Category Archives: Alumni

Wiring the future of health care

Guest post by Barbara W. Cosgriff, Foster School alumna

As the debate over health care reform continues to swirl inside and outside Washington, DC, policymakers and regulators at the federal, state and local levels have proposed myriad solutions to fix what many commentators describe as an inherently broken system. In this process, many solutions have been popularized and, unfortunately, politicized.

From this multitude of often controversial remedies, I would suggest distilling a viable solution with the potential for real reform. This idea posits a system that aligns disparate groups around a common goal: creating a wired health care system that empowers patients and payors alike to make informed decisions.

Imagine a world in which a central repository exists that enables a 360-degree view of every aspect of health care—including the data and results from the lab, from the health plan, from the pharmacy, from the hospital, and from the doctor or doctors—all organized around the patient. In this health care system, safeguards are in place that improve safety, raise the quality of care, increase access, and reduce waste—while delivering increased transparency to payors and patients.

This is—in short—a wired health care system.

But this is not some blue-sky theory, it is happening all over the country, today, through technology advances and leadership from the public and private sectors. Today’s “wired” health care system is based in large part on America’s longstanding pharmacy practice and a 1990 federal law enacted to wire pharmacies from end to end, nationwide—leveraging this system holds unleashed promise. Many companies today use this type of system to allow a pharmacist to cross-reference pharmacy data with medical data thereby providing more comprehensive treatment of chronic and complex conditions. The shift from the legacy health care system to a wired system that utilizes as its backbone the wired pharmacy coupled with tools and training, has proven to be effective in lowering costs, improving quality and increasing access.

All told, wiring health care creates a foundational opportunity to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our health care system—and minimize waste that arises from treatment and management of complex and chronic disease, to personalized medicine and beyond. In fact, studies have estimated that efficiencies stemming from wiring health care could save an estimated $680 billion annually. In an overburdened system, that represents significant cost savings.

Several health care companies are already harnessing the savings, efficiencies and quality of care associated with a wired health care system that leverages the wired pharmacy backbone. Patients and payors receive the benefits associated with a wired health care system when they are confident medication compliance monitoring is the norm, cost-saving generic medications are widely available and treatment regimens comply with national standards of quality care.

Today’s reform debate would do well —especially for the average American—to move beyond fractious and narrow partisanship and seriously consider the benefits of building upon an existing wired foundation as a model for tomorrow’s health care system. America’s payors and, most importantly, patients, deserve no less.

Barbara Cosgriff is the former senior vice president of public policy and external affairs for Medco Health Solutions, Inc. Cosgriff holds a BA in Business Administration and Accounting from the UW Foster School of Business and an MBA in International Business from George Washington University.

Red Lantern Journeys takes travelers off the beaten path

“Bhutan is the country that measures gross national happiness and while it has been a relatively closed country, tourism is possible there,” says Ambrose Bittner (MBA 2004), founder and CEO of Red Lantern Journeys. Red Lantern is a Seattle-based start-up that specializes in some of the more “off the beaten path” travel destinations in Asia such as Bhutan and Myanmar. “Myanmar is really a unique country—undeveloped and untouched—and now’s a good time to go there. But we make sure to go over the risks and political situations in these countries so our clients are well informed before they arrive.”

As he was finishing up his MBA at the University of Washington in 2004, Bittner met a friend of a friend who had started a travel company focused on Africa. He realized that his own extensive experience traveling throughout Asia was an asset he could market. “I felt this was my strong suit so I decided to just go for it,” says Bittner.

What differentiates Red Lantern from other travel companies is the high level of customer service given to each client in planning their trip. Focused primarily on private tours, Bittner and three other travel consultants work with each client to develop customized itineraries that meet their specific needs in terms of timeframe, budget, and the types of activities and sights clients wish to experience during their travels. “All of our consultants have either lived or traveled extensively in the countries they focus on,” says Bittner. “We don’t sell other companies’ travel packages. We’re destination specialists and know logistically how to get around countries in Asia, all the unique sites and activities, and we have local guides in each country. It’s a very independent way to travel but still be ‘on a tour.’”

