|KDB Chairman Lee Dong-gull|
By Park Hyong-ki
There is a memorable line said by Mafia leader Michael Corleone played by Al Pacino in "The Godfather Part III."
He says, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
Corleone wanted to get out of the "traditional Mafia business" and start something that was legitimate and socially responsible for his family. But given his power and influence in the underworld, some gangsters wouldn't let him go.
Lee Dong-gull, chairman of the state-run Korea Development Bank (KDB), must have felt the same way as Pacino's Corleone.
Just when Lee thought he was out after handing over Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering to Hyundai Heavy Industries, Asiana Airlines pulls him back in to bail out another conglomerate mismanaged by its owner.
In late January following the Hyundai-Daewoo deal, Lee said this would be his "last mission" to help restructure a debt-laden conglomerate.
KDB's new mission will be financially supporting startups and conducting investment banking to boost innovation for the economy, he said.
"Our economy cannot depend only on Samsung and LG. It is time to develop a new generation of industries for the coming era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution," Lee said.
But Lee will have to wait until after Asiana finds its new buyer and owner. KDB is pushing to sell the airline company by the end of this year.
The policy bank will have to continue to put out the fires started by those troubled companies for the time being.
Its central and strategic role in the economy is best represented by the letter "D" in KDB.
It is clearly stipulated in the law when the country established the development bank that KDB's role and goal should be financially backing industrial policies and projects to spur innovation, develop the economy, and most importantly, create jobs.
But it has been caught up in politics, serving every administration's needs to salvage shipbuilders and automakers, and win their employees' votes.
Some even say the "D" in KDB should stand for "debt-laden conglomerates" ― Korean Debt-laden conglomerates' Bank.
"It's really a shame to see KDB being used only in this capacity because of politics. And conglomerates should be embarrassed for reaching out to KDB for money. Those companies had good years, but now they are in trouble because of mismanagement," an industry source said.
KDB made a "wise decision" on Asiana when the airline conglomerate came asking for a bailout fund, the source added.
"I think Lee had had enough and told Asiana to step away and find a new responsible manager," the source said.
Analysts agreed with this view, saying the time is ripe for the development bank to pursue "a new mission" for new growth.
"Lee's new mission, in this case, should stay true to what KDB is, what it should be for the future generations and why it was created in the beginning ― developing and creating new industries and jobs," said Sun Dae-in, an independent economist who heads SDInomics.