On the Make With Ski Trips, Watches and Elvis
Cabot House Junior James Chung:
When you enter the office of James D. Chung '88 at 127 Mt. Auburn St., you know that he is no ordinary college student. This gray and white Victorian building across the street from the Post Office isn't luxurious, but it is well-kempt, and Chung's college market consulting firm rents an office there several times larger than most Harvard dorm rooms.
Chung may only be 20-years-old but already he has the manner and momentoes of a well-heeled professional. On the wall a framed picture of Chung and Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) serves as a reminder of his days as a regional coordinator for the Republican leader and presidential candidate. Side-by-side with this political relic are the ski posters and maps from Chung's days, seven years ago as a student ski tour packager--the business in which Chung got his start. Next to these relics is the nerve center of his current enterprise--a map of the United States, covered with dots of the major college marketing areas on which he consults.
The office leaves no doubt that Chung is a very successful man. And this might be an Horatio Alger story except Chung says it happened all by accident.
The son of Korean immigrants, he grew up in Wichita, Kansas "with no regrets." James has two brothers, one older and one younger, but he is the first in his family to be born in the United States. His father is a professor of management at Wichita State University.
Chung says his father did not pressure him into business and management, but let his son decide for himself what he wanted to do. Chung decided to put what his father taught in the classroom into practice.
"My dad never prodded me. He always just let me do what I wanted to," says Chung, adding, "It was my mom who was always worried about what I was doing."
Chung's first business was a group ski tour operation that he claims he got into strictly by accident. An avid skier, Chung decided that other agencies in Kansas were doing a bad job packaging student ski trips. "They were sticking students in crappy places with bad service and I decided that I could do a better job myself," says Chung.
He says he had no grand plans when he started his business and that he was pulled into the enterprise by high school friends, who asked him to set up trips. He stuck with it because it was fun, he says.
"I wasn't planning a career or anything," chuckles Chung.
For Chung fun meant sitting down the summer before ski season and handling negotiations with suppliers, condominium-owners, bus charterers, and ski shops for the upcoming season. Then he would advertise in high schools throughout the Wichita area.
He chose to attend Harvard without regard to setting up a similar business in the Northeast. "I've never been much of a student," he says, "so I figured I would just try to keep my head above water academically when I got here."
Fate would once again uproot all of James Chung's plans.
During his freshman year, Chung answered an advertisement for cheap plane tickets with a firm in Brookline. The man on the other end of the phone, Richard Aiken, was a travel agent in a bind. Chung bought the tickets and more.
Aiken's firm had just picked up a new promotional account for a magazine and they were backlogged with work. "James and I started talking and it turned out that we had been in the same businesses, so I invited him to work for me part-time," Aiken says.
After several months of working for Aiken, Chung decided it was time to be more than just a student once again. So he reopened his travel packaging business. And in January of last year, Aiken became an associate in the ski and airline sector of the new James Chung Associates (JCA).
Originally run out of a post office box and an answering service, JCA now has a good-sized office replete with a FAX number and a Telex machine. Chung says he doesn't have to meet his clients in the airport hotel anymore.
The Big Time
While Aiken works with Chung on those two areas, Chung's partner, George Krause '88, takes care of the administrative tasks for the college market consulting work. Chung says his college marketing work is quite distinct from the ski trip industry.
For example, JCA's college marketing branch is now working in the airline industry, Chung says. One of the firm's clients, which he calls simply "a trans-Pacific airline," has hired the firm to target the college market nationally.
"They know students are a distinct and extremely price-sensitive market," Chung says, "but they can't afford to just lower their fares across the board, so they hire us to determine what student fares should be and how to target them, without letting, say business travelers, also catch on." JCA's job is not to get students to fly more often but also to make sure that they fly the client's planes. The firm also determines how to handle promotion and ticket distribution, Chung says.
The firm is fairly unique in its approach to college marketing schemes. Most firms put ads in campus newspapers and magazines, but JCA actively advertises for students using a variety of marketing techniques.
In order to reach out to other campuses across the United States, Chung hires campus coordinators "on-a-project basis." Rather than using passive media, such as blanket campus newspaper advertising, JCA targets specific groups on specific campuses and has the campus coordinators determine what would be a wise strategy for that school. He says: "We try to evaluate what our clients' advantages are and which groups on campus would be the most likely targets and how to target those groups."
One of JCA's interesting active advertising features is sports marketing, which uses athletically-tied promotions. Sports marketing works especially well with college students, who are generally more active and athletic than the general population, Chung says. JCA develops programs where students participate in athletic events against other schools or student groups for fun. These events are sponsored by Chung's client.
Business has been good recently, Chung says. He reports that JCA has been able to be fairly discriminate about which clients they take. The firm has a policy not to take on any beer companies because only 25 percent of the college market is of age to use the product. Recently, JCA picked up the account of a national promotion for a "major watch manufacturer" who is releasing a new line. Chung says that the manufacturer has already done testing in 29 college markets and that JCA will try 30 more during the summer.
Due to the firm's uniqueness, clients do not approach Chung and say "we are considering you for this account along with these other firms," but rather must decide whether they wish to actively target the college market in the special JCA way.
Chung says his special methods require, more than anything else, a good deal of brainstorming. "We try to sit down and figure out what would capture our attention and then we call people on other campuses and ask them what they think would be most effective," says Chung.
Between brainstorming, meeting with clients and training part-time employees, how does Chung manage to do his school work? Well, for one thing Chung majors is a special concentration on organization and management.
After originally concentrating in Economics, Chung turned to Organization Studies as a special concentration at the beginning of his sophomore year because he could not handle Economics 1010 and 1325. "I dreaded Economics as a major because they make all these assumptions about humans being rational and self-interested," he said, adding "I know I'm not like that."
Chung says the field of Organizational Studies has a more human outlook than Economics. And Chung plans to write a thesis on the effects of the airline industry's consolidation on its employees.
Professor Philip J. Stone III, Chung's faculty advisor for Organizational Studies, says that this young businessman is generally on time and well-prepared for tutorial. But Stone adds, from time to time he comes into class late after meeting with airline representatives in New York. "James has had experience running a company in high school so it isn't really a problem for him," said Stone.
Stone also doesn't think Chung will have any difficulty in finding the time to write a thesis. "It's okay to simply study Organizational Behavior, but it's better if you have first-hand experience like James," said Stone.
On top of all that, Chung has found time to work with Student Productions Association (SPA), but he says that, due to time constraints, the upcoming Elvis Costello concert will be his last job with SPA. Although he doesn't particularly enjoy the music industry, Chung has put a lot of time into the concert. "I had to take about a month off of work to work on the concert," he says, "but I hope it works out well and Harvard will have more concerts."
Success is no stranger to James Chung. He was recently named a finalist in the Time Achievement Awards and he maintains a position on Senator Dole's campaign. But the true measure of James Chung's fortunes is the fact that one of the proposed Cabot House t-shirt designs for this year alludes to him by name. The slogan reads: "Everybody James Chung Tonight."