On June 16, POSCO announced three long-time employees it has selected to be named the POSCO Masters of Korea. The award represents POSCO’s highest honor for field technicians, recognizing them for earning not only some of the world’s best technical skills and know-how, but also being positive role-models and mentors to the rest of POSCO’s workers and making significant contributions to the company’s competitiveness.
Among the latest Masters was Chajin Kim, a man who has earned a legendary reputation for his work in the POSCO furnaces.
From Poverty to POSCO
Master Kim was born in 1958, at a time when Korea was still recovering from a devastating civil war. Growing up in the countryside near Gyeongju, in the southeast of Korea, his family often struggled just to put enough food on the table. His father had gone to Japan at the age of 19 to work in an iron works, and when he returned to Korea he had a hard time readjusting. To help the family out, Kim had to gather firewood when he was in fourth grade, carrying huge bundles of wood to sell during the day, then working late into the night on his school work.
Thanks to his great work ethic, though, Kim was able to go to Gyeongju Technical High School, which helped prepare him for a career where he could use his hands and his endless diligence. He soon began to take notice of one particularly enticing option – POSCO. Then called Pohang Iron & Steel, POSCO was located relatively close to his hometown, and back in the 1960s and ’70s it was one of Korea most prestigious and fast-growing companies.
Upon starting at POSCO, Kim was surprised at more than just the size of the company. The quality of the employee meals were a revelation, too, with plenty of high-quality rice and a rich array of dishes. “When I saw that, I wanted to spend my whole life at POSCO,” he recalls.
Hard Work, Big Machines
Repair and maintenance in a blast furnace can be tough work. It involves huge metal machines, and moving a piece just a few millimeters can require hitting them repeatedly with a big sledgehammer. But Kim was used to working hard from an early age, so he never complained; he just got to work.
Kim told a story that illustrated his focus on always putting 100 percent into his job. “We had a policy that you can get new safety shoes after a certain period of time, but you need to show your worn-out shoes to your supervisor to get approval,” he says. “However, my shoes kept wearing out so quickly, one day my supervisor told me that I was allowed to just change my shoes any time I wanted, without limit.”
That dedication also led to promotions. In fact, he earned so many promotions so much faster than usual, that a manager once had to go to his home during Chuseok (a major autumn holiday in Korea, like Thanksgiving). The manager was tasked with doing a thorough check on Kim, because he was supposed to be too young for that promotion.
Dedicated to Innovating
As Kim rose up the ranks and got better and better at his job, it sometimes led to friction, too. He wanted to make the machines as safe and efficient as possible, rather than just making the same repairs over and over again. For example, with the pig casting machines, the round bar on the safety gap equipment used to need replacing about once every four days because the heat would cause the bar to bend. But Kim got the idea of changing the round bar to a square one, which was about 20 times stronger. He also came up with an easier way of making the change. Kim’s innovation passed a stringent set of tests, and POSCO was so pleased that it sent Kim and his whole family on a special vacation.
Kim also has long been concerned with workplace safety. He used to see about 20 accidents each month at his worksite. But as a result of improving processes and machinery, that rate dropped to just one accident a month. Other proposals and patents earned him a series of awards and certifications. Between 2002 and 2006 along, he earned five third-class improvements and five patents.
“Even though the machinery is not alive, if you give it your love and attention, it gives you better results,” he says. “You can tell machines recognize the small and warmth of people because the devices that people take care of don’t break down. You may not believe it, but I do. I’m sure of one thing: the equipment never lies.”
Earning the Title ‘Master’
Despite earning the prestigious title of “Master,” Kim remains focused on modestly doing his job. “To be honest, I am not that smart or flexible,” he says. “What I am good at is limited – where I can add value to my job. That’s why I always need to be focused and at my best to perform well, even if that means getting less sleep.”
Kim finds joy in simple luxuries: buying a nice car for his mother, along with a little more farm land for his family. He has also lived in the same villa provided by POSCO for 26 years.
“I have become the POSCO Master of Korea thanks to the help of my coworkers and the equipment of the blast furnace plant. I was lucky to work here. I will keep working hard and never forget the moment I became a Master.”
Now that Chajin Kim is a POSCO Master of Korea, we look forward to learning from his lifetime of expertise. Master Kim’s know-how makes him a mentor that can help lead POSCO into an even brighter future.