the country for the next five years. We have a number of presidential candidates, and it is quite fun to evaluate their different merits and characteristics. But at the same time, voters are having a hard time deciding.

How about we start by crossing off those who do not qualify? In short, we should exclude the candidates like King Seonjo. Those who are quick-witted but lack true leadership and competency are likely to ruin the nation. When King Myeongjong selected his heir, he should have thought about who should not be, rather than who should be, the king.

IBM and many other world-class corporations put great importance on exit interviews, even more than entrance interviews. An IBM executive says, “When employees and executives leave the company, we almost always have an exit interview. We want to make sure we mark those we don’t want coming back. The manager would put an ‘X’ on the employee, and that person would not be able to come back to the company, even if he wants to.”

The next president will have to lead the nation in the most turbulent time. Corporate CEOs will also be faced with critical moments. So a witty, cunning leader may put the country in jeopardy and ruin the company. We should first think about those who are not qualified. Among the 100 candidates for KT CEO and dozens of presidential candidates, let’s find the Prince Haseong. Competition among competent candidates is desirable, but we need to take time to put an “X” on those who don’t deserve to run in the race.

*The author is the industry news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Sun-gu
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