The magic of merit over gradesFor the first time in its 54-year history, LG Electronics has promoted one of its employees lacking a university degree to the rank of division president. The newsmaker is Cho Sung-jin, who was named president of its home appliance division for his contribution to making the company’s washing machine a global best seller.
After graduating from Yongyang Vocational High School, Cho joined LG - known then as Lucky Goldstar - in 1976 and devoted his career to developing washing machine motors. He was the brains behind the company’s patented direct drive technology, which attaches the motor directly to the drive to reduce vibration, noise and energy usage. He helped develop the world’s first steam washer, an innovation that saves both washing time and energy. Both are byproducts of the toil and sweat he expended with his development team on the second floor of one of the company’s factories.
LG Electronics last year beat Whirlpool to secure a world-leading share of 10.9 percent, and its direct drive drum washer was named best in its class by U.S. Consumer Reports. As LG Group Chairman Koo Bon-moo said the year-end appointments would be strictly based on performance, Cho’s promotion is hardly surprising. Koo could hardly have ignored Cho, who has refused to copy existing technology in favor of innovation.
The increased recruitment of high school graduates by large companies is good news for the job market. According to the Federation of Korean Industries, the interest group for the country’s largest business groups, of the 135,000 people hired this year by the top 30 conglomerates, 41,000 lacked college degrees.
This adds more of a leveling effect to a society that places a high premium on academic background and boasts a university entry rate of 80 percent. Cho’s legacy in LG Electronics could serve as an impetus to this trend. We need to hear more success stories involving high school graduates to combat all the negative news about young Koreans trying hard to enter universities they cannot pay for, and then proving unable to find jobs after they graduate. We need to build a society that values ability as well as academic achievement.
We also need to redress the wide wage gap between high school and university graduates, which is one of the highest among members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. In the long run, the rate of university entries should drop to 40 percent, the OECD average. We need to build a society where dreams can be accomplished with or without college degrees.