Industrialists eye the big leagues

Kim Duk Choong, president of Daewoo Industrial Company, turns to baseball terms to describe the status of Korea's largest industrial and trading group. "Right now, I'd say we were triple A. But in a few years we'll be major league."

The Daewoo building opposite Seoul railway station is one of the capital's largest. And a walk through the second-floor showroom demonstrates that really there is very little that Daewoo companies don't produce -- from semisubmersible oil drilling rigs costing $33 million to $3 cotton shirts.

It is the largest of the 10 government-designated general trading companies, with a staff of 75,000 people, sales last year of $4 billion, and exports of $1. 46 billion.

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That growth, says Kim Duk Choong, will continue in 1981, when Daewoo expects to came close to $2 billion in exports -- about 10 percent of the Korean total.

Kim Woo Choong, founder of Daewoo, says that the emphasis this year will be on heavy and chemical industrial products.

Some 300 Daewoo engineers will be sent overseas this year for advanced training as part of the company's medium-term plan to expand technology-intensive industrial goods, he says.

This side of Daewoo's operations will get into full stride by year-end when its Okpo shipyard off the southern coast is finally completed. Daewoo, which entered shipbuilding only last year, already has a full order book for the next year or so, including for which it won in stiff competition with the long-established Hyundai Shipbuilding.

Daewoo also dominates the railway equipment field. It has good customers in Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia for its rolling stock and parts, and in early 1981 clinched a big order from New Zealand.

Its involvement in Middle East construction projects continues to grow. Last year the group earned $900 million in this field.

Along with the growth in its shipbuilding capacity, it is establishing at Okpo an industrial park to turn out machinery and entire industrial plants.

Kim Duk Choong sees Daewoo as the closest Korean equivalent to the powerful Japanese trading companies, involved at all levels of the national industrial structure.

The group continues to expand.

The government is moving toward allowing private firms to become involved in commercial banking, and when that happens Daewoo definitely wants to be involved -- in securities, general banking, credit financing, short-term loans and life insurance.

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