By Jay Scott Kanes, courtesy of Cairnsmedia.com
HONG KONG – Leading banker and aspiring author John Walker sees family pets (like his 10 dogs) as contributors to career success.
“Having animals definitely helps in some ways,” said 54-year-old John, an executive director at Macquarie Bank Ltd and chairman of The Macquarie Group of Companies in South Korea. Macquarie has burgeoned into Korea’s largest foreign-investment banking group and its biggest Australia-based enterprise.
“I think there’s a relationship between pets and business, even just in how they make you feel,” John said. “It’s invigorating to come home from the office, even late at night, and have dogs jump around or do somersaults to greet you. They easily bring you out of the hurly-burly of the business day. I think that has a positive impact on a career.
“Animals also help by creating a better conscience, making you more discriminating about what’s a good investment or a bad one, a good company or a bad one. You’re less likely to view companies or products that have aspects of cruelty as positive investments.
“Pets may have a direct impact too when it comes to corporate social responsibility. They can influence the choice of charities or causes to support.”
Learning that a potential business partner loves animals too won’t affect a deal’s merits. “But it can influence you positively toward the person,” John said. “Business depends on relationships, and those made in heaven are when you have something strongly in common. Then things can go a little easier.
“I remember once complaining about how often we had to take our spaniel to a vet because the dog would eat anything. One guy told me a funny story about how at Christmas he’d found a red thing protruding from his dog’s anus. The animal had eaten a Christmas decoration. That sort of broke the ice between us.”
John values animals so much that he writes children’s books about them. On October 3, he visited Hong Kong to promote his first book, Ura’s World, illustrated by Heejung Sohn, about a mischievous moon bear named Ura and other critters in the Korean mountains. The book sales assist environmental charities.
Enthusiastically, John enthralled youngsters at a Bookazine store. “I want to educate children on the importance of the natural world,” he said. “People in big cities like Seoul or Hong Kong may have few chances to see nature in their busy lives so I want to show nature’s beauty and wonder through my stories.
“Protecting animals, preventing pollution and reducing greenhouse gases go hand-in-hand. It’s all about looking after the natural environment.”
Increasingly, business leaders recognize such issues and act on them. “I feel optimistic because so many companies want to be carbon-neutral and to introduce policy changes on the environment,” John said. “Everyone’s more aware of the problems, which shows the value of focusing on education and bringing people along in the process. Often it’s less urgent to demonstrate against a particular building project than to focus on who the decision-makers are and how to educate or influence them.”
John and his wife Gina live mainly in South Korea, but have homes in Hong Kong’s New Territories and in Australia too. “We’ve always had animals in our family – dogs, cats, fish, terrapins, you name it,” Gina says. “We’ve rescued and homed dozens of dogs and cats.”
Three dogs, Nurongi (meaning “yellow”), Enngsami (named for a TV star) and Inky, live with the Walkers in Seoul. “We took Inky off the street,” John recalls. “Nurongi and Enngsami came from the back of a restaurant. We found them there and weren’t sure if they were going on the menu, so we acquired them.”
Some Koreans like to eat dog meat. “That’s getting less widespread and isn’t very visible,” John said. “But you do think about it on hot days when older Koreans may consume what amounts to dog-soup. Younger people seldom follow the example.”
What if someone offered such a meal to John? “There’s no chance I’d eat it,” he said. “I’ve been invited on occasion, but always say, ‘Just forget it. I disagree with this practice.’ ”
Seven more dogs reside at John and Gina’s home in Hong Kong. Two Indonesian domestic helpers, Tree (in Hong Kong) and Marwa (in Seoul), care for the Walkers’ canines day-to-day.
Inspiration for Ura’s World flowed from Gina’s work as the founder of moonbears.org dedicated to ending Korea’s cruel bear-bile farming. “The book raises the profile of the issue,” John said. “My intention isn’t to be confrontational. It’s to be educational and sensitive to Korean culture.”
John has another story ready to appear soon. “I plan to do four books about Ura, one for each season,” he said. “In the next one, Ura’s Dream, the moon bear meets some animals well and truly on the endangered list.”
- Things look up as John tells his story about a moonbear named ‘Ura’
Originally from Sydney, Australia, John spent much of his childhood and student life in the United States. As a young man, he lived in Oregon. “Seeing the magnificent rivers and forests there, I started to think seriously about animals and the environment,” he said. “I remember being shocked once on the way back from a camping trip. A bunch of guys stood around five or six deer they’d shot. I’d seen such animals in the forest, and it jolted me to find them with legs in the air and rigor mortis setting in. It seemed to insult their beauty.”
Later John worked for Australian state governments and as an executive vice-president at Bankers Trust, Australia. In 1999, he received the Order of Australia for contributing to economic reforms and to transport plans for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Now he’s the first “foreigner” appointed a director in the Korea Securities Dealers Association.
John plans to continue keeping pets even after his business career ends. “The more time you spend with animals, the better you know them and the closer you become to them,” he said.