The western nickname for Korea has not proven so true in my house for the last couple of days, where my telephone has been ringing off the hook, ever since President-elect Lee Myung-bak announced my appointment as co-chairman of the special committee on National Competitiveness. It seems it is the first time a foreigner has been appointed to such a role, and let's not be coy, I am both flattered and honoured (not to mentioned somewhat amazed).
There will be many who ask why I agreed to take this on, and you may be sure that I asked myself the same question. I did not seek the role, and there is no compulsion for me to do so. I owe nobody anything, and I am beholden to no-one. I was rather amused, in fact, by a suggestion reported in the UK newswire Times Online that I might be able to influence the Korean regulators to approve an application from my former employer who wishes to invest in a Korean bank. It only goes to show that the commentators don't know me at all, and the comment from the regulator who said I would not influence them was absolutely right; I wouldn't dream of even trying. The piece, under the byline of Andrew Salmon suggested that I was "unavailable for comment". I think, on reflection, that about the only journalist from Korea who didn't call me yesterday was Andrew Salmon.
So, for those good people who swamped my blog site yesterday - and look like doing the same today - here are some facts (that might also correct some of those in the Times Online's rather inaccurate "potted" CV).
I am a career banker, who started out in 1964, left Britain in 1968 and who has worked and lived in a variety of Middle East countries as well as Hong Kong and Malaysia. I have been traveling globally on business since the late 1980s, and first started visiting Korea regularly from about 1992. I retired from the HSBC Group over two and a half years ago after an association of 37 years. I believe it was a mutually satisfactory relationship, but since leaving them I have got on with my life and have no association with them other than some shares and some friends. I live in Hong Kong.
I am independent, and always have been, sometimes to the dismay of others who wished I was more "flexible". I believe in fair play and get easily irritated by bullies (and by companies like Amazon.com who still refuse to answer my letters on identity theft (mine) - even though I have sent the recent letters earlier this month by registered mail - see "Up the Amazon (.com) Without a Paddle" posted 17 September 2007).
I first got to know President-elect Lee Myung-bak when I chaired the Seoul International Business Advisory Council (SIBAC). I found him to be a man with drive and vision. His views on creating Cheonggyecheon were being criticised by many people, it seemed, but having lived through some of the disruptions caused in Hong Kong by the creation of the Mass Transit Railway, I could see that there was a long term benefit to be gained by short term inconvenience. I believe that today the benefits of Cheonggyecheon are plain for all to see, and I expect Mr Lee has not finished yet.
I have no illusions (or delusions) of "guruhood". I am conscious that I am a foreigner with a remit to suggest ways in which Korea might become a more "acceptable" destination for foreign direct investment. Korea itself has to determine if this is what it wants. I have no magic, no crystal ball, but I hope I bring a degree of openness and objective thinking with no pre-conceived ideas or bias to a country with potential that in my view should be realised.