Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week we catch up with U.S. Navy veteran and 2014 Tillman Scholar Sophi Kim, who recently graduated from Harvard Business School and relocated to Chicago. Immigrating to the United States with her family at the age of eight, Sophi is living the American Dream to the fullest, working in operations for Surgical Care Associates to make a difference in the healthcare industry.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
“I immigrated to the states when I was eight years old and I honestly think the story of my family is the story of the American dream. A lot of the opportunities I received growing up, going to school and a university, are things I never took for granted. Attending college and having worked at a couple of places, in terms of my first full time job, I just wanted to make an impact that was much greater than myself. I was fortunate that one of my bosses during a summer internship was a Marine. As a fellow Northwestern alum, he encouraged me to look at a career path in the military and the rest is history.”
WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE DURING YOUR FOUR-AND-A-HALF YEARS OF SERVICE AND WHY DID YOU MAKE THE DECISION TO HEAD TO SCHOOL?
“I served as a supply logistics officer which handles all the logistics – food and money for Navy operations. I learned a lot throughout my service. One of the reasons I joined the Navy was to have a hands on deck leadership experience. By the time that I transitioned out, I had two sea duties under my belt. I gained a great set of general management skills and I felt those skills acquired from the Navy, along with real lifestyle leadership and management skills, would transition great into the working world and be more impactful.”
WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF DURING YOUR TIME IN THE SERVICE THAT YOU REALIZED AFTER THE FACT YOU MAY HAVE NEVER KNOWN?
“One of the things I learned is it really changed the way that I thought about leadership. What I mean by that is before joining the military I thought that being a leader meant that you looked good, you are the one who can bark out orders and people follow you because you’re charismatic. What I actually really learned throughout my time of service, and at sea especially, is that leadership is about supporting others. It’s about trusting your sailors to do the right thing and in turn they will take care of you. Leadership is more reciprocal and empowering. Being in the service helped me gain that different perspective .I carried those principles with me in business school at Harvard and hope to take with me in the private sector.”
ONCE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY ARRIVED IN THE UNITED STATES WHEN YOU WERE EIGHT YEARS OLD, HOW DIFFERENT WAS YOUR LIFE?
“Growing up in Korea and Australia wasn’t drastically different; however, what was different was having the opportunity in the United States to pursue what I wanted to professionally. I have more resources, like the Tillman Scholarship, available to me. If I were to have stayed in the Korean or Australian society, I would have had a much more straightforward life. The professional choices that I would’ve made would have been dictated by societal consequences. Here in the States I had the freedom to choose what it is that I want to do, including pursuing service in the Navy. Because I feel so privileged to have had those opportunities and resources, I’m compelled to give back in that same way.”
HOW DID YOU REACH THE DECISION TO CHOOSE YOUR CAREER PATH IN HEALTHCARE?
“Being a supply officer and pursuing an MBA were very similar. It was a natural transition for me. In terms of school and the functionality that I did, I really enjoyed the general management and business aspect in particular. Leading people to either make a strategic choice or execute upon a certain directive is something that I essentially enjoy. I think Harvard in particular has a very strong general management focus, so that’s why I chose that school. During my time at Harvard, I had the opportunity to get my feet wet in a variety of different industries including tech interning for Apple.
In the end, I chose my current position at a healthcare company. To be perfectly honest, healthcare wasn’t exactly what I was looking for at first, but now I feel a lot of my position fits what I was looking for in terms of management and leadership. At SCA (Surgical Care Affiliates), we run surgery centers where we help patients by increasing the quality of care and lowering the cost. The more and more I learn about this industry and my specific job, I really feel that I can make a difference for patients. It’s an industry that is heading into that consumer-driven culture where you are delivering high quality for fair cost. What I do is help improve patient’s lives and as a result feel really good about the difference I’m making. I love what I do!”
HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP AND WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO APPLY?
“I learned about the scholarship through fellow Tillman Scholar Danny Cho, who is also a Harvard graduate. Danny told me the scholarship wasn’t all about the financial benefits but rather it was more about the community of scholar individuals. I decided to apply and I have found what Danny said to be exactly the case!
Personally for me, the little bit of financial break wasn’t just about dollars. It really gives people who are coming from a graduate program the opportunity to pursue what they really want to do instead of struggling in a career just to pay off debt. I was happy to receive the scholarship but I felt personally fulfilled when I attended the annual Pat Tillman Leadership Summit in Chicago. I was blown away by the community and the areas of impact. I consider myself fortunate enough to associate myself with my fellow scholars.”
HOW HAS THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP AND COMMUNITY HELPED YOU ACHIEVED THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE DONE? WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF FIVE YEARS DOWN THE ROAD?
“I honestly don’t know and I’m perfectly fine with that ambiguity right now! I want to be able to continue making a difference and learn a ton.
When I left for grad school, I really wanted to follow the path of service –continuing that mindset from the military. Surrounding yourself with business folks you unconsciously get a little bit of a selfish mindset. What the Tillman Scholar community and network gave me was the ability to channel my expertise, my job, and solidify it’s not for myself, but rather what you do that impacts a community of individuals. To me, business is not to make yourself rich or fulfilled – it’s a path to positively make a difference in the lives of other people.”
HAVING RECENTLY MOVED BACK TO CHICAGO, YOUR OLD STOMPING GROUNDS WHERE YOU EARNED YOUR BA IN ECONOMICS AT NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY IN 2009, HOW HAS THE TRANSITION FROM SCHOOL TO YOUR CAREER BEEN SO FAR?
“Chicago has been really great! To be honest I had a little bit of a cold feet moment before coming here. It’s essentially a bit of a homecoming for me, it’s close to St. Louis where I grew up and where I went to college. I honestly thought I may be settling too early, but it’s proven me totally wrong. What got me here was the sense of community – college, friends, Tillman community – it all just really makes me feel at ease. I’m energized with everything that’s going on. My favorite part about being back in Chicago is the food though – which is totally amazing!”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE ONE OF THE 406 SCHOLARS CHOSEN TO CARRY FORWARD THE LEGACY OF PAT TILLMAN?
“We all come from very different walks of life and have very different reasons why we joined the service, but in the end it boils down to the common thread in Pat’s story. Regardless of where we all came from, Pat and all of us were willing to serve and make the ultimate sacrifice. He did for our country, and for me I’m more motivated to keep answering the call to action – no matter how difficult circumstances are. It’s incredibly humbling to be part of the Tillman Scholar community. I never understood why I was chosen! But now that I am part of this community, I feel completely compelled to continue to make a difference. I want to do my part in fulfilling the mission.”