The Famous Millionaire

박승연

Chapter 56

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Chapter 56: Chapter 56 Translator: – – Editor: – –

The sample products ordered by Art & Hill were castors attached to chairs. Though there were some difference in design, the castors supplied to Art & Hill and Aurum were basically the same.

It took more than one month for the samples to arrive at the airport, which suggested that Na paid very close attention to the quality.

After Hyunwoo delivered them to Art & Hill, he waited for their response.

He believed that the samples would pass their quality test because the technical quality of N&C products was excellent and as good as any Korean products.

It was natural that he was filled with expectations. If a successful deal was made with Art & Hill, N&C Korea’s sales would surge overnight.

But Art and Hill was not an easy company to deal with.

Less than one week after Hyunwoo sent the samples, Paek called him again, this time in a downcast voice, “They say the samples fell short of their quality standard.”

“What? Falling short of their quality standard?” asked Hyunwoo, opening his eyes wide.

It was an unexpected result. He just felt dumbfounded. In less than three days, a shocking article was reported in major dailies. It was about Art &Hill and N&C under the headline,

Hyunwoo had a sudden sinking feeling in the heart. He could not figure out Art & Hill’s motivation. They had no intention of purchasing N&C products from the beginning. Rather, they wanted to find fault with N&C products, and their goal was targeted at Aurum. In other words, they wanted to make it known that Aurum was using N&C products that failed to pass Art & Hill’s quality standard.

When they realized that Aurum was growing fast enough, Art & Hill began to feel a sense of crisis and tried to catch Aurum unawares, pretending to purchase N&C products.

However, Hyunwoo could not refute it. Though he was upset about their act, the article itself was not false.

Art & Hill was the best office chair company in Korea. It claimed not only the largest market share but also that the quality of their chairs was much better than Aurum’s. Accordingly, the parts used by them were better.

The supplier of castors to Art & Hill was a company called Castor that boasted to have the best quality in Korea.

Na Sungji and Kwon Sangtaek admitted Castor’s quality. No matter how hard they tried, they said it was almost impossible to catch up with Castor’s quality.

“Caster is a Japanese company. In other words, it is a local Korean factory of Castor. Though Korea catched up with Japan in many fields, there are still many areas that Korea can’t overtake Japanese technology,” Na and Kwon once said.

Recalling what they said, Hyunwoo felt it was not that strange that N&C products didn’t pass Art & Hill’s quality standard.

Hyunwoo still felt it regrettable. He just felt as if Art & Hill was caught in his hand and then ran away.

However, he couldn’t afford to keep regretting and doing nothing, for Park Daebong of Aurum had already noticed the article.

Park immediately summoned Park Youngsu, Hyunwoo’s manager.

After meeting the president, Park called Yonggu and Hyunwoo, who were in charge of buying N&C products.

“When does our contract with N&C expire?”

“The contract is renewed every year. As we made the contract this past September, it expires next Sept.”

“The president felt his pride was offended a lot, so he decided to upgrade the quality standard of the new products that our company is about to make this time. Notify the suppliers that they have to meet our quality standard. If they can’t, we have to find another supplier that can meet our standard. We may change the existing suppliers overnight,” said Park.

Hyunwoo’s eyes opened wider. How could Aurum change the supplier in one year when he had tried so hard to find it?

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Hyunwoo cautiously suggested,

“I don’t think they can improve the quality so quickly. Why don’t we give them a little more time? Two years, for example.”

“This is the president’s special order. Just make sure they meet our quality standard within one year.”

“Yes, sir.”

Back at their desks, Hyunwoo and Yonggu were pretty troubled. If they could improve the product quality so quickly, they would have already done so, for an improvement in quality would also increase the unit price.

Out of nervousness, Yonggu called Hyunwoo to the break area.

“What should we do? Can they make it until next September?”

At his asking, Hyunwoo shook his head with a gloomy expression.

“I don’t think that’s so easy. Still, we have no choice but to follow the president’s special order.”

“I just feel heavy, man. Which supplier can we find even if we have to? Does he want us to choose Castor?” complained Yonggu.

The moment he heard Yonggu, Hyunwoo’s eyes opened wide.

Come to think of it, it would not be that easy for Aurum to end its business with N&C.

Though the quality of Castor products was better, its unit price was very high, more than twice that of N&C products. In addition, the castor was only one of the many parts of a chair. If the caster was changed to a high-quality part, the other parts should also be upgraded for compatibility.

Then the production cost would go up immediately.

The problem was not confined to the production cost.

The image of Aurum has long been etched in the minds of consumers. Namely, Art & Hill’s products are high-end while Aurum’s are cheap.

Even if Aurum aimed for quality innovation with new products, it would need a lot of time for consumers to change their fixed image of Aurum. That meant Aurum would have to lose money for a very long time. Given the tough financial situation caused by its offensive marketing, could Aurum sustain it? Then, the president’s order might have been a bluff. Even if the existing supplier couldn’t meet the quality standard, he could not change it easily.

However, there was a legitimate necessity for improvement in the quality of the products.

Aurum was not the problem. N&C Korea had to continue to find dealers and make a deal with a big company like Art & Hill someday, and N&C should pass the quality standard of Art & Hill by all means to achieve that goal.

In other words, the quality war with Castor began.

“Let me contact Mr. Na first. Last time, he improved the quality greatly in less than three months. Maybe he could do the same this time,” said Hyunwoo.

