Andrew B. Kim led no ordinary life. As a child, his family had lived through the Korean War in Seoul of South Korea, when Japanese occupation had forced the Kims into brutal suffering. Though waves of hardship hit his family time and time again, Andrew’s parents pushed him and his older sister to strive for opportunity in better places.
“There are a deep, profound set of memories attached to my grandfather’s challenges,” film director Ty Kim, Andrew’s son, explained. “So my father became grounded in realism; he only became successful so he could protect his family.”
After graduating from Adelphi University in 1955, Andrew fulfilled his family’s wishes and came to the United States along with a cluster of other Korean students who soon began spending time together outside of school. The transition from Korea to U.S.A. was incredibly difficult as Andrew worked toward receiving his MBA from Cornell University. His sister took on jobs to pay for tuition while Andrew himself began selling shoes to supplement his income and make a living.
When Andrew’s father passed away a few years later, Andrew didn’t have enough money for airfare and couldn’t attend his funeral. “But even then, he never complained,” Ty said.
Though many surrogate relatives supported Andrew, it took a long time for Andrew to feel comfortable in America. “The customs and lifestyle in America were very different,” Ty said. “The biggest cultural difference was the idea of family: in Korea, there has always been a clear understanding of respect and order for authorities and elders, whereas in America, family structures vary for better or worse.”
A few years into his arrival in the United States, Andrew met his future wife, Wan Kyun Rha, who at the time was on a full scholarship at Smith College and later worked as a research scientist at Rockefeller University. “My parents striked a good balance,” Ty said. “She was very much of a detail-oriented approach while he had a great amount of strength.” Soon after, the two were married, and their two sons, Gene and Ty, were born.
Once Andrew graduated from Cornell as part of the Johnson Graduate School class of 1963, he began his career on Wall Street. “Suffice to say, he was regarded as the first Asian man to work on Wall Street,” Ty said.
Wall Street today holds multiple accounts, but back in Andrew’s time, to become a partner in a well-known firm was a huge deal, and Andrew soon became the top analyst on the Wall Street. “It was hugely competitive,” Ty said. “It was about the quality of the work and the integrity of the work, not just the money, and that was why my father succeeded.”
Andrew appreciated the ability to go back and forth between different compartments and viewed his job as the best of both worlds in terms of research and economics. But his innate compassion compelled him to do more than just analysis, and in 1989, he co-founded Sit/Kim, a highly invested banking firm that managed a portfolio of pensions and philanthropy. Through Sit/Kim, Andrew was able to create opportunities to build museum wings and work with nonprofit charities during his forty years living in New York.
Today, Andrew serves on the Cornell University Council and Johnson Museum’s Advisory Council. He also serves on the Council on Foreign Relations, is a trustee at the Asia Society, and a former trustee at the Phoenix Art Museum. Andrew serves as a member of the Advisory Council of the Korea Economic Institute of America in Washington D.C.
Although Ty has grown up to make his own fruits of labor, his father is still very much a role model in his life. “My dad is absolutely the smartest guy I know,” Ty said. “He takes apart problems and just has a strong facility for problem-solving. He westernized in communication, so people look and see him as a leader. His appearance never mattered; he was always transcended by his abilities.”
In Andrew, Ty sees someone with incredible foresight, from when he started in America to today. “He’s very good at predicting how certain cards play out, and that’s extremely valuable,” Ty said. Andrew’s wife, however, also had a huge part to play in his success. “My mom was a great partner, and they were both very intense,” Ty said. “They were successful because of each other.”
Andrew may not play a role on Wall Street anymore, but he influences and inspires Ty’s work daily. Ty’s latest film, a documentary on the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra, whose slogan is “Playing well with others,” was created in part as a dedication to Andrew. “He’s why I signed on for that project, because he is and always has been all about working well with others,” Ty said.
Though Andrew faced extreme difficulties in his early childhood, he found in himself strength that would carry him through all the hardworking years in America. For Andrew, the difficult part came in surviving, enduring, and being good to himself after the chapter of suffering closed. But by working on Wall Street, he encapsulated the very man his family needed him to be and inspired his biggest admirer, his son. Moreover, his philanthropic endeavors continue to aid and assist those in need and give back to the community and will do so for many years in the future.
Andrew has lived an extraordinary life, but in the end, even his extraordinary life can be summed up in ten words. “He made his luck, he worked hard, and he thrived,” Ty said. “And that is, above all, a truly wonderful life.”
Shared by: Ty Kim
Written by: Gunn High School reporter Shawna Chen