Dedication and perseverance have served Bittner well as an entrepreneur and helped him shepherd the company through the recent economic downturn. “Being an entrepreneur means having the vision and working toward it, being dedicated and not getting too discouraged along the way when things happen,” he says. And as if running a company weren’t challenging enough, Bittner also leads an annual charity climb on Mt. Rainier to raise money for Mitrata Nepal Foundation for Children, an orphanage and school in Kathmandu, the starting point of Red Lantern’s popular Everest Base Camp trek. “We’ve raised $30,000 each of the last couple years and I’m really proud that we’re able to provide that kind of support in a community where we send travelers,” says Bittner.

Evolution Capital brings a holistic approach to start-up banking

Evolution Capital
Photo left to right: Troy Hartzell and Kirk Van Alstyne, co-founder of Evolution Capital Advisors. Photo by Judith Fernstrom of Judith Fernstrom Photography.

What’s it like being capital advisors to early-stage start-ups? “It’s one part investment banker, one part strategy consultant, one part coach, and one part shrink,” says Troy Hartzell (BA 2001), managing partner and co-founder at Evolution Capital Advisors. Hartzell and co-founder Kirk Van Alstyne (MBA 1996) run a boutique investment bank providing capital formation and strategic advisory services to entrepreneurial stage emerging-growth technology firms.

The partners have been focused on entrepreneurship since the mid-1990s, when they first met as student leaders in the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Van Alstyne had been a chemical engineer and worked on the sales side of the industry for several years before going to graduate school. “I grew up in a small town in Montana and never really thought about starting a company. But there I was, working with these CEOs who had started some great companies and I thought, I’d like to do that someday. So I went back to the UW and got an MBA to learn about entrepreneurship.”

Hartzell had always been enamored with innovation and idea creation. When he got to the UW, he found entrepreneurship to be infectious. “I was surrounded by successful entrepreneurs, 20-somethings who had high aspirations and were incredibly motivated. I was sitting in on lectures with people like Jeff Bezos taking us through the idea generation process,” says Hartzell. “It felt like the possibilities were only constrained by your personal ambition. While I was in school at UW, I started an internet company, won one of the early UW Business Plan Competitions, and went on to raise venture capital for our start-up. Was it the school of hard knocks? Yes it was. But it was absolutely inspiring.”

Several years after graduating, Hartzell and Van Alstyne ended up working at the same investment bank. It was then that the idea for Evolution Capital took root. “We said, we’re entrepreneurs at heart, we love working with entrepreneurs, and we saw an opportunity to bring investment banking capabilities to earlier stage companies in the Northwest,” said Van Alstyne. “So we struck out and started Evolution five years ago.”

Unlike traditional investment banking firms, Evolution Capital tailors their services to the unique needs of smaller early-stage companies by offering hands-on strategic advising and expertise in the clean-tech, telecom, digital media and information technology sectors. The investment firm helps start-ups position, package and present their business in a way that is going to appeal to institutional investors and strategic buyers. “We’re really helping these companies figure out how to tell their story so they can raise capital,” says Van Alstyne. Profitable since its first year of operation, Evolution has completed deals with an aggregate transaction value in the 100’s of millions of dollars with lead investors and buyers from across the United States, Europe and Asia.

What distinguishes the successful entrepreneurs from the rest? “Focus is number one,” says Hartzell. “Is the individual focused and have they separated the noise from the real market opportunity?” Van Alstyne adds, “Successful entrepreneurs also have to be good communicators. You have to breathe life into your story so other people want to invest.”

Inaugural Golf Classic connects MBA students and alumni

Guest post by Matt Eliseo, UW Foster School of Business MBA student

2011 marked the beginning of a new tradition at Foster. The MBA Association, in conjunction with the Sports Business Club and Women in Business, was proud to present the Inaugural Hogan Brothers UW Foster MBAA Golf Classic. On April 30, after months of preparation, the event brought together alumni, friends of Foster and current MBA students for a day of networking and golf at the Golf Club at Newcastle.

