The year 2009 was not a good year for Detroiters. Many lost their jobs and didn't know what the future would bring. The Big Three, now more humbly referred to as the Detroit Three, were not the only ones struggling, numerous part suppliers were falling into deep trouble as well.
Detroit, at the edge of the precipice, had to step back. And so began a tentative interest towards foreign companies. "Seventy companies from Korea are here to create local jobs" says Yong Joo Lee, president of Kwang Jin America and also current president of the Korean Companies Association of Michigan.
Like many Korean companies, Kwang Jin America is devoted to Detroit and hires about 80 employees directly from the city. Kwang Jin America's dedication is apparent in the way it takes care of its employees, some of whom didn't have a bank account to deposit their pay check into, while others needed additional training or even special arrangements for a ride to work. Kwang Jin America has been willing to provide these and other services to its employees because it regards them not just as employees of a company, but as members of a family.
The president of Kwang Jin America, Lee, is an able communicator and spends a good deal of time with his employees. There are cultural and language barriers between Korean managers and American employees, "... but they understand how important I think they are," President Lee says, adding "All the success comes from our employees".
He elaborates further on "Human Touch", his management philosophy. It comes from his boss, chairman Young Jik Kwon, who is fond of saying, "Do not try to buy their labor, try to buy their mind." President Lee says, "We need everyone in this building to cope with the many challenges ahead of us. We are like the sailors in the boat over troubled water. If the boat fails, we all fail."
In a competitive environment, Kwang Jin America meets its many challenges by relying on a united effort. "We need to develop lighter regulators and modules to increase fuel efficiency and reduce window operating noise as cars need to be quieter nowadays. If we do not work as a whole, we can't keep up with the best quality. That's why we need everyone's effort," he emphasizes.
Kwang Jin America used to employ many temporary workers. Now most of them, about 100, have permanent positions at the company. "We are a small company compared to Hyundai or LG Chem, which are hiring hundreds of American workers in Michigan. But we do contribute to this community at our level. That's what I am proud of," President Lee says.
"We supply parts to American brand cars. We grow as the Detroit Three grow," he says.
Kwang Jin America's future is dependent on the success of the Detroit Three. "We are now in a global market, we are all intertwined. Even though we originated in Korea, we work for the success of the Detroit Three. That's why we work hard to provide the best quality to our customers."
Tack Yong Kim, Michigan Korean Weekly