A good way to understand Kumho Tire is through a message from the current CEO, Kim Chang-Kyu. His statement to customers provides a glimpse into the company’s overall philosophy:
“We will place the top priority on quality and environment to move the hearts of customers.”
In other words, Kumho’s targets are quality products, environmental friendliness, and harnessing the customers’ love of driving. Those targets have been the aim for Kumho since its founding in 1960.
Kumho Tire actually began as Samyang Tire Co., Ltd. in Yang-dong, Kwangju City, South Korea. Much like the rest of the auto industry in Korea at the time, the tire company and its production methods were very rudimentary. For the first couple years, the company was only able to produce about 20 tires each day. Even at that rate, they helped to modernize the South Korean auto industry. For example, they created the first compact passenger car tire manufactured in Korea.
Within 5 years of it founding, the tire company’s reach extended beyond its domestic borders. They began exporting tires to other East Asian countries. A few months after its first exports, the company acquired the US Department of Transportation (DOT) mark necessary for tire sales in the US.
The Second Decade
Coming off of a very strong end to the 1960s that included the development of a new snow tire, Kumho worked hard to update its manufacturing processes and the quality of its tires. The first half of the 1970s were difficult for tire companies around the world due to the oil crisis. However, that didn’t stop Kumho from becoming the top tire manufacturer in Korea.
In 1976, the company launched an internal campaign to improve technology and quality control. That year, they were also listed on the Korean Stock Exchange. The money brought in from investors opened up great new possibilities for Kumho. They entered the aeronautics industry by creating aircraft tires. Kumho broke a Korean record by producing 1 million tires in a year. They’d come a long way from the “primitive” production methods of the early days.
These leaps and bounds included a new manufacturing plant and a technological partnering with Uniroyal Tires. Kumho’s fully modernized manufacturing and superior business practices also won them several awards from the Korean government. One of these major awards was a grand prize in the 5th Quality Control Awards. They’d definitely achieved the goals they aimed for at the beginning of the 1970s.
The 1980s were a time of upheaval in Korea. There was major political instability as the nation became a more representative democracy and as tensions between management and workers spread throughout the country. These issues affected Kumho both directly and indirectly, yet they managed to overcome all the turmoil.
During the ’80s, Kumho established a Tire Research Center, developed several new specialized tires, and eventually exceeded a total output of 50 million tires. A new manufacturing plant was built and the headquarters were moved to the nation’s capital, Seoul. More prestigious awards from the Korean government poured in for the company too. Those awards included a Productivity grand prize and a Presidential Award for the Best Energy Saving Company.
Despite the difficulties of the 1980s, Kumho’s overall successes domestically and internationally set the stage for the 1990s, which would be a time of rapid growth and excellent sales. Kumho continued to diversify its tire offerings. High performance tires, winter tires, and a wider variety of passenger tires churned out of the company’s 3 domestic manufacturing plants. They became the first Korean company to pass the US’s test for commercial aircraft tires. The company started producing golf balls in 1991, entering the sporting goods market like many other tire companies.
The stability of the 1990s allowed Kumho to put an even greater focus on efficiency, product quality, and eco-friendly manufacturing. The plant in Koksung was selected as a shining example of environmental management. Kumho became one of the top 10 tire manufacturers in the world. All of this success was further solidified in 1996 when the company changed its name to Kumho Tire Co., Ltd.
Kumho is also focused on off-road ventures. Not off-road as in trailblazing and mudding in a 4×4 vehicle (although Kumho does offer off-road tires), but rather outside of the automotive industry altogether.
The company’s success over its first 50 years in operation has been huge. It competes on a global level with tire companies more than twice its age. Much of that has to do with the ideals stated by the company’s CEO: quality products, environmental friendliness, and harnessing the customers’ love of driving. But the success also comes from Kumho’s cultural aims beyond these 3 lofty goals. Knowing the importance of cultural experiences, the company has done a great deal of philanthropic work, particularly in the arts.
In 1977, the Kumho Cultural Foundation was founded. It began as a scholarship program, but soon grew into an organization that promotes classical music and the fine arts as well. The Kumho Cultural Foundation supports young artists by sponsoring concerts and exhibitions featuring distinguished artists from around the globe. The Foundation also runs educational programs for young artists, loans them rare musical instruments at no cost, and often pays for the their travel expenses. It’s now known in Korea as one of the foremost arts organizations and has helped establish Kumho as an excellent company to work with and to work for.
The 2000s & Today
Although most of this article has focused on Kumho’s successes in Korea, the tire manufacturer was steadily growing overseas since its first tire exports to Thailand. That can be clearly seen in its international business efforts in the 2000s and beyond.
Operations in Asia, Europe, and the US were fully established and getting bigger. In 2001, Kumho received quality control certification known as VDA Certification within Germany. In 2002, US-based JD Power and Associates ranked Kumho second in the Customer Satisfaction Survey. Then, in 2008, Kumho broke ground on a $225 million manufacturing facility in Macon, Georgia. A year later, Kumho secured a deal that would have its tires fitted on Mercedes-Benz models at the time of their production. Meanwhile, back home in Korea, Kumho was ranked first on the Korea’s Customer Satisfaction Index for the sixth year straight.
Things were going extremely well for Kumho all before its 50th anniversary. Based on its growth since turning 50, there are no indications that Kumho’s success will slow any time soon.