Last year, student leadership of the Full-time MBA Program decided to strengthen ties between current MBA students, alumni and friends of Foster. After looking at all the options for engagement, the MBA Association decided on a couple of key events, one of which was a golf tournament. The Foster School of Business has a successful history with golf tournaments—the Evening MBA Program hosts an informal event and the Technology Management MBA Program holds an annual Bettin Cup. Therefore, the planning committee, composed of myself and other MBA students, were hopeful that the Full-time MBA Program could start and maintain a new tradition.

Very early in the process the planning committee understood that collaboration with various stakeholders at the Foster School and the business community was key to the success of the Golf Classic. We started by networking with our fellow students to build support and excitement about this new tradition. Then Foster’s alumni and advancement staff guided us through the process of engaging alumni and securing sponsors. Dean Jim Jiambalvo also graciously agreed to play in the tournament and host those sponsors.

UW Foster School of Business Dean Jiambalvo (left) and alumnus and tournament sponsor Charlie Hogan (BA 1959)

After warming up on the driving range and breakfast, the tournament began with a shot-gun start at 8 AM on the par-71 China Creek Course at the Golf Club at Newcastle. 72 golfers—41 MBA students and 31 alumni and friends of Foster—competed in a scramble for foursome with the lowest score and prizes at three contest holes (one longest drive and two closest to the pin). The pace of play allowed for plenty of time to socialize without any delays caused by a congested course. After golfing, we all enjoyed a full bar and appetizers before sitting down to a steak and salmon lunch. We had a brief ceremony with a few words from Dean Jiambalvo and Charlie Hogan, recognition of our sponsors and a presentation of awards to the tournament and contest champions.

While socializing, everyone agreed they had a wonderful time and look forward to next year’s Golf Classic.

Matt Eliseo is the VP for alumni affairs of the Foster MBA Association. Next year, he will begin his PhD in organizational behavior at the Foster School of Business.

Sponsors were vital to creating a successful tournament, and we thank Carl and Charlie Hogan, Goldman, Sachs & Co., Dunham Cellars, Esterline, Fresh Consulting and Logic 20/20 for their support.

13 cultural characteristics of great companies

Greg Gottesman, managing director at Madrona Venture Group, spoke to UW Foster School of Business alumni and students about his tips for finding (or leading) a great company or organization.

He blogged about 13 characteristics of a great start-up culture on TechFlash recently and expanded those concepts in a lecture with anecdotes and examples, recommending people consider corporate or start-up culture before taking a job or launching a new venture.

Here are his 13 cultural characteristics of great culture:

  1. No politics – Give credit where credit is due. Be genuine about it.
  2. It’s not a job, it’s a mission – People can work for competitors or jump ship anytime, but companies that foster a culture of a strong mission do best to attract and retain great employees.
  3. Intolerance for mediocrity – Everyone pulls their weight well at all levels; there is excellence in each role and companies repel or naturally weed out those who aren’t comfortable succeeding or excelling.
  4. Watching pennies – Leaders and senior managers treat company assets as carefully and thoughtfully as they would their own personal assets; waste is not tolerated.
  5. Equity driven – Stock options or other non-cash value helps grow businesses for the long term.
  6. Alignment – Everyone is on the same page. Strategy is clear. Like a well-tuned sports team, people all work toward the same goal vs. individual heroism.
  7. Good communication – Even in bad times, communication remains strong; over-communication is even more critical in times of difficulty (i.e., an executive leaves, a key client departs, company is hacked)
  8. Strong leadership – Lead by example and maintain a positive attitude. Leaders boost their own morale and those around them as they set the tone for the whole company.
  9. Mutual respect – Hierarchy may exist, but everyone is respected for their contributions. “Wins” are celebrated together, regardless of title or department.
  10. Customer obsessed – The customer is always the most important asset. Gottesman emphasized this may be the most important characteristic of an organization.
  11. Energy – Good energy permeates across the company and is almost tangible.
  12. Fun – Never underestimate the power of a good start-up that knows how to have fun. Particularly when first in start-up mode, he’s often seen companies that thrive on early-stage activity where employees work hard and play hard.
  13. Integrity – Great companies have an internal sense of doing things the right way. They spend the extra effort to create value that will outlast their own job or time at the company (i.e., documenting code).

