Give GM credit where it’s due in Daewoo’s troubled history

Saturday’s commentary on GM Daewoo, “Korea’s child needs to come home,” [Viewpoint, May 2] left out some key perspective.

Let’s be clear: Daewoo Motor’s luck never ran out. The delusions of grandeur on the part of its chairman led the company to foolishly overextend itself in emerging markets, and like Hyundai and Kia at the time, the Daewoo name did not carry much brand power anywhere except in Korea.

Hyundai had the smarts to survive and has since made the achievements that only ever existed at Daewoo in the form of daydreams in Kim Woo-jung’s head. Were it not for General Motors, Daewoo the auto manufacturer would not exist today and its workers would have been permanently laid off long ago.

Workers deserve credit for turning the company around, but so does GM. It also deserves credit for sticking to its word. At the time the deal to buy Daewoo was signed, GM promised to hire back workers who had been laid off as long as the company made productivity gains. It did and GM eventually hired back more than the promised number. Imagine the Korean economy of this decade had none of this happened.

The editorial analogy to a Korean child is tortured and unfair, but I’ll play along. If this company is really a cherished child of Korea, then Korea should not have let its child get wasted on credit and go partying in Eastern Europe without a little adult forethought first. GM may have its troubles, but it has performed admirably with Daewoo. And yet even after turning Daewoo around, all GM got from the Korean media was paranoia and suspicion. I guess a little bit of graciousness was too much to ask then, just as it seems to be now in this first time that GM Daewoo has had trouble.

Gary Anglebrandt, Seoul

May 4, 2009 | Korea Joongang Daily