“We will Cooperate and Support Retailers Struggling with Covid-19 & Protests!”
Interview with CEO Tamin Kim of Chade Fashions—Lawer Turned Hair Company 2nd Generation CEO Majored in Philosophy and History
After studying philosophy and history, CEO Tamin Kim (43) went to law school to become a lawyer. He moved on from legal practice to business management when he succeeded his father Jong-gu Kim, who made Chade Fashions possible. Nine years have passed since, and he is running the business smoothly despite the economic challenges. For his interview with BNB, Mr. Kim opened up about his private life as well as his business operations.
A liberal arts graduate who majored in philosophy and history
Please give us a brief introduction of yourself. I was born in the U.S. in 1976 and am still single. I have a sibling, a little sister, who is also working at Chade, directing the marketing division. I majored in philosophy and history in Washington University at St. Louis. Upon graduation, I worked for a sport magazine for two years. Then, I started working at Chade in 2000. After having four years of experience, I went to John Marshall Law School. After becoming an attorney, I worked three years at a law firm.
What brought you back to Chade after working at a law firm? My father and everyone in my family wanted my comeback. I couldn’t refuse their offer. It was 2011 that I made it back to Chade.
It is somewhat unique that you majored philosophy and history; people say there is no money in them. From high school, I was interested in German, French, and Asian philosophies. It was only natural that I made philosophy my major. I double majored in history partly because in high school, I took an AP History class.
Majoring in liberal arts, especially literature, social science, and philosophy, is not a path most parents would hope for their child. What did your father say about your choice? My father said, “Philosophy is good because it teaches you not only knowledge but also how to think and analyze.”
How do your philosophy, history and legal education help you with running a business? Philosophy and history is a study of human nature. You know there are so much diverse people out there. Studying philosophy and history helps a lot with interacting and understanding people with different backgrounds. One of the toughest aspects of business management is managing humans. Running a company, you need a legal opinion on many issues. My legal expertise surely help.
Any plan for marriage?
This may be a none-of-your-business question, but a lot of people around you wonder why you are still single. (Laugh) I am currently in a relationship. I am satisfied and happy. I think a wedding can be soon. It’s been six years since we met.
Six years? Why are you guys still not married? (Laugh) There can be many reasons. You know life is not that simple. I can tell you that it is not my parents’ disapproval or anything. No further question please. (Laugh)
Valuable Lessons from His Father
What kind person your father, Chairman Jong-gu Kim, was to you? In short, you can say “tough but fair.” He could be hard on me when I do something wrong, but he was always fair and reasonable. He always taught me to “do your best whatever you do.”
There is no doubt that your father worked really hard to make Chade of today. Did you understand what he was doing when you were young? Of course. My father was out-of-town frequently for 2-3 weeks for business trips. He was hardly at home. He was enthusiastic about everything.
When you started working at Chade, did you have a learning opportunity with your father? Not really. I learned through experiencing various situations. We have senior employees and experts in every field. I talked to them a lot. I also spent a lot of time in the fields, such as factories and retail stores.
What lesson do you cherish the most? First of all, he taught me, “Nothing is that good as seems; nothing is that bad as seems.” You have to get prepared for the worst in even the best circumstances, and you should not be disappointed or shaken down by the worst. A leader must stay stable through all things, mentally.
Second, he taught me “you shouldn’t just rely on reports from employees but go and see for yourself.” Hence, I always try to visit factories and client’s business and see it for myself. It’s not about trust, but it’s about my inexperience and being junior in this business. I surely require the extra effort.
“I am a stable person.”
How do you describe yourself? Well, I did not make a huge mistake in my life, so I can say I’m fairly stable.
You mean you were a model student? (Laugh) That’s not necessarily true, but I think I tend to stay out of trouble. My parents and the environment they provided made that possible.
What have you gone through after you joined Chade? In 2011, as soon as I started working at Chade, I accompanied my father and other employees to their trip to Chinese manufacturing facilities. That was the first time I truly understood the hair industry. The trip gave me some confidence, a strong will to work hard for the company, and realization of my responsibility. Since then, I worked five years and became the CEO in 2016.
Hair industry is undergoing hardship. Competition grows, and customers have many options and are acting smart.
