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U.S. Navy Executive Leverages Anderson EMBA in Chapter 2 of His Career

Kevin Kim (’22) will transition from military leader to corporate leader
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  • U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Kevin Kim’s (’22) experiences as a Korean American living and serving in the U.S. and in Korea informed his understanding of veterans’ career potential in both countries
  • His 2007 deployment to Iraq was extremely difficult, but ultimately the most rewarding assignment of his career
  • Kim is pursuing Anderson’s Business Creation Option capstone project to launch a surprising new product

Kevin Kim (’22), a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander whose military career began in 2002, was born in Seoul, South Korea He moved to New York at age 14. His Navy service has taken him across the country and around the world, including on an unexpected but rewarding deployment to Iraq in 2007. Kim was lucky, he says, to be able to volunteer for a two-year assignment with United States Forces Korea, enabling him to reconnect with family and old friends. His experiences as a Korean American living and serving in both the U.S. and in Korea informed his understanding of how attitudes toward systems of voluntary and compulsory military service affect veterans’ career potential in both countries. Currently a site director of the Naval Supply Systems Command’s Fleet Logistics Center San Diego Site Ventura County, Kim is looking ahead to his own eventual transition to civilian status. Having reached nearly 20 years of faithful service, he embarked on his UCLA Anderson Executive MBA to start a purposeful new chapter in his career.

Q: Did you go to the West Coast for college because you were already enlisted in the Navy or because you knew you wanted to join?

I spent all my U.S. life, prior to joining the military, on the East Coast, and I always wanted to explore the west. So I applied to schools in the west and went to San Diego State University.

I was selected to one of the most competitive and prestigious officer programs in the Navy, Seaman-to-Admiral 21 (STA-21). The program provides a full scholarship to any university that has NROTC, and enlisted sailors get an opportunity to earn their commission as an officer and possibly become an admiral. After a few months of rigorous enlisted-to-officer transition training, you’re required to complete a college degree in three years, then you can earn a commission as an ensign upon graduation. I ended up falling in love with Cali and have stayed on the West Coast as much as possible since then.

Q: Military service people who serve overseas don’t necessarily immerse themselves in the culture of the countries they go to. In your case, were your heritage and language ability part of your qualifications for your assignment with United States Forces Korea?

There are different stages of your military career when you have the opportunity to choose where you get stationed. It all depends on the billet availability and personnel rotation timing, but you might get the opportunity to request where you want to go for your next station. I volunteered to go to Seoul because most of my relatives and childhood friends reside in Korea. And yes, I was homesick, too!

Military HR typically does not order you to fulfill overseas billets based on your heritage or language proficiency. They are voluntary, and the military will provide required training or qualifications after the billet selection. My job did not require me to have language proficiency. However, because of the position I took in Korea (AIDE and Executive Officer for the Army General), my understanding of the culture and language were extremely helpful, both for myself and my command, especially when my boss, the general, interacted with Korean military senior officers and officials. We collaborated with Korean military personnel daily.

My assignment in Korea was a very good opportunity for me because I got to be in my hometown, close with my family and friends. Professionally, I got to work hand in hand with a general and service members in different branches, as the command I worked at was a joint command with all U.S. Armed Forces represented.

Q:  In a country where military service is compulsory, what is the attitude among Koreans who, like you, choose a military career?

Enlisted and officers who choose a military career in Korea generally have a positive attitude because they voluntarily chose their career path and accept the military life and culture. Just like in the U.S., they value job security, life pension after retirement and other benefits the government provides.


However, they face a dilemma about career growth after their service. The Korean government, corporations and citizens in communities do not openly appreciate military veterans like we do. The value that service members bring to civilian society and corporations isn’t widely acknowledged, despite the leadership experience, education and training that they accumulate over the years.

Retired service members might go on to get a job in the government sector as a civil servant, but they hardly ever land themselves in the corporate world. The officers I have talked to are very smart, intelligent and ambitious, with extreme potential for non-military careers, but there aren’t enough lucrative government and corporate opportunities for them to fairly compete with civilian candidates.

As U.S. service members, we are protected, appreciated and respected. We have so much potential and competitive edge, even in the civilian sector after retirement, because our society values what we have accomplished — our experiences, education, mental and physical strength and discipline.

Q: In the arc of your U.S. Navy career, what was the most unexpected opportunity or pivot you’ve encountered?

It was an assignment to Iraq under the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division, back in 2007 during the war on terror in the Iraq-Afghanistan era. The army needed so many people on the ground that there was a big initiative to push Navy sailors and Air Force airmen to volunteer to serve in the Middle East — mainly Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. I was young and wild, eager to learn and absorb everything, wanted to be the best at what I did. I always strive to be the best in my career, so I raised my hand when no one else did.

It was probably the most rewarding duty I have had, even though I would probably not volunteer for it again. It was extremely difficult duty, working sometimes non-stop for 21 hours. It was lonely being away from family and friends, with uncertainty of your safety, seeing things that you probably don’t ever need to see in your life. It was physically and mentally very challenging, but I learned and experienced things that made me who I am today. It’s made me appreciate little things in life more than before.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue an MBA, and why now?

My job is as a supply officer — a logistician, a business manager in the Navy. I wanted to build a civilian network and learn from those who have spent their careers in the corporate world.

I knew in high school in New Jersey that I wanted to be in the business sector. My goal when I decided to enlist in the military at 19 was that I’d spend 20 to 25 years learning everything I could to build the foundation of my professional career. I can apply my operational perspective and my expertise in supply chain management to companies in any industry.

Q: Which of your EMBA classes has influenced the direction you might take now?

I’ve had challenging classes in corporate finance, venture capital and private equity that have taught me things I knew nothing about. My corporate buyout class has been eye-opening! Professor Jennifer Walske’s course Entrepreneurship and Venture Initiation and Professor Dan Nathanson’s Business Plan Development course have been the most relevant for my purposes. I decided to pursue the Business Creation Option as a capstone project because, ultimately, I see myself heading my own company.

I started a small business in 2020 sourcing durable and non-durable goods — anything from office and medical supplies to custom-made apparel — for hospitals, schools, private companies and federal agencies. Learning through UCLA’s EMBA program has been a great value-add to my business and experiences, and I know it will only help my future endeavors, whether in the civilian corporate sector or my own company. Anderson faculty must be commended for their professionalism and dedication, for genuinely helping UCLA students learn and experience to maximize our potential. They do listen to what we have to say and make this a worthwhile journey in our career. I really appreciate their support.

Q: You sound like you’re developing as an entrepreneur. What is your BCO project?

Our team is launching a protein bar packed full of nutrients. I will not disclose our secret ingredients now, but everyone will hear about it once we start to promote our product on campus! My classmates on the team have backgrounds in marketing, finance, biotech, supply chain, manufacturing — we have all the specialties in the group to make it work, and I am super excited about the project.

UCLA has a very tight community. I’ve found a strong network where people seem to care for each other genuinely. My classmates bring tremendous professional experience and knowledge from every industry I can think of, and learning from them is one of the most valuable lessons I take with me from the EMBA program.