Entrepreneur Lionel Hong ’12 on finding one’s true path

Lionel Hong ’12 is the definition of someone who prizes fearless inquiry of the self—a key Gettysburg College value. After graduating, he spent months studying and meditating in the mountains of China and has since developed a company in Beijing. The company designs and manufactures sports apparel for outdoor sports enthusiasts such as himself.

As an entrepreneur, Hong prizes authenticity, integrity, and innovation above all else. “I learned those core principles as a student at Gettysburg,” he said. “The care and community I felt there inspired and deeply impacted my personal and professional growth.”

Hong was born in Beijing to a family of humble means, but his ability to imagine a vastly different path and future brought him far from China. While in high school, he met an American exchange student from The Hotchkiss School, a Connecticut boarding school. They became language buddies, each teaching the other their native languages. Through their friendship, Hong became intrigued by the idea of becoming an exchange student himself.

Hong worked overtime to put himself in the way of opportunity. “I was listening to TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) tapes while I slept in hopes I would have dreams in English,” said Hong, laughing. “There was no good reason why Hotchkiss would accept me. I didn’t have the best grades at the time.”

Lionel Hong

Hong organizes The Hotchkiss School annual community service event in Beijing, a day of activities for migrant worker children to bring joy and inspiration into their lives.

Yet, rising above the naysayers, and there were many, Hong applied. Though not the strongest student academically, Hong had something special about him that persists—and is surely amplified—today: a drive to inspire others and change the world for the better, while deeply appreciating those who do the same. Against the odds, Hong traveled to America, graduated from Hotchkiss, and found the environment he craved at Gettysburg College.

“I believe one’s life is measured by his or her contributions to their community or the world. All my life, I’ve been seeking out experiences that will ready me to commit to a selfless journey—to wear my heart on my sleeve and make a positive impact. It frees you up from the burden of personal loses and gains,” explained Hong, who raved about the deep, persisting relationships he built at the College. “Gettysburg absolutely encouraged me in that process.”

Hong made a number of treasured connections at Gettysburg College, including his freshman resident adviser Sam Sack ’09, now a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley, and his mentor Bill Heyman ’74, President & CEO of Heyman Associates, an executive recruiting firm in NYC.

Hong first bonded with Heyman over their shared love of the College. When Heyman helped prep Hong for a presentation on Get Acquainted Day, the relationship grew stronger. Today, their relationship spans more than eight years and remains close. In fact, Heyman had hoped to hire Hong in one of his Asia offices after graduation. Unfortunately, Beijing—where Hong wanted to settle—did not have a branch.

When reflecting on what impressed and continues to impress him about Hong, Heyman said, “As a junior, Lionel addressed a group of 600 people with such ease and authenticity. Now, as an entrepreneur in Beijing, he is demonstrating the best of himself and the best of what he gained at Gettysburg College. I am proud of him and thrilled that we have remained close.”

Lionel Hong with faculty

Reunion with Economics Prof. Baltaduonis and English Prof. Fee in Beijing in 2018. “It’s family time whenever Gettysburg College people visit China,” said Hong.

Like building lifelong relationships, global study is an integral part of the Gettysburg College academic experience, embodying the goals of engaged learning and global citizenship. In any given semester, Gettysburg students are on six continents, representing all majors and disciplines. While a student, Hong studied in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“Gettysburg students from all majors are encouraged to study globally, and students like Lionel take the learning from their courses at Gettysburg and expand on them while abroad,” Rebecca Bergren, Dean for Global Initiatives and Director of the Center for Global Education, explained. “Lionel took great classes abroad, including European Business Strategy and Dynamic Leadership, and he lived with a host family—the entire experience enhanced his education and broadened his view of the world. I am so proud of Lionel; he is the quintessential Gettysburgian.”

Lionel Hong and Gettysburg staff

Hong helped to host the first Send-Off Event in Beijing for new students to Gettysburg College. From left: Economics Prof. Baltaduonis, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Andrea Buchanan, Director of International Student Services Brad Lancaster, Dean for Global Initiatives and Director at Center for Global Education Rebecca Bergren, Lionel Hong Gettysburg’12, Tyler Mann’20.

For Hong, Copenhagen was like nothing he’d ever experienced before, but beyond the architecture and the culture, he was most moved by the kindness of people from near and far. At the time, as part of Hong’s experience, he was interning at AP Moller Maersk with Gettysburg alum Jesper Odum Rosenkrans ’07.

“My Danish and Polish friends took care of me. My boss even lent me money to pay rent and buy a ticket to get home,” he recalled. Those selfless acts of kindness inspired Hong to return home, study Buddhism, and cultivate loving kindness.

Lionel Hong

Hong shared about his Buddhism practice at TEDx Keystone Academy in December 2017.

“A great feeling of fulfillment comes from doing something for another. When you have little to none, you see things in a more simple way. Connections between people emerge and that is what brings true happiness and meaning,” Hong said.

Each one of Hong’s experiences opened him to embrace a path that felt right and that filled a need for others. Before launching his business, Hong said the market for ski and outdoor apparel was not incredibly exciting. Hong said China makes some of the best garments in the world, serving more than half of the world’s renowned brands, yet the outdoor space hasn’t enjoyed that same level of quality.

“Instead of focusing on myself, I strive to seek and understand what the people need and how I can provide for them,” said Hong. Hence, the launch of Beijing Legacy Technologies Companies four years ago. The company develops tailored gear for ski instructors worldwide. It also manufactures for brands around the world, including Canada, Finland, Japan, and Poland.

“I developed a sense of confidence through taking risks in high school, college, and through Buddhist practice,” he said. “It’s a privilege to have gone down an unconventional path—to take it slow and find my own way. Not everyone gets to do that. So I try to give back whenever and wherever I can.”

Hong said the most valuable lessons that Gettysburg College imparted was to learn to fail and to give back to community. “Gettysburg encourages students to make mistakes, which is so important, because courage comes from the support we feel from the environment we’re in. The more I failed, the more I learned how I could get better,” he said. “Gettysburg also teaches its students to give back. I see so many graduates who go on to do that. Everyone has a sense of gratitude. That humbleness allows Gettysburgians to find their own true path and change the world for the better.”

Learn how you can hone your entrepreneurial thinking at Gettysburg College

By Katelyn Silva
Posted: 02/26/19