August 10, 2023

Child Labourer to Hyundai Visionary: Inspiring Journey

 Imagine a poor boy in a small village who works in the fields for 17 hours every day, just for one square meal a day. Now imagine that this boy became the owner of a car company worth lakh crore in the future. This is the story of the founder of Hyundai, Chang Ju-Yung's early struggles, Chung Ju-Yung was born in 1915 in a small village in Korea. He wanted to become a schoolteacher, but his family was so poor that he couldn't study much. 

Hyundai | Chung Ju-yung | South Korea | Hyundai motor company

As a child, he had to work in the fields with his family, but after working so hard, sometimes, they couldn't even feed each other and forget about proper clothes and medical care. Chung had to go to a nearby city to sell wood. There he saw that people had enough food and clothes without toiling in the field the whole day. Seeing all that made him really sad and frustrated. He wanted a better life for himself.

The Formative Years of Chung Ju-Yang

One day, he read in the newspaper that a big construction site in a city nearby needed laborers. This news motivated him to do something. In 1932, at the age of 16, Chung made a surprising decision. He was going to run away to the city. One night, Chung quietly left for the city with his friend. He reached Kowon City after walking about 160 km and started working as a construction laborer. It was hard work for measly wages. But Chung was happy because he was able to earn independently for the first time in his life. Life continued like this for about two months until he got caught. 

Chung's father found him and he had to come back to farming. His family was happy to have him back but Chung was not. These two months ignited a passion for construction and civil engineering in Chung. Also, he knew that he would never be able to beat poverty by working in the fields and that's why he tried to run away two more times. But each time, his father found him. Finally, in 1934, at the age of 18, he attempted his fourth escape, and this time, no one stopped him. He reached Seoul which is the capital of South Korea today. He did whatever work he found there.

Chung's Employment at a Rice Store

First, a construction laborer, then a factory worker, and finally, he got a delivery boy's job at Bokhyang Rice Store. Customers and the shop owners were so impressed with his work that in just six months, he became the store's manager. After this, Chung worked very hard to grow the shop. Then, in 1937, the store's owner fell seriously ill and made a surprising decision. Thanks to Chung's hard work, he handed the store over to him. At the age of 22, Chung became the owner of a business as an employee. In the next two years, Chung worked even harder, and built trust and reputation in the market, which helped him grow his business. Everything was going well, but then suddenly a tragedy occurred. It was the World War II era, and Japan ruled Korea. Japan wanted sufficient rice supply for their army during the war, and it overtook all the rice shops in Korea, including Chung's rice shop. All of his hard work was destroyed at once. Chang was unfortunate, but he didn't give up. Starting Hyundai "If I put my heart and soul sincerely into whatever work I am doing, I will surely succeed." With this thought, he started looking for a business that the Japanese government couldn't control.

Chung's Automotive Repair Enterprise

Soon, he started focusing on the car repair business. In 1940, he took a loan of 3,000 won and opened an Ado service garage. But this time, he was so unfortunate that the garage burnt down just after a month of opening and everything was burnt to ashes. Chung's situation was very difficult. He had to pay his loan and compensate his customers for the loss.

If this situation occurred in anybody's life a normal person could’ve easily given up. But like always, Chung faced a problem head first. He took another loan of 3,500 won and built an even better garage. Chung realized that the biggest problem for the customers was the long period (waiting period) it took to get their cars repaired. So looking at this as an opportunity, he made speed his main focus. Where his competitors took 20 days for certain repairs, Chung's garage would do them in 5 days. His garage was so successful that in the next 3 years, i.e. till 1943, his workforce grew up to 80 employees. By this time, Chung had repaid all of the loans and settled his family in Seoul. Business was growing rapidly but then another disaster struck. Japan needed to make war-related equipment for World War II. So, Japan took its garage ownership and merged it with a local steel plant. Once again, his business was taken away from him. Chang had come back to square one. He was forced to return to his village with his family. But this time, he had 50,000 won saved. And he was confident that he would establish another business. 

What is the Genesis of Hyundai Motor Company's Establishment?

With the end of World War II, Japan's rule in Korea also ended. Northern areas of Korea had the Soviet Union's influence and America's in the southern area. Both of them fought the war against Japan in World War II. That's why Korea was divided between North and South Korea. Chung came back to Seoul in 1946 and restarted his car repair business. Business was old but this time, the name was new. “Hyundai Auto Service” -Hyundai means modern- The car repair business was going well, and that's when Chung noticed that America was constructing buildings for its military forces.

The Construction that Foretold Hyundai's Emergence

He spotted a big opportunity in the construction business. He didn't have much experience in construction. But he still had that passion for construction that he had since he worked as a laborer in the past. That's why, at the age of 31 in 1947, he created the Hyundai Civil Works Company and entered the construction business. He got many small projects in the beginning, but by the 1950s, his company was getting major construction projects. And now this was his major business. Everything was going fine, but we saw another twist in the tale.

