ADVANTAGE BUILDER: HYOUNG CHON-YEUN
When Hyoung Chon-Yeun was a child in South Korea, her father gave her two choices: Become a doctor or an English teacher.
So how did she turn out to be one of the top commercial real estate professionals in Silicon Valley? A winning combination of persistence, moxie and relentless studying – which carried her from Seoul to California, by way of Kentucky.
Hyoung has been with CBRE nearly 20 years and serves as Senior Vice President of investment properties. Growing up in Seoul, the oldest of two daughters, academics were paramount. Her father taught high school English and her mother was an elementary school teacher.
“Reading books, writing and studying -- everything from math to physics to philosophy -- that was our life,” she said. “And helping my mom grade papers.” She finished her undergraduate degree in English in Korea, married, and moved with her spouse to Eastern Kentucky University, where she decided to study accounting.
“I never wanted to be a teacher or go to medical school,” she said. “Once I was out of my parents’ nest I could make my own decisions.”
But relocating from cosmopolitan Seoul to the small town of Richmond, Kentucky was a culture shock. “We might as well have moved to the moon,” Hyoung said, laughing. “We had a small community of Korean and Chinese students. We’d cook Asian food and encourage each other to get the best grades possible.” She graduated Magna Cum Laude.
While many of her friends returned to Korea to teach English, Hyoung headed west. “It was always my dream to come to California,” Hyoung said. “California is full of sunshine and open-minded people and of course, a large population of Asians. It felt more like Seoul.” After earning her CPA, she worked in public accounting. Although she enjoyed auditing, after 15 years she wanted a change. Many of her clients were real estate developers and investors, and they encouraged her to apply to CBRE.
Hyoung sent in her resume and met with Bill Powell, who was a Managing Director at the time. He quickly became her mentor, helping her make the transition and get established. “He was a wonderful professional,” she said. “He saw something in me and helped develop the skills necessary to succeed in this industry.”
Shortly after Hyoung joined CBRE in 1998, South Korea liberalized its property ownership law, allowing for the purchase and sale of real estate by foreign entities. Then-CEO Ray Wirta asked her to help set up CBRE’s Korea Desk. She traveled to the Seoul and quickly assisted to earn a property management agreement for Samsung office buildings in the Central Business District. Hyoung was offered a Managing Director role, and brokered another significant transaction, the sale of an unfinished high-rise tower in the CBD, owned by a failed bank, to an investor in Singapore.
“CBRE gave me the autonomy to be my own boss and manage my own time.”
But a year later, after lengthy commutes back and forth from Korea, Hyoung returned to investment brokerage in Silicon Valley, focusing on retail and office assets where her accounting background, expertise in investment strategy and wonderful sense of humor helped her business blossom. She was a Top 5 Sales Professional in Silicon Valley in 2001, and in the Top Ten for the San Francisco Bay Area in 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2013. She became a founding member of the Korean American Professional Women’s Association and Vice President of Korean American Chamber of Commerce in Silicon Valley.
Hyoung enjoyed the entrepreneurial spirit of her work, especially as the single mom of a child in the early 90s. “CBRE gave me the autonomy to be my own boss and manage my own time,” she said. She was also helping her sister raise her three children. “My sister and I are very tight. I’ve always felt like I had four children.”
GOING BACK TO FOUNDATIONS
Hyoung’s current passion is CBRE’s Asia Pacific Network (APN). In less than a year as chairperson of the membership committee, she grew APN more than four-fold to 300 people. Hyong’s mentor, Bill Powell, died a few years after hiring her in 1998. His impact left a profound impression on Hyong who decided to give back and serve as a mentor herself. “I made up my mind to grow the APN network and be that mentor for young professionals. APN is still a young diversity group; however, it will make a tremendous contribution to enhance CBRE’s RISE values”. Outside of work, Hyoung enjoys traveling with her sister, visiting historic churches and missions.
“If you want to advise your clients and protect their wealth you have to have an informed perspective.”
And since old habits die hard, she continues to study. “I read about Asia intensively so I know what’s going on in China and Korea,” she said. “My youngest nephew is at St. Andrews, Scotland studying a double Master’s degree in Math and Statistics. He is a mathematician working with artificial intelligence. We constantly chat about his research and talk about opportunities.
“If you want to advise your clients and protect their wealth,” she added, “you have to have an informed perspective. You have to keep up with the latest information.”