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Posted : 2007-08-20 18:03
Updated : 2007-08-20 18:03

Economy-First Trademark Gives Lee Myung-bak Edge


GNP presidential nominee
Lee Myung-bak
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Staff Reporter

Born into a poor family, Lee Myung-bak, 66, presidential nominee of the Grand National Party (GNP), has led a unique career from child worker to high-flying CEO.

Lee helped his mother, a market vendor, by selling a variety of street foods during his childhood days.

Income from the vendor job not only fed his family but was also spent on tuition and other expenses in his secondary schooling period.

Asked what he considered to be the most embarrassing moment in his life, Lee said in an interview that it was the moment he had to sell popcorn in front of high school girls his age.

The shy boy used to put on a big straw hat so that the girls wouldn't recognize him.

His mother would scold him, saying to ``have confidence in what you do.''

The legacy of the self-employed childhood years still lingers in his mind, even after he became a presidential contender of the main opposition party.

Lee told reporters that he always makes sure he has 100,000 won (approximately $110) in his wallet. He said he needs the money for street foods.

He recounts having been trained at keeping a client-oriented and customer-responsive mindset throughout the mediocre job.

Lee's harsh life continued when he moved to Seoul from his hometown, Pohang, after graduating high school.

He had to be a self-sufficient college student by doing part-time labor work downtown.

Vendors and street shop owners offered the diligent young man from the southern city a cleaning job.

Lee was able to complete his bachelor's degree in business administration at Korea University in Seoul due to his disciplined work ethic.

Yet, the harder times were still to come.

After college, the skinny young man had to ``fight for'' a full-time job in the real world.

Lee had received a series of rejection letters from every workplace he applied for primarily because he played a leading role in the anti-government protests of 1964.

Under the authoritarian rule of the late President Park Chung-hee, the former student activist who served time in jail for the protest should never have held a real job.

The college graduate, who barely made ends meet during his darker days, sent a letter to a senior official of the presidential office letting him know of his troubled situation.

Lee sat down with an aide of Cheong Wa Dae for a possible breakthrough in his career.

The senior aide showed no signs of resolving the obstacle in his career and only explained why he deemed Lee to be unworthy of any ``real world'' job.

Patience wearing thin, Lee left the office, warning, ``You will not be freed from guilt all your life from now on if you continued to hold my career back because I opposed the government plan in the past.''

The aide later recalled Lee's last words and decided to give him another chance.

Lee got a job offer from Hyundai Engineering and Construction in 1965.

Since he joined Hyundai as an entry-level employee, Lee became a headliner and legendary corporate leader having numerous stunning achievements in business.

During the 27-year business career, Lee took on the fastest-track.

Strongly backed by the late legendary tycoon Chung Ju-young, Lee became a member of the board of directors in his 20s, chief executive officer at 35, and vice president in his 40s.

In his autobiography ``There Is No Such Thing As Miracle Business'' published in 1995, Lee said, ``People call me an architect of miracle business. From a third person's perspective, my success could be seen as combination of a winning streak and lucky break. My interpretation is a little different. The real business world is exposed to a variety of business threats."

``The source of my success in the business world is decisiveness and courage. I was able to turn challenges into business opportunities with personal traits,'' he said.

With stunning accomplishments in business, he was behind the huge transformation of Hyundai from a medium-sized local firm into a global construction giant.

In 1992, Lee was asked by the then ruling party to run on its ticket in the National Assembly elections.

Not many people know that Lee has gone through cycles of peaks and valleys in politics since he joined the political arena in 1992.

Lee lost the primaries for party nomination of Seoul mayor in 1995, and had to quit the Assembly seat for his allegedly illegal campaigning for the second-term.

Lee returned to politics in 2002 as Seoul mayor after winning the local election.

His 15 years of highs and lows in politics are a reflection that the rule of thumb is different in the two worlds _ business and politics.

hkang@koreatimes.co.kr

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