In both good times and bad, one of the keys to trading success is remaining agile enough to adapt to whatever is in front of you.
Our latest Passion & Expertise feature takes a closer look at a steel trader who has proved to be so adaptable that colleagues have likened him to a chameleon! Stephen Han has built up years of diverse experience with Samsung C&T’s Steel Division under the company’s Trading & Investment Group, which has over 40 years of experience in the steel business, sourcing and selling steel products worldwide. This includes supplying hot and cold rolled steel as well as color steel plates to automakers, construction material manufacturers, shipyards, and distributors across the globe.
Stephen Han, who has built up experience in three foreign countries for more than six years since 2014, returned to Korea in 2021 and is contributing to the steel trading business. Let’s find out what’s driven Stephen and how he has built up the expertise to succeed in various locations.
Adapting to work far from home
Stephen’s main assignment has been to develop new markets and form solid links between the company’s headquarters and newly developed customer businesses.
His first task after moving abroad was simply to get used to a whole new way of doing things. “When I arrived in South America for the first time, even their way of greeting people made me embarrassed,” he recalls. “Kissing on the cheek, for example, but I strived to familiarize myself with such a different culture and found myself becoming one of them.”
Stephen says he learned the value of patience in withstanding external environments beyond his control, understanding that the world has diverse cultures and adapting accordingly. But after settling in on a personal level, he still needed to consider how to consolidate his position as a trader and that of the company. So, Stephen made frequent business trips to visit partners, trying out new initiatives and building solid relationships.
Soon, he knew his way in foreign lands “like the back of his hand.” This helped pave the way for success in areas where Korean trading companies had not yet established a steady presence in the steel business, in which competition is fierce.
A foundation of trust
Strong relationships are particularly vital in steel trading, where new transactions are carried out on a daily basis, and efficient communication can make the difference between success and failure. Stephen realized that the best way to get ahead would be to establish a strong basis of trust.
“Suppose, for instance, that you started looking for a partner to do business with. You would settle on the most trustworthy one among the many businesses, all things – price and quality especially – being equal,” he says.
Stephen’s passion helped him prevail during one of his business trips: “One day, the representative of a local business happened to discuss such matters with me, and I must have shown how sincerely and desperately we were thinking of ways to do mutually lucrative business with him. By and by, I came to win his trust and find out how to secure the routes through which I could obtain information about our competitors. In this way, we were able to enhance our competitiveness,” he recalls.
Moreover, the need for relationship-building extends to trading colleagues stationed abroad. In a situation like COVID-19, when travel was difficult, Stephen found that “close communication” with global Samsung C&T employees was very important.
Sharing advice for success
Naturally, a trader needs to be knowledgeable about their business. Stephen says it is important to build the capability to “judge the overall situation.” This means checking as much information as possible about relevant locations, what competitors are doing, and various aspects of a target market such as its size relative to the global perspective.
He also recommends taking care of partners to ensure they feel valued and secure, such as replying to their messages swiftly and delivering on his promises. This has been especially important because of the frequent supply and demand fluctuations during the pandemic.
In addition, Stephen advises staying positive: “I am one of those people who finds strength through positive thinking. Such a frame of mind enables me to see many opportunities in our rapidly changing society.”
And last but not least, a trader should not be afraid to lean on colleagues. “It is not easy to raise the entire company’s status even one notch higher with individual capabilities alone,” he reflects. “A business’ organizational power is maximized when its members strive to come up with the best ideas among many different options.”