The gig: Chong Guk "C.G." Kum is president and chief executive of
First big deal: The bank entered into an agreement last month to buy
Personal: Kum (rhymes with "room") left Korea in 1963, when his father became a
Early misstep: Kum studied neurobiology at UC Berkeley, intending to follow his father into academia. "When I finally told him I was not cut out for it, he said: 'I was wondering when you would figure that out.'" He found his calling in 1977 as a corporate lending trainee at Bank of California, now part of Union Bank. "I wound up the only Asian corporate loan officer in downtown San Francisco. Asians at that time were either in operations or international banking. It was a different time."
Unlikely break: When Kum was assigned to handle workouts on distressed loans at United Banks of Colorado in the 1980s, "It was not considered a sexy or glamorous job." But the experience led to a stint as chief credit officer at a troubled bank in Santa Barbara, where a successful turnaround resulted in Kum becoming CEO of
Toughest deal: Kum negotiated a deal to sell First California to L.A.'s Pacific Western Bank this year. "Mergers and acquisitions sound real sexy, but at the end of the day they impact people. I knew that a high percentage of the people I had hired, worked beside, mentored, were going to lose their jobs. I had gotten to know their families on picnics and employee outings. As a little bit of silver lining, I am happy to note that all my senior people were able to land on their feet after the deal. These were all people in demand at other organizations."
Key lesson: Kum focuses on recruiting and retaining quality people who work well with others. "Your employees at the end of the day labor long hours to make guys like me look successful. So at Hanmi we have brought over a lady named Bonnie Lee from BBCN," currently the largest Korean American bank. With Lee as chief operating officer, "we can merge the two cultures — me from mainstream banking, and she from the Korean American side."
Immediate challenge: "I'm at the base level in terms of the Korean language. I'm working on it, taking lessons, but it is a bit of an impediment when I'm dealing with clients who are more comfortable speaking Korean. My father thought the future for his family was in the United States, and he said you're going to speak English at home — you have to catch up. In retrospect I wish I had a little more balanced upbringing, but back in those days there just weren't that many Koreans around. When I started at UC Berkeley there were probably less than 10 Korean Americans in the entering class."