A Conversation with Leung Kao - the Secrets of Becoming a Steel Trading Expert

A Conversation with Leung Kao - the Secrets of Becoming a Steel Trading Expert

At the 2021 CUMIC annual gala, Leung Kao, the Central and South America regional director, was honored the 10-year contribution award for his decade-long dedication to CUMIC. Born in 1973, Leung used to work in media and was once a senior publisher of a well-known steel industry news media before he joined CUMIC at the age of 36. Witnessing the tremendous growth and achievement of CUMIC in the past few years, Leung also integrates his career deeply into the development of CUMIC. 

Today, we sat down with Leung and had a delightful talk about his past, present, and future at CUMIC. We are thrilled to share his life and experience in CUMIC with you.


Leung shares his experience

Why steel trade?

I joined CUMIC in 2010, when I had just turned 36. Before that, my career experienced a gradual pivot from media to the steel industry. At one of the major global steel industry news media, I climbed the corporate ladder from a content editor, to chief editor, then a senior publisher. That was also kind of a progression from mostly writing and editing to getting involved in a lot more advertising sales, business briefings, and media events. These tasks required direct communications with clients, and that's pretty much how I established relationships with a lot of these clients and accumulated my own customer base, which was exactly what I needed to get into steel trade. In general, I think my prior experience equipped me with sufficient skills to do sales and serve customers.  

Why joined CUMIC?

Actually, I was referred by a former coworker who personally knew one of the executives. At the time CUMIC only had about 20 employees, but I immediately thought to myself, this looks very promising, mostly for CUMIC’s strong connections with a large number of steel mills. 

The team dynamics also looked great and everyone’s got their own unique competencies and skills coming from different backgrounds. At the time, joining just seemed like the right choice because of how my experiences and aspirations fit the company’s vision and values.

Coming here was a huge transition that I was excited for, not only in terms of how I worked but it also changed how I lived. This isn't your typical 9-5 office job, but requires one to be active and constantly traveling, which can be both exciting and challenging. Actually, when I was 34, I first wanted to go study abroad, but I couldn't, for the concerns of my family, so instead I got into the global steel trade. For me this was an alternative path to experience the life I wanted, so yes, being able to often travel overseas for work was a huge plus for me. As soon as I joined, I found myself really enjoying this job. I was always the first to arrive in the morning and the last one to leave the office, out of genuine interest and passion.

What factors contribute to the success of CUMIC?

This question reminds me of an old Chinese saying that goes “right time, right place, with right people,” and this is exactly what I experienced at CUMIC.

CUMIC was founded in 2006 when China turned to a net exporter from a net importer of steel for the first time in history. Thanks to this golden opportunity, the steel produced in China’s steel mills has been starting to win the world’s increasing acceptance. CUMIC benefits a lot from the rapid development of China’s steel industry. So in a way, the market trend then really boost our initial growth.

But that is not to say we were only built on opportunities and the right timing. Say, in the Central & South American market, CUMIC has had dozens of decade-long cooperative customers, and had a thorough development over the past decade. CUMIC will make every effort to know their needs, and is confident to offer the best terms based on our stable and reliable supplies. In a word, China’s resources plus CUMIC’s brand and service jointly contributed to the success of CUMIC in the global steel market. Also, for my region, Central & South America, we couldn’t have done what we achieved without the support of our local friends there, who play an irreplaceable role in our success, so I'm always grateful for their partnership.


Leung's team - the Central & South America Business Dept.

Our CEO James is a natural-born leader that’s very articulate and charismatic. He’s a great communicator and motivator when difficulties occur, like when the industry took a hard hit in the first half of 2020, he would often talk about this movie called “Going Vertical”. It’s a very inspiring sports film about the controversial victory of the Soviet national basketball team over the U.S. Olympic team. In the movie, the Soviet team ended America’s 63 years winning streak in the final 3 seconds, and James would often use this plot as an inspiration to win our own battle against the pandemic, what we could do to turn the situation around when everything seems hard, and in the end, we actually did it. 

This takes more than courage and big talks, but the real work, expertise, and strategies to win. At the end of 2020, we even exceeded our own objectives set before the pandemic. If the initial growth of CUMIC in 2006 was about seizing the opportunity at the right time, our success in 2020 is a perfect testament to how long we’ve come and what enables us to evolve for the past 15 years.

Why recommend working in CUMIC?

In CUMIC, the company grows in step with your personal career. You feel your reward, whether financially or in terms of the sense of achievement, and these deserve your efforts. CUMIC not only has a clear strategy, but also knows how to resolve it into several goals and achieve them step by step. The management team of CUMIC encourages everyone to find their own direction, to explore the perfect match between their own capabilities and the characteristics of the company. They give you a comfortable environment and enough opportunities to achieve self-actualization.

Moreover, one of the strongest assets of CUMIC is its corporate culture. That is, a family-like working atmosphere. Here I met the people I like and the interpersonal relationships I enjoy. 

This reminds me of one of my most distinctive memories of the past 10 years here, when I was on a business trip to Chile and Colombia with Amy (our executive director of global sales), and we got into this heated argument about how to truly build great partnerships with customers because we had very different views on steel trading and the business. We debated for the whole trip, but it never got in the way of our performances there, nor it affects our relationship. In fact, I think that incident even further strengthened our bond as teammates because it shows how we both put everything we had into this job, like everyone else here, who simply wishes to achieve excellence using their expertise, skills, and is genuinely open to different ideas, only for this one goal – to create value for our organization.


Leung with James, CUMIC's CEO

How to keep a work-life balance?

That is one of the reasons why I like CUMIC. CUMIC gives enough freedom to its employees. It’s a place where it’s easy for everyone to balance for themselves. From my perspective, I have the time hit the gym every day to stay energetic because I wish I could continuously work for CUMIC for another 30 years.


Leung at CUMIC's regular outing event

Any suggestions for young people working in CUMIC?

Do your best with what you’re supposed to do, but never be satisfied with that, and always go beyond. Knowing how to perform a task isn’t enough, and it’s figuring out how it really works that matters the most. Know the hows, but also further know the whys. Never cover up your strategic laziness with your tactical diligence. It’s also important to stay an open and curious mind, to never stop learning about new things.

Any suggestions for our candidates?

In this challenging world, if you want to seize the opportunity brought by China’s development and want to join a good China-based company, CUMIC is unquestionably a good choice because CUMIC can help you achieve your best.

At the moment, the world is recovering from the pandemic, and a rising need for commodities is definitely expected. There are plenty of new opportunities for the next few years, so it would be a great time to join us in this promising industry now.

Do you want to work with Leung and many other successful members of our team? If you're interested in beginning a journey of excellence in the global steel trading industry, check out our job openings at https://www.cumic.com/careers/ and send your CV to hr@cumic.com.

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