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If you like James Kimsey's story, you might also like:
Frederick Smith,
Stephen Case,
Lawrence Ellison,
Pierre Omidyar
and David Petraeus

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring James Kimsey in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Information Age

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James V. Kimsey
James V. Kimsey
Profile of James V. Kimsey Biography of James V. Kimsey Interview with James V. Kimsey James V. Kimsey Photo Gallery

James V. Kimsey Interview (page: 2 / 6)

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  James V. Kimsey

You were in combat in Vietnam. I want to ask you about your experiences in combat, and what you took from that. Was there one experience that had a significant impact on the rest of your career?

James V. Kimsey: My first tour I had a team up in what they call I-Corps, just south of My Lai. And, I took a team in after the first team got wiped out and I stayed there for a year. During that year I had about 1,100 Vietnamese irregulars that I was responsible for. Every day of that year I had at least one of those guys get killed. Some days we had big attacks and a lot more got killed. But, this was a very bad area of Vietnam.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

I think, among all the things that happened during that year, it gave me an opportunity to live in a village with Vietnamese people, speak the language, get to know the people as a people, understand the nature of that conflict. And, despite the sometimes horrible incidences that occurred, I look back on that year particularly as a real growth year for myself. That I was responsible for about 100,000 square miles and 100,000 people. And, irrespective of what our policy was towards those people, I felt it was my job to protect them. And, in the process I got to know them. We built an orphanage which still exists.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Somebody asked me one time, "Don't you feel scarred by any of these experiences?" Once again, if it doesn't kill you it will make you stronger. All these things should help you grow. Having been through all of that, you're less intimidated going into a business environment. The consequences of things that happen in a business environment are not so dramatic as they are in a combat environment. So it's easier to think your way through alternatives with a cool and calm head, get to the right place, and lead your company where it needs to go.

What about the orphanage? You didn't have to do that. That was something that was very special to you, that you felt you needed to do. Why?

James V. Kimsey: My predecessor, who had been killed, had written back to people in New Orleans where he came from.

His name was Captain Rod, Ronald Rod -- R, O, D -- and before he died, he had talked in one of his letters about these little kids running around without parents. I'm sure most of the orphans we created. And, when he was killed, Time magazine did a story on him and he was made a martyr. The people in New Orleans then started raising money to build an orphanage to commemorate him. They were going to build it in a big city, and at the time I was in sort of a no-man's land in this particular team that had had many casualties over time. And, it probably was somewhat self-serving, as I raised hell and said, "No, the orphanage should be built here, in this place called Duc Pho." And everybody disagreed with that, but I raised such a stink about it they finally turned to me and said, "Fine, Captain Kimsey. You think it ought to be built there, you build it."

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

It was an interesting challenge, in the middle of a war, when you don't know who's VC and not VC. You've only got the surrounding people and not a lot of building technology. But After 30-some years, I was just reunited two months ago with my old counterpart, the Vietnamese district chief. I didn't even know he was alive. He found me just recently, and we reminisced about the process of how we had to find somebody to design it, and then to build it with local labor. It was an interesting sort of exercise.

More interesting, having built the orphanage I called for people to run it. Catholic Relief Service was involved, and all the organs of the U.S. government had gotten involved in at that point - -USAID, and MACV and others, which was an interesting lesson for me in how big organizations work, and how bureaucracy works.

James V. Kimsey Interview Photo
They weren't going to send me anybody to run it because Duc Pho was such a bad place, nobody would come there. So I threatened to give it to the Buddhists, who had a temple some kilometers down the road. I said, "I'll just turn the building and the operating funds over to the Buddhists down the road. Well, I'd galvanized them, and about a week later a helicopter landed at dusk and four little bitty Vietnamese nuns got off the helicopter. They were scared to death, because they'd never been out of the big city.

I took them to the orphanage and showed them around and helped them get comfortable and went back to my little team house. We had a bunker that we'd built around the team house.

That night we got mortared, and we had tracers flying around, which was not an abnormal nocturnal experience for us. And, I remember sort of smugly saying to one of my team members I said, "Watch, those nuns are going to be back over here in the morning trying to have me get a helicopter and get them out of here." And sure enough, the next morning the little Mother Superior -- there was a Mother Superior, a nurse, a teacher and a cook -- came over and I said, "Yes, Sister, what can I do?" And she said, "Please follow me." And, she took me back to the orphanage and during the night she'd made up a punch list of all the deficiencies she's found with the orphanage. And, she took me around and showed me all these, a little crack here, little something over here, and the implication being that I had to fix them. And I thought to myself, "I think I really underestimated these nuns."

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Two of those nuns are still alive and for the last 32 years have shown an amazing ability to persevere and to keep track of me, no matter where I went and what I did. So I've supported them for the last 32 years and I've been back a couple of times.

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This page last revised on Mar 03, 2008 15:59 EST
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