Jeong Kim Interview (page: 6 / 6)
President Emeritus of Bell Labs
Most of our honorees talk about very supportive families. They were encouraged. You didn't have those things to rely on. In your case, it sounds like this drive really came from within.
Jeong Kim: I didn't have much choice. But let me tell you, there are many people like me who are not asking for a whole lot, just the opportunity to prove ourselves. I like to be in the position to give them the chance. That's what people did for me. They gave me a chance to prove myself. People helped me, but I never asked anybody to hold my hand and do things for me. The only thing I asked was to let me try to prove myself. I think a lot of kids just want that. They don't need anything else.
What now? You're at a point financially where you could retire comfortably. Why don't you do that?
Jeong Kim: No.
I could have retired a long time ago, financially. What's really important to me is that I add value to society. And, I think I still have a lot of creative energy in me. I mean, I'm a really practical person. I don't think I can be as creative when I am 50 or 60 years old, and my effort and my energy can be better spent on maybe doing -- I don't know -- social work or going and teaching at the universities. I don't know what that will be, but right now I can best contribute by working on the technologies.
[ Key to Success ] Integrity
I see so many opportunities. In selling our company to Lucent Technologies, one of the biggest objections was the job they offered me. They offered me a job as President of Carrier Networks. Typically, when a big company acquires a small one, the top guy at the small company gets to run that part of the organization or leave. Lucent gave me two other major divisions. I'm responsible for the entire product line for the carrier networks, so I can be much more effective, I can add a lot more value. I can't tell you for how long, but until my creative juice runs out. That's where I think I can make the most contribution. A good friend of mine said I don't need to prove anything now, so I can just lead my life and set an example. I like to set examples for other people, whatever that means.
Do you think things were possible for you in this country that weren't possible elsewhere?
Jeong Kim: Absolutely. I've been interviewed by Germans and British and people from Asian countries, Koreans as well. They ask the same question. I guess nothing's impossible, but I don't think it's practical or probable that it could have happened in other countries.
One of the biggest reasons is people's attitude here. This company, Yurie Systems, was not my first start-up. I consider Digitus my first and this was my second try. But when I went out and talked to people about taking the company public, people viewed my first failure as a great experience. They felt more comfortable because I'd been through those hard times.
In other countries, when you try and fail, you really fail. People basically look at you as a failure. Here people look at that as an excellent experience. And even if you fail, most people will walk away saying that, "Well, at least I tried. Most people don't even try." We have an attitude, I think in the United States. Only in the United States, people take that kind of attitude that we all need to take a risk. If it doesn't work out, at least I was brave enough that I did try it.
[ Key to Success ] The American Dream
Why did you call your company Yurie Systems?
Jeong Kim: It's the name of my daughter. She was one year old when I founded the company, and I didn't get to spend a lot of time with her. It was my way of trying to ease my guilty feeling that I didn't spend enough time with my daughter.
Can you spend a little more time with your family now?
Jeong Kim: I do.
Was there a moment when you realized, "Oh, my God, this is going to work," or "I can make this happen." Was there a moment of discovery?
Jeong Kim: There were a couple of moments. The technical solutions really came from other people who were working with me. I contributed, but I don't want to take credit that is not really mine. But when I saw that there were solutions, the rest of it was just execution. The execution part is easy. That's something that I have learned from my previous failure. I know how to execute. But with very difficult technical problems, you are not sure until it's done. The outcome might be that it's not possible. But once we solved the problem, we knew we were on to something.
What was that like, when you and your team realized you had it?
Jeong Kim: The funny thing was, only a few people really understood what it meant --basically the guys who developed it. There wasn't anybody to share it with. We tried to explain it to other people and they said, "So what?" About a week later, they came back and said, "Oh, my gosh, now I understand."
Were you together when you realized that this was going to work?
Jeong Kim: Most of the time we were on the phone. There was one time that we were together.
You and your top researchers, basically? How many of you?
Jeong Kim: Less than five. These are my friends from college and high school.
How soon after you started did you realize that you were going to have a product that you were on to something?
Jeong Kim: I incorporated the company in February of 1992. I didn't get my first consulting contract until May of 1993, so I went for a year and three months without my first contract. The summer of 1994 is when we were able to develop most of the technologies, and began actually testing it. By October, we were comfortable that we had the solutions, so we productized it and started shipping the product. We developed the product in five months, in February of 1995 we started shipping the product.
You were already married when you started the company. Your wife must have really believed in you to put up with a year and a half of no consulting when you started your own company.
Jeong Kim: I think she always had faith in me. I'm forever in her debt and I'd do anything she asks. It's very difficult for anybody to understand what I'm trying to do and how spectacular it could be. I knew it was doable. I knew it could be a billion dollar company. As a matter of fact, that was my goal but, it's very difficult for a layman to understand that. To some degree my wife still doesn't understand it, but she had faith that things would work out.
Was it tough making ends meet during that period?
Jeong Kim: I hung onto my job while I was still getting my first contract. It was like working at night. We had a little bit of savings, too.
Does your wife work?
Jeong Kim: She worked at the time.
How many children do you have?
Jeong Kim: We have two now, two little girls. I don't talk about my children much. I have a security concern. I'm a big target. Think about it. I'm an immigrant, there are a lot of people who are very jealous. They shouldn't be, but that's the nature of human beings.
Have you felt that recently?
Jeong Kim: Yes, just crazy letters, but that's not unusual. If you talk to any successful people you know it happens. I stand out even more because there aren't that many people who have created wealth as quickly as I have, and I speak funny. The positive side is that people like me remind all of us that we are a nation of immigrants and the American dream is still possible. You don't have to be the smartest to make that happen. I think that's a good thing for all of us.
Thank you for a really inspiring interview. We appreciate it.
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This page last revised on Apr 21, 2014 16:52 EDT
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