Yurie Systems has grown at the same rocket pace. The company, which has 250 employees, topped Business Week's 1997 list of "Hot Growth Companies." From 1996 to 1997 revenues doubled, from $22 million to an estimated $44 million. Profits in 1996, the last year for which figures are available, were $3.2 million. The company is currently valued at almost $600 million. Kim owns about 52 percent of the stock.
In the volatile stock market, a share of Yurie has fluctuated up to 40, down to 8, and now hovers around 22. "I have seen my net worth go from $500 million to $200 million. I guess it's back to about $350 million," Kim says. "You can calculate the numbers. I don't do that anymore."
Like many high-tech start-ups, Yurie has benefited from the explosion of the Internet, as more users transmit voice, data, and video signals. Fiber-optic lines can carry these signals without much trouble, but copper wires are less efficient. Yurie's equipment–black boxes the size of toaster ovens–helps move high-speed data through fiber and wireless links as well as through low-tech copper.
Yurie got a big boost in 1995 and 1996 when it signed a distribution deal with AT&T. The telephone company, with its antiquated copper system, resold the equipment largely to government agencies such as the Pentagon, where the machines come in handy for transmitting signals from outposts like Bosnia. Yurie also sells equipment to firms such as Prodigy and MCI.
Kim likes to say that his success is not because he is smarter or luckier than others but because he works hard. In the early days of Yurie–when Kim had mortgaged his house and borrowed from friends, family, and credit cards–he says he was working 120 hours a week.
"It was crazy," Kim said in a recent talk to Korean-American students. "This kind of extreme and focused effort almost ruined everything: our health, relationships with family members."