How do you plan to overcome? Not just our company, but all companies are in the same spot. The hair industry must adapt to the new business environment, and internally, a new generation of workers are coming to the industry. Flexibility to adapt is a must-have.
Are you suggesting a new business strategies diverting from the past generation? The answer is “yes and no.” We should work hard just like the first generation, and make the best effort to realize profit. The basics will stay the same. However, it’s a different time, and the market underwent dramatic changes. While you keep the principle, you need to adjust the details. Especially, when it comes to customer relationship and customer service, you need a new approach.
Traditional media vs. Social media
Can you give us some details on different marketing strategies? In old days, face-to-face was all there was. However, now brand power is as much as important. Brands should stand out in competition. From local to nationwide scales, you need to broaden your marketing focus. As the transportation and communication technology advances, you can’t no longer choose to stay local.
Furthermore, while I still think investing in traditional media is a smart thing to do, I think we should pay more attention to social media like Instagram and YouTube for marketing purposes.
Social media is a marketing tool directed to the end user. How do you promote your products to retail stores in person? Well, you can’t possibly neglect the communication and collaboration with retail partners. That is the basic. Still, the best business strategy is meeting as many retail store owners as possible. In this regard, traditional media like BNB Magazine that are read by many retail store owners should not be overlooked.
American style vs. Korean style
How do you run the organization? Korean style or American style? Most of our employees are Koreans. A Korean-style would be the appropriate one here. While Korean-style dictates a culture where a junior person cannot point out mistakes of seniors, I think we should move toward an organization where all the employees can communicate frankly and directly to each other.
“The best decision I made in my life…”
What do you regret the most in your life? Well, that’s a good question. The worst … that doesn’t ring a bell. (laugh)
Is that because you have too many things to regret? Maybe (laugh). I actually had a comfortable and stable life, so I haven’t made a big mistake or regrettable decision.
What about the best? I think it’s my return to Chade. I never thought I would do this, but the opportunity was given by pure luck. And I’m only thankful. Supporting my family and working with great people, all that is a blessing.
“In my 70s…”
Do you have a personal vision or plan? When I become my father’s age, I want to be respected by people around me like my father. I hope I hear them saying, “he is a great guy.” My father is, in my opinion, regarded as a respectable gentleman who lived his life to the fullest. I want to be just like him. In the future, I want my children think of me just like that and nothing more.
Good reputation comes with good deeds…? My father is a patron of the community. Our company started Chade Foundation, which annually donates $100,000 in scholarship to a hundred students in Chicago area. For Thanksgivings, we run a food basket program with a great turnout every year. Aside from them, we also donate a portion of our profit to many charitable organizations in the region. We are committed to keep contributing to the society.
To overcome the COVID-19 & Protest crisis, “We will Help You!”
The entire industry is struggling with the coronavirus epidemic and protests against black deaths. How is Chade dealing? It’s a difficult time for everyone. It’s hard for us and hard for other companies as well. To overcome this difficult situation, everyone needs to work together and help each other. We are struggling right now, but we will try to support as much as we can, for example, by providing a longer term for our customers that are suffering more. We will work with responsibility. However, retailers and wholesalers should support and help each other so that they can coexist without an one-sided sacrifice.
Chade is a “total hair company.”
What is the flagship product of Chade? It’s human hair bundle collection. Our crochet braids and plastic-bagged weavings are popular as well. We don’t settle for a certain product category. We never did, and we will continue to be a total hair company. We will continue our effort to bring high quality products to our clients.
How do you keep up with the market trend? We closely and constantly observe the market and the consumer. We pay our attention to the social media and YouTubers as well as following and analyzing celebrity styles.
I’m a big sports fan!
What’s your hobby? I follow baseball, football, and basketball leagues. I root for Chicago Bulls, Chicago Cubs, and Chicago Bears. I listen to music as well. In old days, I used to play drums although not much so recently. When I grow older and have more time, I want to spend more time with my family and friends.
To survive, the retail stores and importers must go hand in hand…
Any last words? I know it is a tough time for hair business. Whatever it may be, I will keep looking for ways to help retail store owners. In rough times like this, the importer and the retailer must work together. Confronting the competition, without collaboration we might go out of business together. That is the key. We want to keep our great relationship and provide even better services to you. Thank you.