Monday, January 30, 2012

Lee Myung-bak

Lee Myung-bak (born 19 December 1941) is the President of South Korea. Prior to his presidency, he was the CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction and the mayor of Seoul. He is married to Kim Yoon-ok and has three daughters and one son. His older brother is Lee Sang-deuk, a South Korean politician. He attends the Somang Presbyterian Church. Lee is a graduate of Korea University and also received an honorary degree from Paris Diderot University on May 13, 2011.

Lee altered the South Korean government's approach to North Korea, preferring a more hardline strategy in the wake of increased provocation from the North, but is also supportive of regional dialogue with Russia, China, and Japan. Under Lee, South Korea has been increasing its visibility and influence in the global scene, resulting in the hosting of the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit. However, there remains significant controversy in Korea in regards to high profile government initiatives which have caused some factions to engage in civil opposition and protest against the incumbent government and President Lee's Grand National Party. The reformist faction within the Grand National Party is at odds against Lee Myung-bak.

Early Life and Education
Lee Myung-bak was born on December 19, 1941 in Osaka, Japan. The Lee family had emigrated to Japan in 1929 following the Japanese annexation of Korean Empire. His father, Lee Chung-u (이충우; 李忠雨), was employed as a farm hand on a cattle ranch in Japan, and his mother, Chae Taewon (채태원; 蔡太元) was a housewife. Lee is the fifth of seven children, with three brothers and three sisters. After the end of World War II in 1945, his family returned to his father's hometown of Pohang, in Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea. Lee's sister, Lee Ki-sun, made it known that they smuggled themselves into the country in order to avoid the property they acquired in Japan being confiscated by the officials. However, because the ship they took was wrecked off the coast of Tsushima island they lost all their belongings after all and the family barely survived.

Lee attended night school at Dongji Commercial High School in Pohang, at the time he received a scholarship. A year after graduation, Lee gained admission to Korea University. In 1964, during his third year in college, Lee was elected president of the student council. That year, Lee participated in student demonstrations against President Park Chung-hee's Seoul-Tokyo Talks taking issue with Japanese restitution for the colonization of the Korean peninsula. He was charged with plotting insurrection and was sentenced to five years probation and three years of imprisonment by the Supreme Court of Korea. He served a little under three months of his term at the Seodaemun prison in Seoul.

In his autobiography Lee writes that he was dismissed from Korea's mandatory military service due to a diagnosis of acute bronchiectasis while at the Nonsan Training Facility.

Business Career
In 1965, Lee started to work at Hyundai Construction which was awarded Korea's first-ever overseas construction, a $5.2 million contract to build the Pattani-Narathiwat Highway in Thailand. Despite being a new employee, Lee was sent to Thailand to participate in the project. The project was successfully completed in March 1968, and Lee returned to Korea and was subsequently given charge of Hyundai's heavy machinery plant in Seoul.

It was during his three decades with the Hyundai Group that Lee earned the nickname "Bulldozer". In one instance, he completely dismantled a malfunctioning bulldozer to study its mechanics and figure out how to repair it.

Lee became a company director at the age of 29 – just five years after he joined the company – and CEO at age 35, becoming Korea's youngest CEO ever. In 1988, he was named the chairman of Hyundai Construction at the age of 47.

When he started at Hyundai in 1965, it had 90 employees; when he left as chairman after 27 years, it had more than 160,000. Soon after the successful completion of the Pattani-Narathiwat Highway by Hyundai Construction, Korea's construction industry began to focus their efforts on encouraging the creation of new markets in countries such as Vietnam and the Middle East. Following the decline of construction demands from Vietnam in the 60s, Hyundai construction turned their eyes toward the Middle East and continued to be a major player in construction projects, with the successful completion of such vital international projects as the Arab Shipbuilding & Repair Yard, the Diplomatic Hotel in Bahrain and the Jubail Industrial Harbor Projects in Saudi Arabia, also known as 'the great history of the 20th century'. At that time, the amount of orders received by the Korean construction company exceeded US$10 billion and this contributed in overcoming the national crisis resulting from the oil shock.

After leaving Hyundai at the end of a 27-year career, he decided to enter politics.

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