Tae Yun Kim overcame a hopeless childhood to become the world's only female taekwondo grandmaster and the founder of a leading-edge tech company.




     Kim settled in Vermont, planning to open a taekwondo school. First, though, she had to learn English. All she knew were the well-rehearsed lines: "Hi, my name is Tae Yun Kim. Can I be your friend?" She also needed cash. She had just enough for a rundown apartment and cheap food.

     She got work cleaning bathrooms at a Howard Johnson's. While scrubbing the toilets and sinks, she would visualize taekwondo moves, her future plans and her dreams, as the monk had taught her to do.

     After six months, she saved enough to open a taekwondo studio in an old garage and teach students when she got off work. Her classes grew slowly. She was invited to give a workshop at the University of Vermont, which led to a teaching assignment at IBM.

     Four years passed in the garage before she had saved enough to open a school. It proved a success, her reputation alone drawing enough students to fill the classes. As the school launched, Kim's personal life zigzagged in and out of turmoil. She married and divorced. She had two miscarriages, a life-threatening bout with cancer and a near fatal car crash. Once she nearly fell into bankruptcy after paying thousands of dollars to a con artist posing as a computer parts dealer.

     She rebounded from each disaster, and by the early 80s had a following of loyal students. But her ordeals convinced Kim to relocate to California's Silicon Valley.

     One night in 1982 she had a dream involving a computer. She dismissed it, but for weeks the same image of a computer recurred during meditation.

     She discussed it with friends, and they concluded it was a sign to start a computer company. Kim invested all her savings into starting up Lighthouse Associates, a software design firm.

     Lighhouse has since grown steadily, now with 45 employees, and its profits have funded Kim's Jung SuWon Academy in nearby San Jose.

     Lighthouse hit paydirt in the early 90s by designing a specialized system to monitor cleanroom environments and manage data to maintain product yield. The company's annual sales are projected to reach $1 billion within the next five years.

     Kim, as Lighthouse CEO, provides space for those who choose to practice taekwondo on their lunch hour. And she doesn't discourage them from taking up Jung SuWon.

     Without its guidance, Kim feels, she would have ended up barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen of a ramshackle hut in rural Korea.

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“Once she nearly fell into bankruptcy after paying thousands of dollars to a con artist posing as a computer parts dealer.”

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