2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Kyung Yun Lee, USC (Marshall)     

Kyung Yun Lee       

University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business

Age: 42

“I’m a global trade consultant with KPMG, assisting Fortune 500 companies with international trade and customs matters.” 

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA (current hometown)

Family Members: Spouse and 5-year old son

Fun fact about yourself: I was born in South Korea and brought up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where I lived from age of 7 until graduating from college. After, I’ve resided in various cities including Washington DC, New York City, Seoul, and now Los Angeles. I’m fluent in Korean, Portuguese and English.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo / BA in International Relations (graduated in 2001); Columbia University / MA in International Affairs (Not graduated – left after 1 year to pursue consulting career at KPMG Korea)

Where are you currently working? KPMG LLP / Tax Trade and Customs Senior Manager

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the states of California and Maine; Lifetime member of Beta Gamma Sigma – international business honor society for AACSB-accredited schools, invitation-only membership was awarded as the top 20% of graduate students at USC Marshall School of Business; Board member of Korean-American Customs and Trade Association

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? It was the class capstone project video created by our team, which needed to be a summary of the findings and recommendations of our position in the merger of two virtual healthcare companies. Our video was completely different from the rest of the class (which had the same Zoom meeting/presentation type of format). Our presentation was animated with avatars and our own voice overlays, probably the most creative and interesting one among all (I’m biased!). Although I did not have any skill or knowledge whatsoever about video creation, I led the entire process from the content and storyboard outlining to the actual creation of animated scenes, sound effects, and editing. This was a completely new thing for me, I spent nights working on this, and the result was quite satisfactory.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I first joined KPMG Korea as a consultant, not many people in the firm believed that I was the right fit as I was not a CPA at the time, I did not have accounting or finance background. I was then regarded as someone who got lucky and joined the firm by accident. Since then, I have grown to become a professional, a subject-matter expert not only in Korea but also in the U.S. In the process, I have assisted countless multinational and Fortune 500 corporates to strategically plan for their international supply chain to save costs and taxes, and optimize operations while being compliant with the regulations.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? All professors have significantly contributed to my learning in various levels and aspects. Nonetheless, I want to highlight Professor T.J. Wong, who taught us Corporate Governance. In one of his classes, Prof. Wong allowed me and another Korean classmate to present and discuss in-depth the Korean chaebol’s (conglomerates) corporate governance. I was very grateful that the opportunity was given to me to share with my classmates the unique culture and historical background of the chaebols that shaped their own corporate governance and organization model, which often times are merely seen as an obscure system and a corrupted business community.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I chose USC Marshall School’s EMBA program mainly for its Trojan network. Networking was one of the key objectives of pursuing an MBA, and USC is known for its strong network especially within the business school.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? One of the biggest lessons was that self-awareness will help you build confidence. I used various self-assessment tools learned from the communication class and the 360-degree assessment results to better understand and identify areas of improvement/development. This has led to improve my performance in articulating thoughts and speaking in public with reduced fear of how I am going to be judged and perceived by others. It has further helped me assess and improve some of my difficult relationships at work and the interactions with them, identifying the root cause of conflicts (i.e., sometimes it is the different perception and tendency to handle an issue) and reflecting on how to overcome for better relationships.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? The time as an EMBA has been particularly challenging due to COVID-19 and changes in life and work. My husband’s growing business in Texas put our family physically separated during the pandemic. The lack of spouse support and being the only parent for our 5-year-old son for most of the time have been a big challenge. This period also coincided the difficult time at work with increased workload and micromanagement of a new boss, requiring additional efforts for more efficiency and trust building. Despite the several moments of crisis, the learnings through EMBA gave me a sense of fulfillment from various small and big accomplishments, it sustained me and let me grow even more both personally and professionally.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? My piece of advice to the future EMBA students is to enjoy the journey. That may sound simple, but it requires certain supporting elements to make it happen. It is a collaborative effort from you and those around you. I would emphasize the family support, ensuring the spouse and family members truly understand the efforts required. For those pursuing the program, they should be particularly ready to be vulnerable and open-minded. Find the joy of learning new things, invest more time to prepare for classes, and be diligent on delivering quality work aiming higher grades – this will allow you to be more engaged in the program and truly enjoy what the program has to offer.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The myth (or the prejudice) was being too old to go back to school. When I started the program, I soon realized I was not the oldest, and more importantly that age did not matter after all. I enjoyed the diversity we had in class, the different ages, backgrounds, and experiences that just made the discussions richer and impactful with different perspectives and opinions.

What was your biggest regret in business school? It was inevitable due to pandemic, but the Zoom class was the biggest regret. Not being able to interact with classmates and faculty in person, and having the China trip canceled were the true downside of the whole experience.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire many of my classmates, including Ron Perkins for his born leadership and charisma being always the leader for any gatherings or meetings; Changho Chong for his dedication and enthusiasm for new learning; and Elli Hanson for her eloquence and extensive experience in marketing, and so on and so forth.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? The more mature classmates – both from age and work experience perspective – and the practicality of the lectures were the key factors. I also liked that the way the faculty would regard us as professionals, and value our positions and opinions, requiring higher interactions in class.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate long-term professional goal is to work for the benefit of people and society.

What made Kyung Lee such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“Kyung Lee was in my Global Corporate Governance course in Fall 2020. The course focused on how different countries’ business environments—political economy, law and social norms—shape firms’ ownership and corporate governance. We used more than twenty long and short cases of seven countries from America, Europe, East and South Asia to illustrate how politics, law, and culture explain the differences in business practice and corporate governance across the world.

Having studied international relations in college and graduate school and lived in many different cities across North and South America and East Asia, Kyung has brought to class a wealth of experience and insights from her work as a consultant how politics and social norms affect the ways her clients organize their firms and structure their business transactions. She shared extensively on the symbiotic relationship between the Korean government and chaebol (conglomerates), and the importance of family ownership in these firms’ corporate governance and strategy. She was sharp, articulate, and always well-prepared for class discussion. We enjoyed and learned a lot from her participation.

From my experience as Dean of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School, a major business school in the Asia Pacific region, Kyung has the professional experience, global exposure, academic training and intellectual power that will equip her to become a top business leader.”

TJ Wong
USC Marshall Business School
Leventhal School of Accounting

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