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Economics Minister Woody Duh

Can the "Consummate Staffer" Unlock the Economy?

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Woody Tyzz-Jiun Duh has remained behind the scenes for most of his career. Now thrust into the spotlight as the new minister of economic affairs, can he lead Taiwan's economy out of the doldrums?

Can the "Consummate Staffer" Unlock the Economy?

By Yi-Shan Chen
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 554 )

It is hard to pinpoint when exactly it became customary for trade associations and businesses to run ads in newspapers congratulating the new minister when a personnel change is made at the top of a government agency.

On August 7, former economics minister Chang Chia-juch stepped down without warning, citing Taiwan's ugly political climate. When his successor, Woody Duh, was sworn in on August 15, the ads in the papers said, "Good luck, Woody!"

Such is the current state of affairs, where it is easier to give the new minister encouragement than "congratulate" him.

Who is Woody Duh, the new economics minister who will be subject to fire from all sides and have to crawl through the jungle of Taiwan's political environment? And will he have what it takes to lead the country's economy out of its current predicament?

"My brother was a late bloomer. Before he was 35 or 40, we never imagined he would turn out this way," admits brother Tze-Chen Tu, general director of the Center of Knowledge-based Economy and Competitiveness at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), and Woody's senior by three years.

The youngest of four siblings, Duh moved back and forth between Pingtung and Kaohsiung as a child as his father took various appointments as a career police officer. Unlike his brother, an extrovert, Woody was always a studious boy of few words.

"He was reserved from the time he was young, always considerate of others first," relates his brother.

Staying out of trouble and going about his business defines his style. After graduating from Kaohsiung Senior High School, he followed his interests and potentially good job prospects by enrolling in the "Forest Industry Section" of the Department of Forestry at National Taiwan University (NTU).  Shortly after graduating from NTU, he passed the Senior Civil Service Examination and went straight to the Bureau of Standards, Meteorology and Inspection under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, where he worked for a dozen years while earning master's and doctoral degrees in forestry from NTU.

Duh only began attracting attention and earning plaudits after joining the MOEA's Industrial Development Bureau. Already 38 by then, he was entering his 16th year as a civil servant.

An unnamed official at the Industrial Development Bureau relates that its Sixth Section was in charge of policy planning and World Trade Organization negotiations. The section chief was Ho Mei-yueh, who was skilled at distilling and assimilating briefings and input from different think tanks and making the ideas her own. Duh also worked in the Sixth Section, where he honed his skills to maturity and subsequently took over from Ho as section chief.

These experiences helped him command the ability to put together an upgrade and transformation plan for old-economy sectors in a single evening, greatly impressing then-IDB Director Shih Yen-shiang, who promoted him to IDB Secretary General. As both Ho and Shih worked their way to higher positions, Duh assumed greater responsibility along the way.

In 2004, Duh was named one of CommonWealth's "Leaders of the Future." "The consummate staffer" was how he defined himself at the time.

"He's hard-working, smart and deferential, but also has his own ideas," related an MOEA official, illustrating why superiors liked having Woody Duh as a key staff member.

Duh is the only person in the Ministry of Economic Affairs to have worked in the Department of Industrial Technology, Industrial Development Bureau, and Department of Commerce, and he has the distinction of being one of the few officials thoroughly versed in the laws and regulations of the three agencies. Such experience serves as an intangible asset as he sets forth to lead the MOEA.

From staffer to boss?

During a lecture last year at Yunlin University of Science & Technology on "Observations on Going from Staffer to Boss," Woody Duh boiled down his more than 30 years of experience as a career civil servant to five guiding principles: A gentleman does not get in his own way and set limitations; heroes can arise from humble beginnings; challenges should be taken on boldly; friends are forever; and know yourself and your competition, and seize every opportunity that presents itself.

Not getting in one's own way means not limiting oneself and always being open to learning. "When you are always there to help the boss resolve problems, the boss naturally thinks of you first," Duh said in his speech.

Perhaps because he was a relatively late bloomer or maybe because of his personality, people tend to appreciate Woody Duh's moderate manner and thoroughness compared to the typically aggressive stance generally exhibited by those who climb the ladder of success early in life. Nevertheless, his critics contend that having the personality of a staffer, Duh lacks originality and initiative.

Industrial Development Bureau deputy director general Jang-hwa Leu, Duh's colleague for more than 20 years, relates that Woody Duh is the sort of supervisor who reaches out when a subordinate is in a bind and points the way to a solution. If he finds the report an aide has prepared is not up to snuff, he revises it himself. "But he is quite clear about punishment and rewards," Leu says.

"On the outside, he's easy-going and obliging; on the inside, he's highly principled and firm," relates brother Tze-Chen Tu, who describes Woody Duh as a detail-oriented thinker who has plenty of endurance and is able to handle issues from a position of empathy in a low-key and humble fashion.

At home, Duh and his wife lead a simple life without children and with only pet cats at home, often taking the MRT to get around. Coming from a police officer's family, his principles are clear.

Leu relates an anecdote from a business trip to Mongolia the two went on together, during which Woody kept taking photos of the distinctive Mongolian terrain. It turned out the pictures were for his wife to use in her teaching as there are no copyright issues with one's own original photographs.

Given the nasty political climate in Taiwan – from the bad blood between the KMT and DPP and tension between President Ma Ying-jeou and Legislative Yuan speaker Wang Jin-pyng, to the rift within the ruling party – can Woody Duh's principles hold up, or is the stage set for yet another spectacular fall? This remains to be seen. What we can be sure of, is that he will have to confront several sensitive political issues, including Taiwan's energy policy, the future of the country's petrochemical industry, and the trials of cross-strait and global trade competition.

Further, in the wake of the failure of Taiwan's Two Trillion & Twin Star Industries and WiMax policies, how can Taiwan go about formulating an industrial upgrade and transformation policy in response to the era of knowledge-based economy? This could necessitate approaches that transcend the Industrial Development Bureau's established thinking. Will the MOEA have the right people to find the way?

"The economy is Taiwan's most vital form of national security," poignantly notes Minister without Portfolio John C.C. Deng, a former Deputy Secretary-General of the National Security Council. With a difficult road ahead of him, Woody Duh's influence could well extend beyond the economic realm.

Translated from the Chinese by David Toman


Woody Tyzz-Jiun Duh

Age: 55

Education:

B.S., M.S., Ph.D., Department of Forestry, National Taiwan University

Professional Experience:

• Specialist and Patent Examiner: National Bureau of Standards, MOEA

• Deputy Director General: Small and Medium Enterprise Administration, MOEA

• Section Chief, Secretary-General, Director General: Industrial Development Bureau

• Chief Secretary: Council for Economic Planning and Development

• Director General: Department of Commerce, MOEA

• Director General: Department of Industrial Technology, MOEA

• Vice Minister, Deputy Minister: MOEA

Keywords:

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