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Jeong Kim
Jeong Kim
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Jeong Kim Interview (page: 4 / 6)

President Emeritus of Bell Labs

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  Jeong Kim

When you got out of the Navy, did you have an idea of what you wanted to produce? Did you know where you thought you could find your niche?

Jeong Kim: It became very obvious to me that the communications revolution was going to be even bigger than the computer revolution. People use this device to compute and make your life a little easier, but then still people need to talk and people need to work together, and that's where the communications comes. And, with the computer and the telephony merging together, there's got to be some smarter way of doing that.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Jeong Kim Interview Photo
There was a standard that was being established and accepted by international bodies. It's called ATM, Asynchronous Transfer Mode. It's the first and only standard that's truly international. Once you have a standard, you can build equipment for that standard. The world will have to go global in terms of communicating and connecting. I realized that was a very significant event, so I tried to team up with a couple of people to raise money and start a business in this field again. I couldn't do it. I was unsuccessful because, through the eyes of venture capitalists, I was a guy who came out of the military, with no track record of running a business. They don't care what you did in college. That was a long time ago. I didn't have any money. Most of my savings had gone into my old business.

After about a year of trying to do this, it didn't work out. So I thought about the situation. "What I have is I have an ability to come up with new product ideas. What I don't have is a track record. I don't have money, and I do not have ongoing business or structure." I thought about the movie Field of Dreams. You know, "Build it and they will come." So I approached it differently. "I'm going to build a shell company and I'm going to do whatever I can to generate the business and build up a track record, so next time when I try to raise some money it will be easier." Also, I wouldn't have to give away the entire company to do that.

So that's what I did, I set up a company. The only thing I could do as a one-person company was consulting. I did consulting for the military for three years because I had some background there. Even that was really hard because the government was downsizing at the time, and it's hard to get any kind of contract as a one person company. Most government contracts have to be competed.

Jeong Kim Interview Photo
There is a program through the Small Business Administration called minority set-aside. They have something called an 8A Company, where you can get a government contract without having to compete. A lot of people urged me to join that program, but I decided not to. People have done well through the program and been successful, but didn't think that was appropriate for me, because I didn't feel that I had a handicap.

You need a certain amount of self-esteem to not depend on things. If somebody gives you handicap points, you can become dependent on it, and some people aren't strong enough for that. I wasn't sure I was strong enough. You can get used to those comforts. I don't want to criticize the program. I think the program has done a lot of good things for a lot of people.

But more importantly, when I first created the company, I had to set the course. I was going to go from a consulting-based or labor-based company to a product- based company. As a labor-based company, you can only grow so fast, and there are only so many things you can do. I was interested in developing technology. That was one objective. The other one was to go from a military focus to a commercial focus. Those two objectives basically were the guiding principle for all the decisions I made. If you're going to be commercially focused, why join a government program? It doesn't make sense.

But this was a risk too, because you had to do it all yourself. You're a big risk taker.

Jeong Kim: A major, major risk taker. What is it I said earlier?

Once you have some food and clothes to wear, everything's extra. So you're not going to worry. This is the United States we're talking about! If you're healthy, you need to work. Then you're not going to go hungry. So, why not push yourself to the limit and live up to your potential? That's the way I see it.

Jeong Kim Interview Photo
I made the difficult decisions in all the stages of the company based on those two objectives as guiding principles. We made a successful transition from a labor-based or consulting-based company to a product-based on. I put all the money I earned on consulting work into technology development. We made a transition from a security focus to a commercial focus. We went from 96 percent sales to a government market in 1996, to something like 80 percent sales to commercial markets in 1997. So we met our two objectives.

How do you account for the incredible response that you got to this technology?

Jeong Kim: People felt the need to connect themselves through the Internet, and need to communicate more to do collaborative work. People have thought about basically throwing away everything that we have now, to build a new architecture, based on a high-speed, high-capacity network. People talk about a communications revolution and most companies thought about developing high-speed, high-capacity devices that will allow you to do things instantaneously.

But that kind of high speed transmission is really done through fiber optic networks, and the reality is that fiber optic cable is difficult to lay. It takes time. The current infrastructure is not just fiber, but there are copper phone lines, there are coaxial cables, there are satellite and wireless networks. In my opinion, those will all co-exist for a very long time.

In order to go from where we are today, where we need to go - to the future networks, there has to be some sort of technological migration path. Most companies basically want to leapfrog, and I thought that was the wrong thing. That was a historian's view. "Revolution" itself is a historian's view, because it's going to take that much longer. From a businessman's perspective, we need a communication "evolution." So, somebody needs to show the migration path.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

An evolution rather than a revolution?

Jeong Kim: Right. It will be a revolution from the historian's perspective because it is going to happen in a very short time, but a lot of businesses can rise and fall within that time. It's much easier to build something new from scratch than to try to make today's technology work with future technology. So we concentrate on how we can actually go from today's technology to tomorrow's. There are some major technical issues, and we were able to overcome that. We spent a couple of years researching it, until we could productize it. We developed technologies to solve major technical difficulties. Once we'd productized it, we couldn't make it fast enough.

Who uses it?

Jeong Kim: It has been used by major telephone companies like AT&T and Sprint. It is just in the infancy stage, as a matter of fact. That's why I was willing to pay lots of money for it, and I believe it will take off in a major fashion.

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This page last revised on Apr 21, 2014 16:52 EST
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