Watch video excerpts from Greg Gottesman’s talk on culture.

This lecture is part of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship‘s alumni network events.

Poker and business similarities

Should poker be mandatory in every business school? While the UW Foster School of Business may not subscribe to this philosophy, poker world champion Barry Shulman (Foster BA 1968) recently talked about poker and business connections to Foster alumni. He believes practical skills translate to business and poker alike: balancing risk and reward, reading people and enhancing personal and financial discipline. According to Shulman, poker is not gambling and business should not be either.

Racking up wins in real estate, the stock market and publishing, Shulman also owns Card Player Media, a poker media company. He is a repeat champion in the World Series of Poker tournaments.

Watch the video below of his presentation on business and poker – and Q&A session that followed:

Video: Clean energy trends and challenges

Wind power. Natural gas. Hydro power. Solar power. When Puget Sound Energy President Kimberly Harris spoke with University of Washington Foster School of Business alumni, students and faculty about clean energy recently, she was also speaking with her customers.

Puget Sound Energy is the 2nd largest owner and operator of wind power in the United States and the utility’s Green Power Program was named one of the US Department of Energy’s “top 10” renewable energy programs in the nation. The Washington-based company continues to look for new ways to address energy efficiency, smart grids and power Washington residents and businesses with heat and electricity. While offering a public service and being heavily regulated, Puget Sound Energy also operates like a business, focusing on customers, return on investment, return on energy, operations management and technology innovation.

What challenges and opportunities face our energy suppliers? How can we as consumers, communities and businesses contribute to clean energy and energy efficiency? What is the future of energy? Watch this 7-minute video of excerpts from Harris’ clean energy lecture.

Click on the image below to watch video.

Kimberly Harris was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

Creating a company one t-shirt at a time

Jeff BeckerLook around any college campus today and you’ll find something arguably even more prolific than cell phones and iPods. Greek system T-shirts. And if you’re on the University of Washington campus, chances are those T-shirts are from a UW start-up, Kotis Design, a company that has recently made the Puget Sound Business Journal’s list of 100 Fastest Growing Washington Companies for the third year in a row.

As a freshman, Jeff Becker (BA 2003) started making T-shirts for his fraternity’s dances. “One day a light bulb went off,” he said. “No one was making T-shirts that anyone really liked. So my goal became to sell a T-shirt to every Greek student here.” During his junior year, Becker took a pivotal class—Creating a Company. “My advice for any student is to take this class. You learn from doing. You actually run a company and do what a real business does: work with other people, have disagreements, experience the exciting times together. That was the most positive experience for me.”

Becker competed in the Business Plan Competition three times while at the UW, making it to the semi-final Sweet 16 all three times. He first entered the competition with HuSKIbus, a collaboration with Stevens Pass, The Ram, and Helly Hansen, which he developed in the Creating a Company class. His second and third entries were Kotis Design. While he didn’t win, he did see tremendous value in competing. “It really pushes you to think about the process behind starting a company. You might have a great idea but don’t know where to begin, so [the competition] is good practice.”

Today, Kotis provides customers with everything from design services and online storefronts, to packaging and fulfillment services. Becker emphasizes that in addition to the quality of the products, it’s the overall customer experience that keeps campus organizations and businesses around the country coming back again and again. The strong focus on customers has lead to a growth rate of roughly 50% every year. As Becker explains it, “We’ve experienced solid, steady growth because we have great people who are hard working, efficient and forward-thinking.”

Foster accounting master welcomes complexity as tax advisor and pilot

Captain Dan Alger (MPAcc Taxation 2006)

What do the US Marine Corps and UW Foster School’s Master of Professional Accounting have in common? Complex, unstructured real-world problems that Captain Dan Alger (MPAcc Taxation 2006) loves to tackle.

Alger is currently at the Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, NC training to fly the largest helicopter in the US military—the CH-53E—for deployment to Afghanistan this spring. The CH-53E is used to carry heavy equipment, troops and critical supplies.

