[Interview] Deep in Thought with Samsung C&T Attorney Woo-kyung Kim

“When ideas arise, I put them in my cell-phone,” said Kim. “I often think of mistakes I’ve made right in the middle of a shower, then I rush out of the bathroom covered in soap to take notes.”

Such anecdotes are characteristic of Kim, who describes himself as a deep thinker. He joined Samsung C&T in 2006 as a member of the Legal Department, offering legal support for the Chemical Business Division, Trading Division, and a variety of investment projects. Now he brings the expertise he has built over his career to his role managing the Compliance Office.

The Company Shield

Kim’s day begins early, checking e-mails that came through the night and catching up on daily news. The morning is spent going over compliance related tasks, contract reviews, legal research and working on issues with his team members. He describes his work as providing a strong shield for the company.

“The Legal Department is like the goalkeeper position in soccer,” laughs Kim. “We never actually want the ball to come to us. We jokingly tell the Operations Department to be good midfielders for us, laughing that we don’t want to have to block too many goals.”

As a trading company, each member of the Legal Department reviews 200-250 contracts every year, roughly one every day. But that number only represents those uploaded to the system. There are even more from other projects or contracts that have not been completed, leaving members of the department vulnerable to fatigue as they sift through an endless stream of paperwork.

Work in the legal department often requires collaboration, especially when issues arise. Kim is known for his skill as an organizer, gathering members from related departments to discuss urgent matters. Often the list of problems and work is so great that Kim has taken to developing an infamous Issues List, a long list of tasks and questions he needs to address for various projects.

“When I work, there are times where I want to get into something more deeply, but I simply can’t make the time,” he explained. “When that happens, I stop and jot it down in my notebook and check it on a frequent basis to see if there are areas where I might be able to find an answer to a problem. It started out as anxiety that I might be missing something, and now it fills the back pages of my diary.”

His work in the Compliance Office has meant more planning, education, inspection and resource allocation tasks, swelling his Issues List to nearly 8 full pages this year. But when that list isn’t nagging him, Kim says his favorite part of the job is academic analysis – a joy that stems from his education. 

An Academic Appreciation

While Kim’s passion for law is undeniable, his academic career began in economics. Citing a lack of clarity and concrete answers in economics, he changed course and headed to America to study law. While studying there, he met a professor teaching about Japanese economics that often lectured about trading companies, piquing his interest in trade law.

Having studied law and developed a passion for trade, Samsung C&T was the perfect fit for Kim, and he enjoys the variety of the work, often encountering issues he has never had to deal with before. Kim cites this variety and breadth of scope as being a great advantage to him as an attorney. Being a company that deals with numerous trade items and conducts business within a variety of models, Samsung C&T presents Kim and his colleagues with a wide range of legal issues, exposing them to a broader spectrum of cases than those in other industries have the opportunity to work on.

The most memorable moment of his career is when he was assigned to support the Ontario Project, a massive wind and solar power plant that consisted of multiple projects with simultaneous deadlines. He was sent to Canada as a residing employee from 2011 to 2016, in charge of assisting in the legal affairs of the project, including negotiating with partners of different interests, financial institutions and government organizations. The murderous workload culminated when he had to file a force majeure claim against the Ontario Energy Board in 2015.

“Everyone said it would be difficult to win,” explained Kim. “It was my most lonely battle after joining the company, but I was determined to see it through even if it didn’t go well. To my surprise, in January 2016 I received a notification from the Energy Board saying they had accepted the full claim and amount. The Energy Board associate told me it was a ‘New Year’s present’ over the phone, and I felt a complete rush of endorphins.”

Living a Balanced Life

Even though Kim gets a rush from hard fought legal battles, he says avoiding self-satisfaction is key to his work ethic.

“My best moments ironically come when I think ‘I could have done better’ and I am dissatisfied,” he said. “When I am hard on myself, I set my goals higher and I achieve more.”

But it’s not all about setting goals and taking notes. While his growing Issues List might call to him, Kim also believes in living a balanced life, including taking time for mediation and family. “While I used to be the dad who disappeared Monday morning and returned Friday night, I am now more focused on being a great father who spends time with his kid!”

Even his advice to fellow employees echoes these sentiments.

“Modern society values being quick and changeable, but I think you have to embrace the mindset that slow and steady wins the race,” he advises. “If we devote ourselves faithfully and focus on getting the basics right, we will arrive at the finishing line having enjoyed the journey as much as the results.”

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