Earnestness withinThe real strength of an organization shows in a crisis. The crisis management by Samsung Electronics and the Korean government over the last 10 days proves this point. Samsung Electronics announced that it would replace or refund 2.5 million Galaxy 7Note smartphones sold across the world over the last month. It came up with a radical recall policy that could cost the company an estimated 1.5 trillion won ($1.4 billion) upon discovering battery defects in 35 devices.
The world was stunned by the fast recall program. Consumer confidence was immediately restored by the Samsung move that came while its biggest rival Apple was readying to release the iPhone 7 ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. It differentiated itself from Apple’s hard-nosed after-sales service policy. The company’s balance sheet in the third quarter will be hurt by the generous refund and recall actions. But Samsung Electronics has gained what money cannot easily buy — consumer confidence. Crisis can be conquered by confidence. But when confidence is lost, it is not easy to be restored.
The government has long sat on the problem of Hanjin Shipping and aggravated the situation. Hanjin Shipping vessels are stranded at sea because they cannot enter ports across world, from Long Beach to the Suez Canal. They are carrying millions of dollars worth of cargo.
The vessels cannot dock because the ship or cargo may be seized by overseas creditors. Workers at ports are also refusing to help out with the unloading because of overdue payments.
Korea is a trade powerhouse and an economy that runs on exports and imports. Shipping is essential. Cargo carriers stranded at sea symbolize Korea Inc. sailing astray. The government left the fate of a flag carrier that is intricately bound up with local finance and global logistics in the hands of a single financial policy chief. He has been given the role of the ruthless moneylender Shylock in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” demanding a pound of flesh from his rival when he defaults on a loan. The government may have saved banks from losing 500 billion won, but its shortsighted policymaking has come at the cost of the credibility of Korean trade.
Yoo Il-ho, the deputy prime minister in charge of all economic affairs, deserted the command center at a time when quick decisions were necessary to accompany the president to China. The G-20 summit was being held in Hangzhou Sept. 3-6. Senior presidential secretary for the economy Kang Seog-hoon also followed the president. Ahn Chong-bum, senior secretary for policy coordination, was busy keeping watch on who was undermining the power of the president instead of coordinating policy affairs. All the policymakers seem to have had their mind on something else.
I am not saying Hanjin Shipping should not have been placed under court receivership. But before it was sent to the operating room, all the doctors from different fields should have gathered and discussed the case to make sure the operation was a success instead of leaving the patient in the hands of one surgeon — as if not caring whether the patient could die on the operating table.
The idea for a dramatic breakthrough for Samsung Electronics in its crisis came from within amid a series of explosions and meltdowns of its new phablet while charging. One employee posted a lengthy opinion on his employers’ bulletin board. He said all the latest premium phones should be replaced by new ones because “no money can buy back loyal customers who had gone out to place pre-orders for a new Galaxy Note.”
He continued: “If not, the company should not have trained the employees to place the customer’s interests first.” This screed drew 25,000 viewers. Other employees offered to surrender incentives for this year to help the company replace the phones.
The employees’ pleas moved the employer. The company has not found out who the writer of the first post was. But a mere employee was not in the position to make a management decision. He or she valued the company’s pride as his or her own regardless of their position.
Samsung Electronics proved itself a top-class company for having established a corporate culture that prioritizes reputation and responsibility over mere money.
How about the government? Are there public officers who regard their positions with such pride and responsibility? Or is pleasing the president and safeguarding their jobs their only care?
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 9, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.