Letter of Recommedation
I first met S.H. Hwang just after arriving in Korea, at the 2006 annual meeting of the DNV Korean Committee. At these meetings DNV – the Norwegian classification company – brings together CEOs and other leaders of Korean shipyards and shipping-companies for a presentation of some of their common challenges. During the dinner, S.H Hwang gave me some glimpses from the nascent days of the Korean shipbuilding industry. Eventually we started to see each other more, both in my residence in Song-buk dong as well as on the golf course. I gradually learned to know Mr. Hwang as an extremely interesting person, always with a good story to tell.
Over the years S.H. Hwang has written articles in the Journal of Korea Shipbuilder’s Association from his many trips, often as he tried to convince ship-owners from around the world to have Hyundai build their new ships. Now, he has decided to share with us his accounts of these early days of Korean shipbuilding through his book “……..”
Many years have passed since J.Y. Chung, the founder of Hyundai Group and the boss of S.H. Hwang, proved his extraordinary foresight by constructing what today is the world’s largest ship yard - HHI. Korea was down on its knees after the Korean War, but the chaebol leaders had set an incredible ambitious agenda for the reconstruction of their country. Mr. Chung foresaw the effect of increasing global trade and jumped at the opportunity to put Korea squarely into the global economy.
Korea’s politicians at the time had the will to do what was necessary to make these changes work for the Korean economy. This political will to confront and resolve difficult challenges is still a main characteristic of the Korean people – not often seen elsewhere. All through this period Korea had the fortune to have at all levels a creative, dedicated and competent workforce. With these qualities, Korean shipyards took their incredibly swift steps into the world’s global markets.
S.H. Hwang’s presence at Hyundai coincides with the most exciting times in the short history of Korean shipbuilding. S.H. Hwang has seen it all. In his book, he gives fascinating glimpses into what at the beginning must have been fragmented and almost helpless attempts to catch up. The book is filled with anecdotal glimpses of H.H.I’ early years, when the construction of vessels was primarily a process of learning by doing.
We let ourselves be captivated by small stories, which have much to give the reader both on a human and on a business level. S.H. Hwang’s habit of making notes in his diary of even small details often elevates parts of the book to the level of a novel. Even if today’s business world and their leaders are totally different from the pioneers thirty years ago, young aspiring middle managers would still have a lot to learn from S.H. Hwang’s story of 30 years of work in the Korean ship building industry.
In the book, the reader follows Korean management’s attempts to come to grips with building all types of vessels – from VLCCs to LNGs, while at the same time trying to understand the thinking of their customers, particularly the foreign ship-owners. Many of these were enormously rich and powerful - often with fickle but strong personalities and with hidden agendas. S.H. Hwang’s background was cosmopolitan enough, which was not the case with most Korean high level management at the time. In the beginning, both S.H. Hwang and other ship yard executives had to go to Europe to learn how to build ships. They soon realised, however, that they were able to build huge VLCCs better and cheaper than the Europeans. From what they saw, the Koreans simply decided to build the best ships in the world. When they went about to do so, they did so with passion and conviction.
On both sides of the negotiation tables sat some extremely tough people, who would eventually decide whether contract would be signed or not. Some of this toughness is certainly still present among Koreans, according to the experience of those business people who negotiate with Koreans today.
This toughness in negotiations is also something which S.H. Hwang experienced in his dealings with the trade unions. At the time logistics were not directed by sophisticated software, and Korean shipyards often were dangerous places to work. Thus, as the industry came of age, it became clear that also the workers, who did the manual work in putting together the ships, would demand their share of the cake. S.H. Hwang’s encounters with the powerful trade unions at HHI give interesting glimpses into the inter-Korean relationship at the workplace.
He also tells about European management’s heated discussions with Korean workforce, while at the same time admiring their skill and respecting the Korean culture. But he also recounts how some European top management sometimes lacked the proper esteem for these traditions. His Danish boss Kurt J.W. Schou, did not wait long to strike down on such disrespectful conduct by foreign management. S.H. Hwang’s affection for Mr. Schou shines clearly through, for instance when he mocks him in a good natured way for his thick Danish accent.
In the book there are also some reminisces from S.H. Hwang’s contact with the Nordic countries, negotiations with Norwegian ship-owners without much ado, while the sauna and vodka-drinking seemed to play an important role in the discussions with tough Finns.
I can recommend this book to anyone who wants to get an insight into how Korean shipbuilding during the last 35 years has grown from merely building ships under the direct supervision of the central government, to becoming the world’s market leader, both in terms of productivity, innovation and volume.
Ambassador of Norway