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HEARD ON THE BEAT / ECONOMY

Kingston's Business 'Vision': Integrity First, Then Profits

May 13, 1997|Patrice Apodaca

Saying it was probably the closest he would come to fulfilling his mother's dream of sending him to Harvard, Kingston Technology Co. founder and president John Tu began his speech before a packed house Monday at the Harvard Business School Assn. of Orange County's 13th annual Entrepreneurs Conference.

The normally reticent Tu had been persuaded to speak by his friend Bosco K. Sun, a Harvard Business School alum who is now chief executive of the first company that Tu co-founded, Camintonn Corp. But Tu was so nervous about addressing the record crowd of more than 450 that he skipped the group's luncheon in the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Irvine and ate at the hotel's cafe.

After taking the lectern, the self-effacing executive recounted how he and partner David Sun started Kingston after losing $1 million each in the 1987 stock market collapse, then built the company into the world's largest maker of computer memory products.

Tu said they have never had a sophisticated business plan, but have relied chiefly on common sense: "We have to say it again and again. We have no vision."

Tu and Sun made national news in December when they unveiled a $100-million bonus package for Kingston's 523 employees. Tu and Sun decided to share the wealth with their workers after selling 80% of the Fountain Valley company to Softbank Corp. of Japan for $1.5 billion.

Throughout the hourlong address, Tu stressed that any business should be based on fairness and integrity, not profits. Treat employees and suppliers well, he said, and the rest will fall into place. For instance, he said, he has refused to change vendors despite offers of lower prices from other companies, because he considers relationships more important than saving money.

"As long as you have money in your pocket, don't count the money in someone else's pocket," he said.

Patrice Apodaca covers economic issues for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-5979 and at patrice.apodaca@latimes.com

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