Harry is one of those guys that always has a big smile on his face and carries a positive attitude despite having to work 40, 60, and even 80 hour weeks.
By choosing to aggressively fight for his spot in an industry he was passionate with but didn’t know much about, he eventually acquired a position as the Events and Motorsport Specialist for Nitto Tire, one of the largest and most successful tire manufacturers in the world.
Read on as Harry shares his experience in an exciting and fast paced (literally!) industry!
“The idea that a vehicle can reflect someone’s personality and taste versus being Plain Jane probably got my attention the most. The cool underground lifestyle portrayed got me pretty excited, but of course would not have expected that to be relevant to my future..”
– Harry Kong
Never Working A Day In Your Life Doing What You Love
Can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing?
I grew up as a Korean American in Los Angeles most of my life and had a pretty traditional upbringing (at least in my point of view).
I have hard-working immigrant parents who took the huge risk of moving to a foreign speaking country to start a new life for me and my older sister – something I could never imagine doing myself.
My parents were able to find jobs when they first moved here but eventually start their own textile business during a time where communities were not necessarily getting along.
I never truly appreciated what they did for me as I was being naive since they sent me to afterschool programs instead of allowing me to do sports.
Now I realize it was out of love.
They worked non-stop, weekends, over 12 hours a day to provide the resources to send me to private school and extracurriculars. It was something that I did not truly appreciate until I was older and more mature.
I try to visit monthly, but depending on my schedule it is realistically once every other month. I do need to do a better job of calling them more, but I tend to get sidetracked often and that is definitely something I need to address.
There is nothing more important than family. Thanks Mom and Dad for the unconditional and unquestionable sacrifices you made for me.
How did you eventually get into your position with Nitto as a career? What was your experience with cars at the time and how did that help you prepare for your position?
I’ll admit I was one of the fanboys for the Fast and Furious franchise films and from there I got pretty hooked (on a feeling).
My experience with cars was limited to what was in magazines and online. I joined Imports@UCI to help gain a better understanding. Through colleagues I learned more about them and my passion for the automotive scene grew. From car shows, meets to track days it all ultimately would serve as the tools I would need to tackle on this venture.
I applied to multiple part time jobs just to get some cash during college but saw this opportunity through my career center. I thought to myself, “why not?”, applied and assumed there would be multiple candidates that would be much more qualified than I was.
Being a Sociology major against business/econ majors I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. I prepared as much as I could by checking potential interview questions, researching the company and its products and most importantly practice speaking.
After being selected for the internship position, I worked tediously for the next year with the hopes of gaining as much marketing experience I could.
After realizing this was both the industry and position I was looking for, I pursued it.
The idea that a vehicle can reflect someone’s personality and taste versus being Plain Jane probably got my attention the most. The cool underground lifestyle portrayed got me pretty excited, but of course would not have expected that to be relevant to my future.
So you’re essentially working two positions at Nitto. Your schedule must be pretty crazy! Can you tell us what a typical day looks like for you from morning til evening?
A typical day for me is anything but typical. There are days where I will just be in the office filing reports and researching new market trends, then there are days I am on-site during motorsports events managing our motorsport rigs, staffing, race support, partnerships, content crew and etc., and finally there are days where we have to do a last minute meeting on the other side of the country.
It’s nothing short of random, but exciting none the less!
What additional business and automotive skills did you have to learn to perform this type of job?
I think the most important skill needed was patience. You have to learn to be patient with people, your projects, and yourself. There were and are days where it will get frustrating and there are days where things are completely out of your control.
For me, there was a “break-in” period where I had to learn really quickly my surroundings and how to contribute to it. I figured it would take roughly 6 months to get comfortable with the environment and culture here, but honestly it was a constant learning process and I don’t really think I felt really integrated with it until a few years later.
I read magazines, looked at online automotive forums, made as many industry contacts I could and learned as much as I could.
If that didn’t work, I kept up with sports!
What do you think helped propel you in your career and and gain credibility to differentiate yourself from others?
Definitely networking, networking and more networking. It takes peers and mentors to get you to the next level so build your credibility through your hard work!
Go to social events, go to seminars, go to the bar – meet new people! It isn’t always just the skillset you have, but the people you get to know and learn from.
What about your greatest fears in life? What are they and how do you manage them?
It used to be the fear of failure, but these days my greatest fear is usually missing a flight to an event :laughs:. Siri tends to save me these days.
I used to be stressed out all the time from things that could go wrong, but eventually I had to take a step back and reassess what I am stressing over vs. what I have control over.
I learned that you should only stress about things that are in your control. Do not stress over other people’s problems unless your actions can provide a different outcome.