The Vancouver, WA native spent four years in the Marines after high school and through the GI Bill became the first in his family to go to college. He started at a community college and won entry to the University of Washington and the Foster School of Business in 2003 as an undergraduate. After blazing a trail through accounting, he entered the master’s degree program to boost his career potential.

The Master of Professional Accounting Program (MPAcc) at Foster is a rigorous one-year program designed to prepare accounting professionals with a quality education, strong ethics, innovative thinking, and excellent oral and written communication skills. The taxation track is competitive, enrolling only 45 students a year.

“I wanted to be able to have that future opportunity available to me and I knew that if I got the master’s degree I would be able to have a lot of those doors open up,” he said.

Alger said he enjoyed learning the complexities of tax code and seeing how through tax laws the federal government would motivate certain investments and behaviors by its citizens. “It’s like a big huge puzzle and you’re trying to figure out how to play a game where the rules can change at any time,” he said. “I really liked seeing how everything fit together.”

“Dan Alger was very intelligent and organized,” said Bill Resler, senior lecturer in accounting at Foster. “He was also an excellent teammate in his study group. It was clear that Dan was marked for success.”

As he excelled in the program, he began to line up corporate interviews. But the Marine Corps pull proved stronger.

Alger had traveled the world and enjoyed his first Marines experience. There was also something beyond personal fit: “A lot of it was growing up reading history books and seeing what other people had done for our country,” he said. “And I figured, you know, somebody has to do it. It might as well be me.”

So he entered Officer Candidate School and faced the rigors of officer training, plus the uncertainty of not making it through the program. “All the horror stories you hear about that stuff are pretty much true,” he said. “It’s like a ten-week job application full of nothing but pain.”

Once the Marines realized they not only had an officer in the making but also a tax expert, they put Alger in charge of a team to help other men and women in the military with their tax returns. His first year in officer training, Alger and seven others processed 1,500 tax returns. He still gets calls seeking tax advice from officers he helped years ago.

Not only did the MPAcc Program teach him about taxes and solving complex problems, but it also helped him gain valuable skills—such as public speaking—that have helped during his officer and pilot training.

“If you are going to give an order you have to stand up in front of a bunch of other people and say this is my plan – I need you to go forth and execute that. And, depending on your job in the Marine Corps you might be asking people to risk their lives for you,” he said. “In the masters program we practice speeches in front of our peers nearly every week.”

Alger will be stationed out of North Carolina for three to five more years. When he finishes training in spring 2011, he will find out what squadron he’ll lead and when they’ll be deployed to Afghanistan.

“The MPAcc Program isn’t just giving you the skills to land an entry-level job,” he concluded, “but also the skills to carry you further in your career many years after you have graduated.”

Bonds of steel: Three generations make KISWIRE an industry leader

Photo (left to right): Young-Chul Hong (chairman), Suk-Cheon Hong (founder and honorary chairman), Scott Hong (MBA 2008 and production manager).

There is a certain industrial artistry in both process and product.

Calliope strains of a Beethoven arpeggio flutter among the clamor of hard-working machinery that reverberates across an immaculate KISWIRE factory floor. Raw carbon steel from colossal spools laces through a gauntlet of precision devices. It is scoured of rust and bathed in acid, lubricated, galvanized, super-heated and drawn through dies of narrowing diameter. And at the end of this elaborate metallic pasta maker emerges a pristine strand of gleaming steel wire.

Elegant, yes. But also essential.

High-carbon steel wire is an indispensible ingredient of civilization. And the kind produced by Korea-based KISWIRE is the best in the business. From filaments finer than a human hair to braided wire rope as thick as an elephant’s trunk, KISWIRE—quietly, reliably—supports bridges, buildings and stadiums, hoists elevators, cranes and oil rigs, reinforces radial tires and high-pressure hoses, transports electricity and telecommunications, fabricates semiconductors, facilitates renewable energy, even gives a piano its dulcet voice.

It also inhabits Scott Hong’s (MBA 2008) past, present and future.

