Dan Son has lived all over the world, from Brazil to Australia to Panama to Hong Kong to now North Carolina. Through all this movement, there has been one constant: his Korean heritage.
His parents emphasized his roots after he moved from Seoul as a boy, and it played a role in his early life when his family was the only one of Asian descent where he was growing up in Australia.
Last year, Son joined U.S. Bank as head of the international banking group and large cap depository financial institutions, based in Charlotte, and recently became the management advisor to the virtual chapter of the U.S. Bank Asian Heritage Business Resource Group (BRG) – which has more than 1,000 members and complements several regional chapters across the country.
As the U.S. celebrates Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM) during May, Son took time to discuss his background, his career, and his hopes for the new leadership role with the BRG.
[When I was young], Christianity was on the rise in Korea in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and my dad was part of that wave. He went to seminary, and he had a calling and decided to go off and be a missionary. So that’s what took us to Brazil and Paraguay. When we finally moved to Australia, he decided to plant a church. I was in Sydney a total of 16 years, and then a business opportunity took me to Panama, a trading hub given the strategic location with the Panama Canal. Starting with textiles and garments, I was importing goods from China and other locations in Asia and then exporting them to Latin America. When you run a trading company, you trade where there is demand (at one point, that even led me to trading Beta tapes in Ecuador). I ended up here in Charlotte because of my wife’s job opportunity in banking, and almost two decades ago began my own career in banking.
My parents made it a point when I was younger to make sure we didn’t lose the language and the culture. When you are growing up in different countries, and you’re going through your teenage years, you can go through an identity crisis. It took me a long time to understand and appreciate and accept the good and the bad and the ugly of where I came from. Through that experience, I learned how to pick the good from each culture I became part of and bring the best of those many worlds together. Still, it’s my heritage that has been my constant, which has been important to have while dealing with change. It’s taught me how to be situationally adaptable but grounded in a constant.
A key attribute of the Korean heritage is the “Han.” Han is difficult to explain, but it’s a concept of an emotion, variously described as a form of grief or resentment. While this sounds pessimistic, it’s actually a source of passion, work ethic, creativity and productivity. I describe it as knowing how to “suffer well” in a positive, constructive and productive way.
The same in many ways, but also some notable differences. Both my kids are third culture kids like me, except they were born outside of Korea – our daughter in Panama and son in Hong Kong. It’s not a forced emphasis. We also emphasize embracing the different cultures they grew up in, because those cultures are very much part of them. But the Korean heritage for them is the constant. For example, they have traveled to Korea exponentially more than I did at a young age. With technology, it’s also easier to access Korean music, movies and TV shows. There is also an increased globalization of Korean companies such as Samsung, Korean food and Korean entertainment such as K-pop.
The primary goal of the BRG is greater engagement from the broader U.S. Bank community, not just from the Asian heritage community. Awareness and dialogue with the broader community is a starting point. And for AAPIHM, we want to celebrate past, current and future contributions of Asians at work, in our communities and everyday lives.
Facilitated by Rick Rothacker of U.S. Bank.