When you imagine steel trading, it might be easy to overlook many of the intricate areas of expertise that can mean the difference between success and failure. In this latest edition of our Passion & Expertise series, we’re going to dive a little deeper into some of the most important aspects of that expertise.
For the last 15 years, trader Pan-rok Lee has been tasked with handling various Steel Division product lines for Samsung C&T Trading & Investment Group, including hot rolled steel today. Let’s find out more about the key elements of being an expert steel trader.
Know your product
Hot rolled steel is a versatile material that has already been processed at a high temperature, ready to be shaped as needed for a wide variety of end applications. When dealing with raw or unfinished materials, it is particularly important for traders to gather expertise and to be able to cope with large-scale projects.
A strong knowledge of industry standards also becomes an essential advantage – for example, hot rolled steel will often need to conform to the standards of the American Petroleum Institute (API). Since these standards are usually applied to large-scale projects, it is not easy to become an API expert because becoming a master in this field requires large-scale project experience. However, Pan-rok has established his own API expertise after spending sufficient time in the steel sector handling projects of the relevant magnitude.
“The hot rolled steel and APIs that I am in charge of are different from general product lines, so specialized expertise in them is particularly required. Given that this product requires unique experience and know-how, I have built a personal attachment and pride in it,” Pan-rok says.
Know the market
Market volatility has been a constant theme for many commodities, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. But Pan-rok stresses the importance of grasping market cycles with the insight and judgment that he has been able to build.
To help form an appropriate strategy when faced with volatility, he is quick to praise the contribution of colleagues around the world, as he reaches out to them to form an accurate market outlook – Samsung C&T Trading & Investment Group is involved in a range of global steel trading operations across nearly 40 countries.
Generally speaking, Pan-rok insists that preparation is key. “The most sensible way to deal with volatility is to envision scenarios in advance and formulate manuals for each potential situation,” he explains. “Despite unpredictability, certain events are bound to repeat in cycles. I think the secret to achieving good performance over the past two years is to grasp these cycles with insight, prepare for changes in advance, and respond quickly.”
Know the field
A global product in a global market also calls for various skills that come from experience in the field. For example, Pan-rok has been able to gain a particularly insightful understanding of doing business with Middle East companies following his experience as an overseas rotational employee in Saudi Arabia where he lived for seven years.
It is well known that the Middle East market is characterized by frequent market volatility and competition with Chinese products, among other factors. In order to secure an edge, cultural and personal details that you might not immediately think of can make a big difference.
“Understanding cultural diversity serves as an invaluable education,” Pan-rok says. “For example, getting to know the customs and nuances that differ between Korea and Saudi Arabia, such as dining culture – my efforts to embrace those distinctions have allowed me to grow closer to business partners, as well as enhancing my market understanding and insight.”
Aside from cultural differences, communication skills are also vital in finding that point where the needs of the supply line and the customer coincide. “For effective sales activities, managing personal relationships is the first priority because the deeper the relationship, the deeper the conversations,” Pan-rok insists.
“This can be advantageous in directly or indirectly grasping the situation of the supply line and obtaining valuable information. Once you have read the counterparty’s agenda and identified their exact needs, you need to quickly put them into action. Such insights and the ability to execute constitute the knowhow of handling products stably and managing supply lines,” he adds.
With these insights, Pan-rok constantly pushes for success with the passion that is his spark – and which refuses to give up!