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Working for no pay puts Rancho Santa Fe man on path to prosperity

Charlie Yim with his memoir “I Will Work for Nothing.”
Charlie Yim with his memoir “I Will Work for Nothing.”
(Courtesy)

With little money and poor English conversational skills, Chun “Charlie” Yim found doors closed to him as he looked for a job to pay for his business studies at San Diego State University. That’s when he hit on the idea of working for free.

Yim, then in his 20s, had recently emigrated to the United States from his native Korea. He came to San Diego to visit his cousin after a stint working in Hawaii as a trainer of Peace Corps volunteers on their way to Korea.

When he decided to stay in San Diego instead of following his original plan to accept a scholarship and attend college in Michigan, he began looking for work. But even though he was accompanied by another Korean student who spoke excellent English, he found few takers.

In near desperation, he approached the manager of an on-campus restaurant.

“I told him I would work for nothing, he looked at me funny, with suspicion,” said Yim, 74, a Rancho Santa Fe resident who went on to launch more than 30 businesses and conduct dozens of real estate transactions during a successful entrepreneurial career.

“I wanted to get a job, somehow, some way,” said Yim. Working for free, he said, was “the only way I could prove how good of a worker I was.”

The skeptical manager led Yim to the restaurant’s bathrooms, where he gave Yim cleaning supplies and left him to his work. Yim began scrubbing away.

“An hour later, he came and looked surprised and impressed, and said, ‘Chun Yim, you’ve got a job,’” Yim said.

The story provided Yim with the title of his self-published memoir, “I Will Work for Nothing,” which came out in 2015 and is available on Amazon.com.

After college, Yim started his first business, an Encinitas burger joint, with a $5,000 bank loan and an eye for a good deal – he acquired all of the equipment he needed for $1,000 from a defunct downtown San Diego eatery.

He went on to own or operate such diverse businesses as a string of Hallmark greeting card shops, Hilton brand hotels, manufacturing and distribution businesses and shopping centers.

A guest lecturer at UCSD and SDSU (Yim later went on to obtain both an MBA and a doctorate in business management), Yim said he tells students that “attitude is everything.”

“That’s my secret,” he said. “The willing heart, to give, to share, the positive, enthusiastic attitude.”

Yim is proud that during his business career, he has never sued anyone, nor has he been sued. “I get along with everybody. I don’t have any enemies in the whole world. That is such a joy,” he said.

Yim and Gloria, his wife of 47 years, have two grown daughters. After they met and married, she worked as a school teacher and principal for the Oceanside school district. Later, they shared their success with others through the Chun and Gloria Yim Family Foundation, established under the auspices of the San Diego Foundation.

“The Yims are role models because their desire to give back comes straight from the heart, having lived with nothing, and knowing that a helping hand along the way can change a life,” wrote Leslie Harrington, philanthropic adviser with the San Diego Foundation, in an email. “Also, Charlie has a remarkable sense of humor, one of his many attributes that make him a joy to work with.”

The Yims’ foundation benefits the local Korean American community, as well as children facing hardships around the globe, Harrington wrote.

Yim said he and his wife have also supported medical research, and provided scholarships for college students.

“Giving is a habit,” said Yim, explaining his thoughts on philanthropy. “We came here empty handed and when we leave, we leave empty handed.”

The couple has also established a legacy foundation to continue their philanthropic work after they are gone.

Yim’s positive outlook was tested when his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about 10 years ago. But he seems to approach his wife’s illness with his characteristic upbeat nature.

“Every time I see my wife, she smiles and says ‘I love you,’ and it’s such a huge blessing to me,” Yim said. “We live life once, why don’t we love and embrace everybody with peace and love?”


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