The Federation of Korean Industries, the lobbying body for larger businesses, has been virtually headless for the past seven months since its chairman, Cho Suk-rae, 75, of the Hyosung Group, expressed his intent to resign for health reasons. None of the heads of leading corporations is willing to take over.
It is ironic that the honorable position that traditionally represented the business world of Korea is so unpopular at a time when the nation is ruled by a supposedly business-friendly government. One explanation has it that ― quite superstitiously ― whoever has had the title has ended up having a brush with the law, such as a tax investigation, accounting probe or even a divorce suit over adultery. Cho is under investigation by the Fair Trade Commission.
Lee Kun-hee, chairman of Samsung Electronics whose father Lee Byung-chul was the first chairman of the FKI in 1961, is widely regarded as the natural choice, but he has refused it. The oldest member will have to assume the FKI chairmanship under its rules if leading members fail to pick one among themselves through informal consultations.
President Lee Myung-bak has many things to ask bigger corporations, for increased investment, expanded employment and better relations with suppliers. Yet, the FKI has not functioned as an effective communication channel between the government and the corporate world. His meeting with conglomerate heads at the FKI Building last week was little more than a social event.
As we see it, the 50-year-old FKI needs to make a serious review of its role and search for a new mission that suits the era of globalization. Strengthening research work is an important task so it can make useful policy recommendations as the responsible organization representing the producers of much of the nation’s wealth. Neglecting this task and even failing to elect its head, the Federation of Korean Industries would lose the justification of its existence.