“I hope so. Anyway, contact them in Vietnam. Let me try to find a new dealer. I’m not sure if there is one that can meet our demands.”

Hyunwoo immediately called Mr. Na, but he said as if he was troubled,

“The quality of the products of Caster is recognized around the world. It’s too high of a demand for us to catch up with their quality.”

“I understand, but our president’s very firm on this. You have to think about ways to improve the product quality. Even though you can’t improve the quality enough to catch up with Castor, you need to pass the new quality standard of Aurum. I wonder if Mr. Kwon has any good ideas.”

“Well, he sometimes talks with my former colleagues in Korea, and he says if he can bring them over here, he could make a larger improvement.”

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At that moment, Hyunwoo’s eyes sparkled.

“Really? Can I talk to Mr. Kwon right now?”

“Wait a second. Mr. Kwon, you’re on the phone.”

Kwon picked up the phone and said somewhat positively,

“Until sometime ago, there were quite a few castor factories in Korea, but they were closed recently. Do you know why?”

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The answer to Kwon’s question was obvious. Their products lagged behind the Japanese products in quality and Chinese and Southeast Asian products in price, which forced Korean companies to go bankrupt.

“That’s right. But there is another reason,” said Kwon.

“What is that?”

“When the foreign companies tightened the noose around them, the Korean companies should have united together but didn’t. They were competing with each other to lower the price, which dropped their profit margins and forced them to close at the end of the day.”

“What do you mean by ‘uniting together?’ That doesn’t necessarily mean they can improve the product quality or lower the price, right?”

“You’re wrong there. If they can help each other and make up for their lacking technology, the quality of their products would naturally improve. And if they had merged, they could have lowered the price.”

Kwon’s point made sense. But what was the point of crying over spilt milk?

But Kwon was suggesting something positive.

“It’s not late yet. There were many technocrats when their factories were shut down. If they can join hands, they could make much better quality products than now, though they still can’t catch up with Castor.”

Hyunwoo was startled at his remarks.

“Do you happen to know any of them? If you give me their contact numbers, I’d like to meet and persuade them.”

“I don’t have their contact numbers, but Mr. Kim Dohyuk, the union leader, must know quite a few of them.”

“Union leader Kim Dohyun?”

“Though the company went bankrupt, he was the president of Unhye Trading Co. He was also the leader of the castor production unions around the country. As his company is gone now, I think he is out of work.”

“Do you know his contact number?”

“Sure. Let me text you that.”

As soon as he got Kim’s number, Hyunwoo called him.

As his company went bankrupt, Kim went down to his hometown in Chungju, North Chungchong province, and opened an apple orchard there.

Making an appointment with him on a weekend, Hyunwoo went down to Chungju.

Kim was much younger than he had thought.

According to Kwon, Kim was a trusted union leader among castor factory presidents. As his voice over the phone was rather old, Hyunwoo thought he might be 70 years old at least.

But when Hyunwoo met him, he looked just over 50.

Exchanging a few introductory words with him, Hyunwoo explained his situation in detail.

Listening to him quietly, Kim nodded his head and said,

“In other words, you want to form a dream team, right?”

“Yes, you’re right,” said Hyunwoo with expectant eyes.

But Kim’s expression was not that bright.

“Good idea, but it looks like it won’t be easy. Who would go to the trouble of flying to Vietnam to work there?”

“Oh, they don’t have to stay there permanently. All they have to do is transfer their skills, and we’re going to pay for that.”

“Well, they might okay it if you built a factory in Korea, but I’m not sure if I can persuade them to go to a factory in Vietnam. You’ve come very far to see me, but I’m sorry.”

Hyunwoo could understand Kim’s feelings. He would want to form a dream team in Korea if he could have his way. Hyunwoo was of the same mind. Given the choice, it would be better to build a factory in Korea than Vietnam. But this was sort of a pipe dream that defied reality.

Even if skilled experts came together, that doesn’t lead to any remarkable improvement in the product. With a little more technology, they could not overtake Japan’s technology overnight.

Kim continued,

“I can give you the contact numbers of the technicians. I can’t deny them any chance to make their own choice. I don’t want to preclude it in advance.”

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Hyunwoo could not help but express regret. He tried his best to persuade Kim in every way, but Kim was not persuaded at the end. He just gave Hyunwoo a thick notebook on the technicians’ phone numbers.

“As I have a copy of that notebook, you don’t have to return it to me.”

“Thanks. I’ll see you again soon.”

Hyunwoo went back to Ansan with a heavy heart. Though he had been full of hope when he went down to Chungju, he was sighing when he returned empty-handed. On the other hand, Kim seemed to find a ray of hope after Hyunwoo met him.

If everyone can join hands, they can stand up again. Someone must take the initiative. Okay, let me do it, Kim thought to himself.

He immediately took out the roster of union members of castor factories. It was an original copy of the notebook that he gave to Hyunwoo. It contained a whole list of the technicians excellent in their respective fields.

He wrote down each name on a memo pad after checking out the roster. He was forming the dream team that Hyunwoo had mentioned.

There was no guarantee that those technicians would follow him, so Kim sorted out the names of other technicians just in case he was rejected. It took him about three hours for him to draw a list of potential technicians. They had been out of work for the past three years when their companies went bankrupt.

Kim clenched his fist and said,

Sure, I can do it. Let me travel to Ansan tomorrow. Ah, my former teacher lives there, too. I have to say hello to him on this occasion.

Hope was welling up inside him again.

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