What advice would you give to college students who want to pursue their passion? For example, if someone quit whatever they were doing today to do it, what advice would you give to them?
#1. If you have time on your side, then do not go for the low hanging fruit.
The hardest part is finding out what you want to do for the rest of your life. Don’t just chase the cash. Opportunities are out there in every field – it is just a matter of finding them.
If you are unhappy with what you do, you need to first identify what makes it unbearable.
Is it the workload? Is it the industry? Is the specific position you are in?
I recently visited Blizzard’s HQ facility and what I really got out of it was their philosophy in encouraging employees to try out different jobs within their company. For example, if you are a programmer/developer but want to learn graphics design, they have classes in-house to teach you. I think this is a more modern way big companies are investing back into their employees to potentially some more hidden talents as well as keeping them happy.
#2. Again. Networking.
Learning what others do and what their experiences are can open you up to exploring other opportunities that you might not have considered before!
What about a student currently studying to find a company like Nitto?
It’s a double edged sword; in some cases education is important if you want to take a corporate role. However, if you want to be innovative then that experience usually takes place on the field that you won’t necessarily get in a classroom. There really is no perfect answer for this as I know people that have been successful that have both received higher education and those that haven’t.
Looking back now, what were some things you learned being in the business that you didn’t know looking at the business from the outside?
I think one major thing was that I had to be accountable for my work and just doing the bare minimum was not going to fly here. Another important skill I learned was to communicate better with staff, vendors and partners. Lastly avoid duplicating work that someone might have done already, it is not just about working hard, but working smart.
What advice do you have for someone who might be stuck on the idea that a plan is necessary in order to succeed?
Just from my experiences working in this industry, changes happen all the time and if I wasn’t flexible there were a lot of projects that would have fallen apart. It wasn’t something I really figured out until I started working, since school was fairly straightforward and everything you do was scheduled for you.
Have a Plan A, B, C, D, E, F and G.
The takeaway is to be flexible in your planning process.
Don’t be set in your ways all the time as adaptation is the key to survival and success.
Are there any lessons you found to be true that most people would disagree with that you’ve learned along the way?
Time is not an appreciative asset. I get upset when people think that just because they spent a certain amount of time at a job they deserve a promotion or a raise.
Promotions should be based on merit, and what you contribute.
Any other habits, mindsets, or tips that helped make you successful that you can share?
- In the words of my famous consultant, “don’t be a bitch.”
- If you can wake up every day happy and proud, you don’t need a million bucks to be successful – although it would be nice!
- Listen 70%, talk 30%. No reason to show all your cards, but every reason to see theirs.
What were some personal struggles, whether mental or physical, you had to deal with in order to get where you are today?
The liver can only handle so much! On a serious note, just overthinking things.
I’ll tell you this much – once you are out of the office, shut down.
The work will still be there in the morning! Worrying about it at night isn’t going to change anything, so why waste the time?
Also, I can’t emphasize the importance of taking time off to recharge; there is nothing worse than working when your body and mind are exhausted.
If you could travel back to day one of your work career and have 15 min with your former self to communicate any lessons you’ve acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heartache, what would you tell yourself?
Be much more organized. My desk looked like a tornado went through it for 5 years. I spent a whole week just scanning and shredding documents I didn’t need any more to make a cleaner work-space, because a cleaner work-space will reduce stress and anxiety.
Also, carry a notepad, take notes and more importantly review those notes. I can’t explain how many times I forget simple things that can cause serious problems down the line.
Now before I get to the final question, I gotta ask. What is your dream car and why?
The actual Peugeot 406 used in the film Ronin. I think that was the most badass car chase in a movie ever!
John Frankenheimer really wanted to keep actions as realistic as possible, and he executed the high-speed chase scenes with minimal special effects.
The vehicles did not have 1,000 gears like the Fast & Furious films, the actions scenes were legitimate, real recorded mechanical noises, and had drifting before it became a sport!
It was filmed in a way I feel was ahead of its time!
And finally, what motivates you to do what you do every day?
The ability to input my own ideas and see some of them come to reality. I’m constantly thinking about new ideas to try out, whether it is a new ad concept, marketing campaign, viral video ideas, building partner relationships, event marketing etc.
Things with me are never stagnant and I am able to merge both hobby and work. I think one of the greatest feelings are when your friends see some of your work on their own and ask me about it.
I’ll complete this interview with this quote – “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
I want to personally thank Harry for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his experience and hope that his insight was helpful in giving you the push to work within your passion.
All images used were provided by Harry Kong. For a behind the scenes look on Harry’s life, be sure to follow him on Instagram!: @iharrykong
Is there a friend who inspired you lately to pursue your passions? Share your experiences below in the comments! Love you all!
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