In June 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea. North Korean troops were very close to Seoul. That's why Chung had to escape to Pusan with all of his savings. But even after such a big crisis, Chung didn't give up. At that time, the US Army was fighting the North Korean army along with South Korea. And they needed tents, warehouses, and army headquarters. Chung observed that Americans had no shortage of money. They just wanted reliable and timely delivery. And Chung gave it to them. He started with a small team and adopted the "Can Do" motto “If the price is right, they would do any construction project”. A war was underway and he had to face many problems and many losses. But once he gave his word, he never left any project in the middle. Due to this reliability, he developed a strong relationship with Americans. The war ended in 1952, but Chung continued getting contracts from America. Later, to rebuild the country, the South Korean government began building bridges, dams, and roads rapidly. Hyundai played a major role in all this and had exponential growth in the business. 

South Korea's biggest dam, Soyoung Dam, and the most important expressway, Kyungbu Expressway were made by Hyundai. Making Cars In the 1960s, Chung had reached his early 50s and owned a successful construction company owner. But he wasn't satisfied with this.

Hyundai Motor Company

Chung had already built thousands of kilometers of roads and now it was time to build cars to run on those roads. In 1967, Chung established the Hyundai Motor Company. In 1968, he had a deal with Ford in which he was going to assemble the Cortina cars. This joint venture ran successfully for two years. After this, conflicts started developing between the two companies. Ford didn't want Hyundai to build its own cars. And that's why, in 1973, Chung ended that partnership and started looking for new partners immediately. He tried to partner with General Motors and Volkswagen for their manufacturing technology. But everyone refused. Finally, in the same year, they partnered with Japan's Mitsubishi Motors.

Hyundai Pony

Mitsubishi was ready to give Hyundai its car-making technology. The best part was that as per this deal, Hyundai could sell its own cars. Around the same time, the South Korean government issued an order for automobile companies to build citizens' cars. A car that is affordable and reliable and only uses parts made in South Korea. In 1976, Chung set up a new plant and Hyundai produced South Korea's first-ever mass-produced car, the Hyundai Pony. Due to its affordability, this car was so successful in South Korea that Hyundai captured a 60% market share.

It became the biggest car company in South Korea. But there was one catch. The total car market of South Korea was only 30,000 cars. It was not sufficient to be profitable. Also, although Hyundai Pony was successful in South Korea, it was a huge failure in the overseas market. The quality of the car was not good. Its paint would fade in the heat. And it often had mechanical issues.

The visionary foresight demonstrated by Hyundai's founder

Due to these reasons, Hyundai Motor Company has been at a loss for the last 7 years. People suggested Chung that should close the company immediately. But Chung's decision shocked everyone. Instead of closing, he was planning to build a new car factory that would manufacture 300,000 cars annually. The company's management couldn't understand this decision. Who will buy 3,00,000 vehicles in a market of 30,000 vehicles? But Chang knew the answer. South Korean economy was growing rapidly and thousands of people were becoming economically empowered every year. That meant that the demand for cars was going to increase rapidly in the coming years. Plus, Hyundai's new vehicles were explicitly made to export to foreign countries.

This factory was built in 1980, and in 1982, Hyundai launched Pony 2 with many improvements. This car was not only a massive hit in South Korea, but it was also successfully exported to Africa, Latin America, and Canada. In the next few years, Hyundai sold 400,000 cars and became profitable. Hyundai was now established as a decent car company on a global level. But the toughest and biggest car market in the world, the USA, was still to crack.

Internationally, it was important to be successful in the USA to become a major car company from a decent car company, When Hyundai studied the US market, it realized that Japan had captured the compact car segment. And there's already cut-throat competition in the mid and large-sized American car market. That's why Hyundai targeted the sub-compact car market because the competition was virtually zero. Also, Hyundai saw that there's a huge second-hand car market in the USA. They offered their new Hyundai Excel at the price of a second-hand car. That too with a five-year warranty. This strategy shook the car market in the USA. Second-hand car buyers instantly shifted to the Hyundai XL. In 1986, Hyundai sold about 170,000 Excels in the USA. In 1987, they sold about 260,000 cars.

In these years, Hyundai XL became the top-selling imported car in the USA. Until then, no other car company had seen such an initial success in the US market. And with that, Hyundai was established as a major car company on a global level.

Hyundai Group

That year, at the age of 72, Chung retired from Hyundai and became the honorary chairman. After this, his brothers and sons managed the company and headed the company with the same type of determination. Today, Hyundai is the world's third-biggest car company. In just 2022, they sold about 40,000,000 cars. Even though, globally, Hyundai is known for its car business. But very few people know that there are 42 companies in the Hyundai Group. For example, Hyundai Elevator, Hyundai Information Technology, and Hyundai Heavy Industries, the biggest shipbuilding company in the world. And because of Hyundai, South Korea has raced ahead of Japan to become the world's biggest shipbuilding country.

Shaping South Korea: The Influence and Impact of Hyundai

For South Korea, Hyundai is not an ordinary company. Hyundai is an institution that rebuilt the country, created thousands of jobs, and won global recognition in South Korea. And all this was started by a village boy who didn't even have basic facilities like food, education, and healthcare. But he had immense passion, vision, and most importantly, a desire for better.

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