What do you do professionally?
At present, I hold a number of positions for Korean companies:
- CFO of Kainos Medicine, a biotechnology company working on new drug developments, including neurodegenerative diseases and oncology treatments.
- Partner and CFO of Mirakle51, a consulting/mentoring organization for Korean SME’s with cutting-edge technologies looking to expand offshore.
- Managing Director of Roboprint Asia, a robotics company specializing in manufacturing and leasing robots that paint large-scale art murals and walls.
- CFO of Apollux, a specialty LED startup with a lineup of high-tech products from the global licensing merger of four Korean venture companies.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
The most enjoyable and thankful aspect of my various roles is that they allow me to learn, grow, and challenge myself in industries that I am utterly not familiar with. As a former investment banker for over 20 years, my career specialty had always been in finance. By immersing myself in these diverse roles after my banking retirement in 2006, I have been able to continuously satiate my curiosity and thirst for novel experiences and knowledge. Thankfully, with each passing day, I am reminded of just how little I know about the world and how I can look forward to endless new windows unfolding before me.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
The biggest challenge is the need to ramp up the learning curve for every new and different type of managerial role I assume in these various business sectors. So, for example, my day-to-day scramble to learn more about operating a biotechnology company couldn’t be more different from my role in managing the international operations of a robotics company.
The other obvious challenge is to manage my time efficiently to be able to execute the various executive roles that are demanded of me. Fortunately, I find that the advances in communication and computer technology are a great boon to people like me in facilitating the need to continuously juggle messages, meetings, and data.
What sorts of interesting places has your position taken you? Do you have a favorite?
Although I am no longer involved, many years ago I served as the CEO for a lithium mining project in Argentina. This allowed me to travel many times a year to the province of Salta in the northern Andes region of Argentina. I still often reminisce on the camaraderie, the dramatic sceneries, the incredible food and wine, and the close friendships I developed during these project years.
What is the best professional advice you’ve received?
Given the wealth of wisdom I have been gifted from so many great friends and colleagues over the years, it is hard to pinpoint the “best” professional advice I have received, but these would seem to stand out:
- Make friends and don’t make enemies. Good friendships can last a life time and enmities may come back to haunt you in the most unexpected ways. Having said that, one has to temper this advice with the need to always stick to one’s personal integrity and a strong moral compass (not so much for the pocket, as for the soul—no need to discuss which is more important).
- Learn and practice to communicate well, both in writing and speaking. Almost every successful senior executive I have ever met is a great talker and, to a lesser extent, a great writer. Whether merited or not, great communicators usually exude an aura of competence and intelligence which, again, merited or not, tends to help them advance their careers and relationships. An exception to this rule are those visionary geniuses who succeed by sheer brilliance and performance regardless of other people’s opinions—I have never faced the risk of being anywhere near this category.
- The most important factor in success is luck. Some people think this is unfortunate, but understanding this simple fact does provide the valuable benefit of humility. We often hear wise people say things like “You’re never as good as you think you are and you’re never as bad as you think you are.” Luck is the one factor we can’t control, which explains why sometimes the most talented and hardworking people don’t succeed while lesser-driven people do. Luck is sometimes improved by hard work, but sometimes it isn’t. A derivative advice to this could be the oft-quoted phrase “Keep your feet on the ground.” Personally, I find true humility to be a far more admirable trait in a person than wealth or success.
Aside from your current role, what is your dream job?
I once wrote and published a young adult novel—a mix of Indiana Jones, Jackie Chan, and DaVinci Code. It was a gargantuan effort and I won some kind of first-writer’s award for it in Singapore. It’s been published in Singapore, in Korea, and is available on Amazon. However, it’s not exactly a money-earner and not many people have read it. I don’t think it’ll ever pay for more than a few trips to McDonald’s and it’ll never get on anyone’s literary list. Having said that, the scope of self-satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment cannot be measured. It’s akin to owning something precious that nobody else in the world knows or values. So, in a roundabout way to answer the question, I’d love to be full-time author of fiction one day, traveling everywhere all the time and making the world my office.
Professionally or personally, what are you excited about right now?
From a professional perspective, I’m very excited about the ongoing and potential advances in biotechnology (one of the key reasons why I accepted a job in this field). Paradigm-shifting advances in technology, especially over a whole industrial sector, can only be accomplished in our day and age when they are aligned with the forces of capital. Without delving into the political rights and wrongs of capitalism, it is a fact that a significant chunk of the world’s investment money is flowing into biotechnology. Many investors will lose money and some will win, but the benefits to all of us will flourish in the form of cures and treatments for an ever-expanding list of every type of disease, many which have plagued mankind since the rise of our species. Now...is it a “good” thing that humans continue to stretch their life expectancies at the expense of dwindling global resources, detrimental climate change, and the ongoing extinction of flora and fauna? (For this Q&A, as MC Hammer would say, “Can’t touch this”)
What do you like to do outside of work?
Dreaming ahead to the day we can all cast off the difficulties imposed by the global pandemic, I would readily choose travel as my favorite pastime. And I refer to travel at its broadest definition; from exploring local neighborhoods in my town to visiting familiar and unfamiliar urban and rural areas around the world. Given that my father was a career diplomat, I was conditioned from a very young age to travel, adjust, and enjoy new environments every few years. My whole life has been a continuous wanderlust, from interesting little journeys to wholesale changes in residence, and I don’t see the pattern ever changing. Travel grants me the opportunity to imbibe new or revisit old experiences in sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, and always a dose of a certain “je ne sais quoi” that satisfies the deepest part of the human soul.
What is the most important thing you learned during your time at Fuqua?
The simple answer to this question is that Fuqua offered me the first glimpses into the real wide world of business and the basic tools to be able to operate within it. I didn’t have any significant business experience prior to Fuqua and, as a result, every class and concept in finance, marketing, and operations was an eye opener. In terms of business practice, I think the most significant business concepts I reaped from Fuqua was the importance of teamwork and communication. Time proved to me again and again that teamwork and good communication improved the odds dramatically in business projects, career advancement, and work satisfaction.
Who was your favorite professor?
My favorite professor at Fuqua was Douglas Breeden. He exuded knowledge and confidence in an easy-going way and his communication style was clear and direct.
When I was running the Deutsche Bank Group in Korea as the chief country officer, back in the late 90’s to mid 2000’s, Dr. Breeden honored me twice with a visit to my offices and we pleasantly reminisced about my times at Fuqua.
What is your favorite Fuqua memory?
The 2-year workload at Fuqua was pretty intense, but I also found there was always an aura of friendliness and optimism that permeated the entire Duke campus.
Rather than a particular singular event at Fuqua, I think my favorite memories are those of walking around the gorgeous grounds of Duke University, reflecting on the various seasons of the year, and enjoying the wonderfully gothic architecture of West Campus.
And, of course, there was basketball. Coach K was in his early years of coaching the Blue Devils, and Johnny Dawkins was the electric first-generation superstar of the Coach K era.
What does Team Fuqua mean to you?
Team Fuqua and the Duke University affiliation have been a proud badge of honor for my entire professional career. Many colleagues and friends had graduated from some of the top academic names from around the world, but, at least to me, Duke and Fuqua always felt distinctly special. It felt as if Duke/Fuqua was somehow “cooler” or more “unique” or organically “warmer” than most of its academic peers.
I am thankful to Fuqua for its endless effort to communicate and stay in touch with its alumni, the available mechanisms for providing continual knowledge and education, and the relentless drive to make Fuqua one of the top business schools in the world.