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“Birthday Party, Out of the Question…”

Posted August. 17, 2005 06:27,   


The three-day holiday ended on August 16. Most workers were rushing to their workplaces, but those of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) in Yeoido, Seoul took another day off. This day marked the 44th year since FKI was established in 1961. It is the “birthday” of FKI, which has 65 industry organizations including those in manufacturing, trade, and construction, and 380 major Korean companies as members. However, FKI, which prides itself in being the “big brother of economic organizations,” did not even celebrate with a birthday party (an anniversary ceremony). What is going on with FKI these days?

Why FKI is Keeping Quiet-

FKI is viewed to have led Korea’s economy with the government in the past economic development phase of Korea, but it is now keeping a low profile.

Various current issues of the economy such as the so-called “X-file” case in which Korea’s largest conglomerate, Samsung, is involved, the dispute between the two brothers of the Doosan Group, and the Asiana Airlines pilots’ strike are the talk of the town this summer, but FKI is like a “silent temple.” As the cases were such, realistically it was difficult for FKI to step forward and express an opinion.

There are many signs that FKI is “watching its mouth.” An FKI executive said, “Until last year, even as the business community was being pushed around by a ‘strong government,’ FKI had its say. However this year, the government, political, and business circles are acting cautious around each other, and so it is better to keep quiet.”

The FKI fell quieter after Chairman Kang Shin-ho took office in February this year. The evaluation is that it is pursuing a strategy of “looking out for its interests rather that raising its voice against the government” after Vice Chairman Cho Kun-ho and Secretary-General Ha Dong-man were sworn in.

The fact that anti-conglomerate sentiment which had been on the decline is rising again due to the various recent incidents in the business world is another concern for FKI.

FKI Media PR head Kuk Sung-ho explained “We are not holding a separate ceremony since it is the 44th anniversary, but on the 45th anniversary next year we will hold a large ceremony”. However, this is a poor excuse.

Facing Limits Due to Lack of Active Participation from Major Groups-

There are various opinions on the status and role of FKI in the business circles.

More than anything, it is difficult for FKI to wield leadership as a representative of businesses because participation from the leaders of the four major groups is lacking.

An executive of Samsung Group pointed out, “FKI was once criticized that it represented Samsung alone, but currently, it is difficult to define FKI’s role in the business community as a representative.”

An official of LG Group said, “It seems that FKI is drifting further away from its strong position in the past as the representative of businesses because it is structured around various committees.”

There are even opinions that there are limitations as Chairman Kang, who is the chairman of Donga Pharmaceutical, a mid-sized group, is leading the large FKI.

A high-ranking official in the business community pointed out, “The leaders of the four major conglomerates have to play a role for FKI to wield any influence. Unless they do so, it will be difficult for FKI to represent the business community, no matter who takes the chairman seat.”

However, FKI is further troubled because it is difficult to hope for such a change.

A 44-year-old FKI is now holding its breath.

Young-Hae Choi yhchoi65@donga.com