CEOs should come out of hiding
On Sept. 15, I was in Frankfurt to cover the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show. At the world’s biggest automobile showcase, CEOs of global carmakers were working as busy as salesmen. Let’s look at the schedule of Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn on the opening day. At 2 p.m., he presented a new model of a midsize sedan, the Talisman, at the Renault booth. At 3 p.m., he attended a press meeting. For 40 minutes, he answered questions from reporters from over 100 media outlets. At 7 p.m., he met with some 60 reporters at a nearby hotel, giving interviews at different tables set up by country.
Ghosn was not the only busy CEO. Industry giants like Mercedes-Benz CEO Dieter Zetsche and Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn presented new models and met with reporters in person. BMW CEO Harald Krueger collapsed on stage as he was exhausted from the busy tight schedule filled with interviews. The executives are engaged in the business. They went around the booths, restaurants and briefing rooms, shaking hands and sharing jokes with the reporters. They didn’t avoid sensitive questions either.
I asked a BMW executive if the CEO is always eager to give interviews. Then he asked back, “Korean CEOs don’t do interviews?” When I was reluctant to answer, he said that motor shows are meant for interviews, and it’s a CEO’s job.
Is there any CEO in Korea who is eager to give interviews? I rarely find any of them so accessible. Among the conglomerate heads, Kumho Asiana Chairman Park Sam-gu is considered the most press-friendly. Even he doesn’t give formal interviews. When he runs into reporters going in and out of the office or at business meetings, he doesn’t avoid answering questions. He tells the executives that the chairman is supposed to meet people and communicate.
Many of the CEOS in Korea isolate themselves. Even the CEOs in the retail businesses are shy. So the distance between the companies and the public grows large. At the motor show, the Hyundai Kia CEO was nowhere to be found. Foreign reporters said that it was unfortunate that the CEO of the Korean carmaker with the fifth-largest global sales wasn’t there to present a vision.
Reporters come to motor shows not just to learn about new models but also to listen to the visions and future strategies of the industry leaders. CEOs are the right people for answering questions responsibly and addressing issues correctly. CEOs are asked to have many virtues: intelligence, charisma, quick judgment and generous leadership. In addition, a CEO needs to be ready to communicate with the public and work in the field. I would feel far more proud to see Korean CEOs surrounded by foreign reporters asking questions.
*The author is a business news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 18, Page 33
by KIM KI-HWAN