Gold from the Melting Pot

If Jeong Kim weren't so busy, he'd make a good bridge partner for Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.

Kim is a Korean-American entrepreneur who makes Horatio Alger look like a slugabed.

In just six years Kim, a Korean immigrant, built a communications firm from scratch and has just sold it to Lucent Technologies for $1 billion. His share of the sale: $510 million. The Washington Post notes that this rockets him ahead of Intel chairman Andrew Grove in net worth.

Kim arrived in the US from Korea when he was 14. He worked nights at a 7-Eleven to earn money for college; gained an electrical engineering degree in three years at Johns Hopkins; finished his PhD in two years; and served seven years as an officer on a nuclear submarine.

His real-life story leaps at least one order of magnitude beyond the old Alger fiction. He told the Post he felt he "wasn't the smartest" so he regularly worked 120 hour weeks at the beginning. He financed his start-up with second mortgages and credit cards, plus some aid from a federal program for minority-owned firms.

His product, vital to business firms and the Pentagon, cuts costs and adds speed and capacity by allowing voice, data, and video transmissions to be simultaneously fed over the same computer networks. Sales and profits boomed as big global firms like Ericsson and Lucent's one-time parent, AT&T, bought Kim's "Yurie boxes" (named after his daughter, Yurie).

Fortunately, Kim's is as much an immigrant success story as an upgraded Alger tale of hard work. He told interviewers that classmates had teased him because of his accent. He hoped others would look at his career, "see someone who looks different, who speaks with a funny accent, and ... say, if I set my goals high, maybe I can succeed like that, too."

He is, of course, right about both immigrant and native-born strivers.

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