Bankruptcy stinks

February 20, 2002

By: Greg FreiherrIt was a typical breathtaking day on Waikiki. The surf pounded the hot white sand. Diamond Head loomed majestically in the distance. It was perfect in so many ways I could almost tune out the toddler crying

By: Greg Freiherr

It was a typical breathtaking day on Waikiki. The surf pounded the hot white sand. Diamond Head loomed majestically in the distance. It was perfect in so many ways I could almost tune out the toddler crying inconsolably in the shade on the edge of the beach. Rhythmically, the little boy's grandfather dug with his hand, hoisting and then trickling the white grains over the child's leg, as if to plead gently for silence.

An American would almost certainly have spoken to the child. But not this Asian gentleman who sat quietly, the hint of a smile on his face, a crying boy on his lap. After what seemed an eternity to me, the man rose slowly and kindly lifted his grandson to his chest. As he turned to walk from the beach, his expression changed ever so slightly to reveal not anger or frustration with the child-but shame.

Jet propulsion and satellite relays have brought the world together, but people are still worlds apart in how they interpret each other and their actions. In person and in context, it is possible to make sense of cultural nuance. The written word, however, affords no such luxury. Making matters worse, we journalists tend to wield the instruments of our trade-words-as if they were blunt and heavy objects. "Bankruptcy" is a good example.

Some companies in some nations see this term as a declaration of failure. They view its use as a slur. Medison is one of them. The offense taken by the company and its executives to the use of this word is a tribute to their character.

At first blush, the differentiation between receivership and bankruptcy may seem like a semantic battle. But an appreciation of the Korean system, which forces companies to accept receivership rather than voluntarily seek it, makes all the difference.

At a time when U.S. companies like Enron and Kmart gladly leap into the protective arms of bankruptcy and corporate executives plead the fifth during congressional inquiries into alleged wrongdoing, it is refreshing to come across executives who are fighting to save their company, who despise the term bankruptcy, and who want only to win back their solvency.

Kudos to the managers at Medison, not for the errors in judgment that brought them to the brink of financial disaster, but for their determination to bounce back.