“My uncle was an executive with an international construction corporation and traveled all over the world. The idea of that was very exciting for me. He had so many different stories and it made me open my horizons about leaving Korea. I wanted to make a living doing that too.”
In the mid-80s, not a lot of people were leaving Korea to attend university, but James knew he wanted to study in the United States. After earning a business degree and an MBA from Eastern Michigan University, he followed his dream as a marketing planner for Asiana Airlines, moving to Los Angeles in 1997 to manage the marketing team for North and South America. After four years he moved back to Korea to work in the strategic corporation department of Asiana, and was assigned to sell the Catering Division to Lufthansa. At Asiana, he had spent 2002-2003 working on two huge M&A deals including the Catering business sale, throughout which real estate was key.
James was looking to move back to the U.S. to rejoin his wife and two small daughters when a Mckinsey consultant he worked with suggested he try a career in commercial real estate. “I told him I didn’t think I could do it because I’m very shy,” he said. “But he told me I had done a great job on the M&A job with Lufthansa, and would do well because I understood how corporations do business.”
But not just any corporations, Korean corporations. When he really thought about it, James realized he had an opportunity to build a niche.
He wanted to build a “Korean desk” which would focus on both helping Korean clients, and assisting other brokers with Korean clients. He proposed this idea to a couple of potential employers – including Colliers – and Colliers was the first to take him up on it. That was 11 years ago and now James, Vice President of the Korean Corporation Solutions Desk and member of the Transportation and Logistics solutions team, is considered a leader in the Korean business community in Los Angeles, Calif.
“I focus on two areas: First, I want to be of service to Korean clients with one-stop service through the Colliers network. Second, I help the Colliers network of brokers who have Korean clients. Because giving the best service to Korean clients is not a language issue. The broker who creates the best deal is the one who best understand the clients’ needs. Someone who understands their culture and their priorities to make a decision. We can all say ‘I Love You,’ but it means something different depending on who’s talking and whom they’re speaking to. This concept also applies to Korean desk. I understand the business culture differences so well because of my 14 years working for Korean corporations.”
James said one example of the kinds of perspective he brings is around the speed and timing of deals in the U.S. “When clients come from Korea, they think about how they do business there, and there can be a big gap. Timing for things like escrow can be a big learning for them. If Korean business people find a property they like, they want to do deals very quickly. I have to explain how escrow works, and that there might be 60 or 90 days, or longer sometimes, for deals to move through the process. That’s the service I provide. I try to be a good connector between Colliers and Korean corporations to get deals done properly.”
So far, James’ business spans the U.S., and he is working to expand the strength of the “Korean Desk” beyond himself. “What I’ve tried to do is at each location is work with brokers and teach them. It has to be someone who can learn to work with Korean clients. Speaking Korean is good, but it not necessary. The most important thing is to understand the client’s nature.”
In an industry that has historically been dominated by white males, James has worked being a person of color to his advantage. “My colors are Colliers colors: blue, yellow and red – which are also well-known colors – known as SaekDongot -- in traditional Korean dress.”
What does he love most about his job? “Every day is different. Every client is different. And I really enjoy the Colliers brokers I work with. I’m very proud of myself when I work with a Korean client and I get to help them with deals that truly benefit them.”
James draws from his faith for support and guidance. “I’m a Christian. I learned that the way to make a deal is to be honest, be consistent, and be diligent. It’s the way I have survived the real estate market. I try to follow God’s word. And if you come to me, I am the doorman. I am the person who comes down and makes the door open for you to the Colliers network.”