After earning his MBA at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, Scott joined the company founded by his grandfather, and currently led by his father. As production manager of KISWIRE’s Korean operations, Scott is learning the ropes from both elders in preparation to someday take the helm. For the first time, three generations of the Hong family are in business together, a succession of wisdom that has long guided this astonishingly successful company and endowed it with such economic, social and historic significance to the nation it calls home.

“Tradition,” says Scott, “means everything to us.”

Into an Asian tiger

KISWIRE FounderIn 1945, a young man named Suk-Cheon Hong was working as a chandler for a Japanese import company, selling supplies to ships docked in the southeast Korean port city of Busan, when his world turned upside down. As World War II came to an end, the Japanese were evicted from Korea, their colony for decades. And Korea, an agrarian society with little industry of its own, was cast into economic chaos.

Suk-Cheon saw opportunity. He started his own maritime supply business, importing goods from Japan. His trade miraculously eluded the advancing communists during the Korean War. But this period of national upheaval made him consider what his company could do for his country. “After the war I decided that I could make money either importing or exporting,” Hong recalls. “But if I exported, it would lift the Korean economy.”

He identified one of his best-selling products—steel wire—and painstakingly learned how to make it. Taking advantage of post-war foreign aid and scraping together modest financing, Suk-Cheon launched the Korea Iron and Steel Wire Company in 1961. Its initial product was aptly named “Elephant Wire” for its strength and dependability.

From the ground floor of his nation’s late-arriving industrial revolution, Suk-Cheon’s gaze was always upward. By 1971, the newly named KISWIRE hit its production goal of 1,000 metric tons a month.

That same year, Suk-Cheon Hong welcomed his son, Young-Chul Hong, to the company. Young-Chul started out creating standards in the production facility. But he rose quickly, right alongside KISWIRE’s soaring fortunes. Through the next decades, the company steadily opened new factories and diversified its product line as the market warranted. Its sales expanded globally, from Korea to Vietnam, Europe, the United States, Japan and China.

Young-Chul ascended to CEO in 1988 and chairman in 2001, as his father gradually eased out of day-to-day operations and into his eternal role as honorary chairman. Now in his 90s, Suk-Cheon Hong still works every day, keeping a close eye on his legacy.

Today, as Scott Hong is groomed to take the family business into a third generation, KISWIRE has achieved a level of success that the honorary chairman says was inconceivable at its humble founding. Today, KISWIRE produces nearly one million metric tons of steel wire, cord and rope each year, carving a 10 percent market share of the fragmented $20 billion global industry. Its 4,600 employees operate 19 production facilities—each dedicated to a specific product line—in Korea, China, Malaysia and the US. Nearly three-quarters of its sales are overseas.

KISWIRE is everywhere.

A different kind of company

Such dramatic growth doesn’t happen by accident. From the beginning, the Hong family has led KISWIRE by the kind of unwritten code that holds enormous power when it genuinely permeates the culture of a family business on a global scale: hard work, honesty, integrity.

KISWIRE differentThese simple traits have resulted in the highest quality product, continually improving efficiency and innovation, and sterling relationships with employees and customers alike. They have sustained KISWIRE through decades pockmarked by war, dictatorial rule, financial crisis and political turmoil.

According to Scott, his grandfather set a lasting growth strategy of financing expansion with profit rather than debt. KISWIRE has relied on its own research and development to drive product improvements, cut costs and open new product lines. It has innovated opportunity, recently opening a factory catering to homemakers’ schedules, and another run by retirees not ready to hang up their hats.

Along the way, KISWIRE leadership has inspired in its work force a rarity in modern times: loyalty. During several severe economic shocks, the now honorary chairman and current chairman sacrificed corporate profits to protect every last employee’s job.

That loyalty was repaid. In the early 1990s, when a newly democratized Korea roiled with labor unrest after decades of military rule, KISWIRE workers organized, then pledged that they would never strike. That’s a level of camaraderie between administration and rank-and-file that a library of management books could not achieve.

It’s the KISWIRE gift, embedded deep inside the Hong family DNA. And Scott Hong gets it.

The education of Scott Hong

Scott may have KISWIRE steel in his bones, but he also had options. His father was obliged to join the company at the behest of his grandfather, originally working, eating, even sleeping at the company’s Sooyoung plant (in a small attached apartment he fondly recalls as “the bunker”).

