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Byung Ho Kang: Carnegie Mellon Golfer Becomes Chairman of Korean Airline Carrier

Byung Ho Kang: Carnegie Mellon Golfer Becomes Chairman of Korean Airline Carrier

Until he enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University, Byung Ho Kang did not even know the school had a golf program. He ended up winning a UAA title, earning a spot on the UAA 30th Anniversary Golf Team, and eventually playing professional golf for a short time.

Kang, who was born in South Korea and lived in multiple countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia when he was young, took up golf as a teenager living in Sri Lanka. He moved to the United States during his freshman year in high school. "I always wanted to play competitive golf and was actually recruited by some stronger Division I programs," he said. "However, my parents wanted me to stick with academics and Carnegie Mellon became one of my top academic picks. I had a friend who attended CMU and highly recommended the school for its academic quality and campus life."

In 1995, Kang captured UAA medalist honors at Locust Hill Country Club in Rochester. He shot an opening-round 72 that was the best round of the tournament and one of only two rounds under 75 in the championship. "I was hitting the ball well that week and my putting was working well for me that day," he remembered. "I recall changing my putting stroke slightly right before that round and it helped me sink some critical putts."

As good as the even-par 72 was that day, he felt it could have been even better. "I remember trying to sink a short chip shot off the fringe on the 18th hole, but I skulled it and ended up with a bogey," he said. "Looking back, it should have been an easy under-par round." He shot a second-round 79 for a 151 total and a three-shot victory.

In his senior year in 1998, he shared the lead after shooting an opening round 71 on the Tartans' home course, Long Vue Club, and ended up tying for seventh place and earning second team All-Association honors.

"I definitely enjoyed playing our home course," he stated. "It was a beautiful course with amazing scenery. Playing golf was a big stress reliever for me at the time."

"I really enjoyed spending time with the team and Coach Erd (Head Coach Rich Erdelyi) gave me great advice," stated Kang, who served as the team's captain in his junior and senior years. "He was a football coach so his approach to golf was very different. He emphasized strong physical and mental training. We had a lot of fun."

Succeeding at golf was challenging in Pittsburgh. "There wasn't a driving range nearby and Longue Vue was a good 30 minutes away from campus," he recalled. "Plus we had some long winters so my golfing days up north were limited. I tried to make up for it by practicing during summer and winter vacations in Florida, working with my swing coach David Leadbetter (one of the foremost golf instructors in the U.S.)."

After graduating in May 1998, Kang tried his hand at professional golf, playing some mini tour events in Florida. "I quickly came to realize that playing professional golf wasn't easy," he remarked. "I guess my parents were right in wanting me to stick with academics."

Kang moved back to Seoul in 2000 and enlisted with the Korean army to fulfill a two-year mandatory service. Following his time in the army, he started his career in corporate finance at KPMG and spent eight years working at several local and foreign investment banks up until 2010. He then spent two years at a large Korean media company called CJ E&M, where he served as Senior Vice President of International Business.

In 2012, Kang invested in a few venture startups and a year later, began working with partners to launch a new low cost airline in Korea."Our vision is to make it the best airline in Korea and North Asia," he commented. "We see enormous potential linking central South Korea with destinations in China, Taiwan, and Japan." 

On March 13th of this year, KAIR Airlines and Airbus jointly announced they will launch its operation by purchasing eight A320ceo, part of the A320 family of airplanes. "We will focus on point-to-point services at low fares while offering passengers a modern and fun product offering," Kang stated.

Carnegie Mellon played another major role in Kang's life as a friend from the school introducd him to Seungju Baek, who he married in 2010. She is a well-known news anchor and announcer for Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), the leading national broadcasting station in Korea.

"I taught her how to play golf so it is a mutual hobby we both share and enjoy," said Kang, who reflected on his time at Carnegie Mellon. "Looking back, studying business and playing competitive golf at CMU really helped shape my life. Like business, golf is all about facing the challenge, good decision making, minimizing risk, and having the ability to recover when things are down."