14 years in international sales …“Business trip with a 3-month-old baby”
Just three years after the foundation of the company, SLS received “5 Million Dollars Top Export” award
Full support from her husband and two children
Next year’s goals…Establish a local subsidiary in China and Boost domestic demand
SLS Company CEO Kim Soo-kyung(40). On the surface, she appears soft and gentle. But at the same time, she is charismatic. Also, she has a confident voice which instantly grabs people’s attention. Simply put, she is an iron hand in a velvet glove. In 2009, she founded SLS Company and in just three years, the company was awarded “5 Million Dollars Top Export.”
SLS is a leading seafood company that processes seafood from China, Vietnam, and Thailand into products which will then be exported to and distributed in Europe, the Middle East, South America, Africa, and Asia. The company’s philosophy is to provide ‘Fair Seafood, Real Supply.’ While there are six employees at the headquarters based in Seoul, there are three employees at a branch office in China.
Before she established the company, she worked for the international sales department at a seafood trading company for over a decade. She loved Spanish literature and poems so much that she majored in Spanish Language at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. She went to Mexico as an exchange student and dreamt of working at an international organization. To build up experience, she applied for an internship at a trading company and this was a huge turning point for her.
“On the first day of my work, I asked the CEO what I had to do. Immediately after he told me female employees just needed to manage and support sales, I proposed that I wanted to work at the international sales department because it is one of core pillars in trade. Now that I recall, I guess I wanted to break away from a prejudice that women are not eligible for international sales. The CEO was stunned at first. But he willingly accepted my request.”
In the past, the international sales team was dominated by males. As a result, female employees merely assisted their male counterparts. This was tough. She looked back on the past and said, “In 1999, I had my first overseas business trip to Shanghai. I strongly felt that ‘There is a big world out there and of course, there is a lot to do!’ Promoting and selling products were rewarding. But on top of that, my world was getting bigger and bigger. That is why I was attracted to the field.”
She built her career at the trading company until the global financial crisis broke out in 2008. She had to quit her job as an international sales director.
“Back then, I thought everything I have accomplished has gone down the drain. Then, the CEO suggested something I have never thought of before - starting my own business. I was not certain what I should do. But then I eventually decided to establish my own company thinking that I can sustain my relationship with suppliers and buyers, keep factories running, and create jobs.”
SLS was founded in 2009 and Kim started running the company on her own. Clearly, business management was different from international sales. In order to lay a firm foundation for the company, she had to juggle between managing the company internally and building new networks with new buyers. To help her better manage, she has hired experts in business management. Finding new buyers was no easy task. Kim said, “Some suggest that I carry on my business with buyers I knew from my previous work. But I believe that doing business with new buyers we found on our own will enhance our capacity.” In fact, contracts with new buyers accounted for 90% of total sales in the first year.
Among others, finding a balance between work and family is still a challenge. In 2009, she even had to take her three-month-old baby to her business trip to Europe’s largest exposition.
“I could not give up attending the exposition nor breast-feeding the baby. So I ended up visiting France with my mom and the baby. People told me I was too spiteful. I felt terrible that I was too harsh on my baby. This is every working mother’s dilemma.”
Throughout the interview, she smiled. However, she showed tears when she began talking about her child. She said, “My first daughter is old enough to understand me now. I have received a great deal of support from her and my husband. Without them, I simply could not have gotten this far.”
She now has another ambitious goal of targeting Chinese markets by employing aggressive strategies such as establishing a local subsidiary. Simultaneously, she is planning to increase domestic demand.
“The name SLS stands for Sky, Land, and Sea. As the name suggests, we anxiously want to connect the dots between the three. I believe quality is the most significant element. I hope that my company would involve into the world’s finest Korean food company.”