Zhu Jimin signed up to study mine construction at North East Technical College in Shenyang. Born in 1946, he graduated in the middle of the Cultural Revolution. Educated youths were expected to take manual jobs, and he was assigned to Anshan Iron and Steel Group as a railway maintenance worker.
Climbing the ladder
Anshan was Zhu’s home for 26 years. After 14 different jobs (including blaster, accountant, Youth League secretary, and assistant to the general manager) within the organisation, he had what he describes as an “encyclopaedic” knowledge of the industry.
Zhu thought he would never leave Anshan. But in 1997, he received a call informing him that he was to be reassigned to head a failing steel company in Guizhou province, Shuigang Group.
At Shuigang, Zhu found a company low on raw materials and four months behind in paying wages. With four consecutive years of losses, Shuigang was close to shutting down. But Zhu implemented a three-pronged strategy: adjust to market demand, improve product quality, and solve raw material shortages. It worked: within six months, Shuigang was profitable again, and steel output had rocketed to 750,000 tonnes from 400,000.
A capital responsibility
It was not long until Zhu was called upon to move again. In 2002, he took charge of Shougang Group, a significant industrial asset that had dropped from being the country’s top producer to fourth position.
Key to Shougang’s revival was the idea that the company should expand out of its Beijing base and look at new markets in China and abroad. Reaching customers overseas will be helped by the relocation of Shougang’s iron and steel projects to Caofeidian, an area of reclaimed land in Bohai Bay, Hebei province. The move was approved in 2005 and completed earlier this month. Zhu has also overseen the acquisition of a number of smaller steel companies across the country.
The product range has been altered too. Shougang used to produce low-end products like wire and reinforced steel. But now it is focusing on automotive steel, at the higher end of the market. With reports out this week that steel prices could increase by two thirds this year, it looks like 2011 could be a highlight in Zhu’s long career in the industry.
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