10 Management Secrets of Kim Jong Il
The death of North Korean Dear Leader, Eternal President and Lodestar of the 21st Century Kim Jong Il gives us a moment to assess the man – sorry, demigod – not just as a brutal, murderous, deranged dictator but also as a manager. Let us not forget that he lead a complex enterprise for 17 years and even managed to “flourish” (at least by his definition), as he told his people every day. Clearly, there are lessons to be learned here.
- Do whatever it takes to get the best talent. In 1978, Kim ordered the kidnapping of South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok, , and his wife, the actress Choi Eun-hee, in order to build up North Korea's film industry. They made seven films before escaping to the West in 1986. We all know how hard it is to keep good people, don’t we?
- Communication is overrated. He only made one broadcast to his nation. In 1992, during a military parade in Pyongyang, he said into a microphone at the grandstand: "Glory to the heroic soldiers of the Korean People's Army!" Even so, North Koreans wept on the streets like Elvis fans when they heard of his death. And speaking of Elvis…
- Have your own style. Only Donald Trump has a more distinctive (and funnier) hair style than Kim’s fabulous pompadour. As so often happens when someone dies, I suspect Kim’s passing will make people wistful and even nostalgic about him. To stay ahead of the curve go out now and order a gray leisure suit and glasses bigger than your face. You’ll thank me later.
- Be a renaissance man. While in college, which he finished in just three years, Kim wrote at least 1,500 books. Even after becoming North Korea’s CEO he always made time for the arts, composing six operas and directing movies. He also invented a product described as "double bread with meat" and created factories to produce them. (Jealous rivals tried to smear this last accomplishment by saying this invention looked an awful lot like the hamburger.) Nor was he just another nerd: According to his biography, the only time he ever played golf, he had a 38-under par round that included no fewer than 11 holes in one.
- Work your way up from the bottom. Despite being son of the nation’s leader, Kim earned his place at the top. While in middle school he worked in a factory and was said to be quite the whizz at repairing trucks and electric motors. Even though he joined the ruling Worker's Party of Korea in 1964, it wasn’t until 10 years later that he was anointed as successor to his father.
- Embrace new technology. North Korea is believed to have as many as 1,000 hackers targeting other nations.
- Keep an eye on the details. Kim had female staff inspect each grain of rice on his dinner table to make sure it adhered to standards of length, weight and color.
- Customer service matters. Kim forced waitresses at restaurants frequented by foreigners in Pyongyang to have cosmetic surgery in order to appear more "western.”
- Play office politics for keeps. Do I really have to spell this out?
- Work hard? Party hard. Despite famines caused mostly by economic mismanagement that have killed two million North Koreans, Kim had live lobsters airlifted daily to his train when traveling. He reportedly drank nearly $700,000 worth of cognac a year. It's a wonder he made it to 69. If that was his real age.
CONSTANTINE VON HOFFMAN | Columnist
Constantine von Hoffman is a writer and sometime standup comedian. His work has appeared in Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, and Boston Magazine.