But times have changed in Korea. Young-Chul Hong did his best to encourage his son and expose him to the business. But the decision to join KISWIRE was Scott’s alone. He attended a science and technology high school, studied mechanical engineering in college and considered pursuing an academic career.

In the end, he chose tradition. “This business is my foundation,” Scott says. “I planned everything to prepare me to one day lead this company skillfully.”

It started with two years interning at the world’s foremost steel manufacturers, including KISWIRE’s largest provider, POSCO. And, to complete his business education, Scott traveled around the world to study management at the UW Foster School of Business. It was a choice strongly recommended by Dr. Chan-Jin Kim, a prominent attorney and family friend who earned a PhD in law from the UW in 1972, and resoundingly endorsed by both grandfather and father.

“There were gaps in my knowledge,” Scott says. “My Foster MBA gave me skill at strategy, leadership, marketing and finance that I can connect with my prior knowledge of engineering and computer science, and my familiarity with the steel wire industry. Plus, my experience in Seattle helped me to see business from many different perspectives.”

His father believes it did even more: “The difference in Scott since before his Foster MBA is that he knows the world better, he understands better how people are linked with business.”

The Shingo pear doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Innovating tradition

“Steel is steel,” says Young-Chul Hong. “It was invented 3,500 years ago and the demand has grown ever since.”

That doesn’t mean, he adds, that KISWIRE rests on past success in an industry that has been historically stable. Since introducing a dedicated research and development facility—and through less formal means in earlier years—the company has perpetually worked to carve time and cost from the process, and produced cables of ever increasing tensile strength to meet the voracious demand of a rapidly developing world.

“Most of our research has been in efficiency,” says Young-Chul. “Now the existing steel wire and rope market is nearing saturation. So we will need to develop into new areas that will be important in the future.”

KISWIRE Piano WiresAmong the most promising is KISWIRE’s work developing state-of-the-art superconductive wire. It’s a key part of Korea’s contribution to the International Thermal Energy Reactor (ITER). This much-anticipated nuclear fusion device, under construction in France, is attempting to atomically convert materials in sea water into plasma of 100 million degrees Celsius—an “artificial sun” that could finally solve the planet’s renewable energy conundrum. That sun won’t shine if it can’t be contained and harnessed, requiring superconducting coils that can convey a magnetic field of unimaginable strength. KISWIRE is on it, developing steel that isn’t really just steel.

At this chapter in his family’s history, Scott stands prepared for his future. “If I’m going to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather,” he says, laughing, “I’ll have to work another 60 years at least.”

A family affair

Suk-Cheon, Young-Chul and Scott Hong gather at KISWIRE’s Busan office on a sweltering late summer day. Outside, on the site of the relocated Sooyoung factory, construction has begun on the company’s new headquarters, residential education center, and wire museum, all to be powered by three forms of renewable energy. Always looking forward, even in celebrating the past.

As the three men recount stories, consider accomplishments and ponder the future, the family pride is obvious—albeit suppressed by humility. It’s well-earned. Three generations, connected by steel wire and the honest hard work that makes it, have built a company that is the envy of its industry, and an emblem of Korea’s resilient economic growth.

“We don’t necessarily have to be the biggest,” says Chairman Young-Chul Hong. “We want to be the best—most efficient, highest quality product, most satisfied customers, happiest employees. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

“And look to new product lines,” Scott adds, “diversify within our core line of expertise.”

“If we can reach these goals,” says Honorary Chairman Suk-Cheon Hong, “I think we will also become the biggest.”

Like grandfather, like father, like son.

“I’m fully satisfied with the company today, and its growth under my son’s leadership,” concludes the Honorary Chairman. “And I have full faith in this promising young grandson of mine.”

That grandson puts his faith in tradition. “I’m really happy that we’re all in this business together.” Scott says. “It’s tradition. I don’t see it as pressure, but rather a sharing of wisdom that is essential to advancing this company and this family. In a way, I’ve been preparing my whole life for this.”