Interview with Aden Kun (UC Berkeley Alum, 1991)
Posted on June 3rd, 2014
JSI Attended: University of California, Berkeley, 1991
Current Title: Principal
Current Employer: Atalanta Realty Investments, LLC
Why did you decide to pursue a Fellowship with PPIA? How did it align with your goals at the time?
I learned about PPIA through a mentor who is now a good friend. There was a person who had gone through the program, back when it was the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and he introduced me to PPIA. Back in those days, I was active in politics and working with the Asian American community on local campaigns. It was that involvement that sparked my interest to look into policy and issues beyond the ballot box.
There are a number of ways that people can make an impact on our society or our world throughout their lives. What does it mean to you to make a difference? How do you feel you make a difference today?
To me, being a member of a group is not enough. You need to put in the time and energy to make the organization work without expecting immediate returns. For example, I served for a number of years on the Board of Directors for the Asian Business Association. During that time, I did not expect business from my work there but I got the satisfaction of knowing I was helping the community. That also speaks to leadership. I want to develop the next generation of leaders, not analysts, but people who can lead. That might mean they go on to be elected officials, or it could mean they become nonprofit leaders or community volunteers, etc.
You attended Harvard University where you got your MPP with an emphasis in Finance and Urban Economic Development. What led you to focus on economic development?
22 years ago the City of Los Angeles was on fire. A lot of that unrest was driven by economic circumstances and policy issues and it had a strong effect on me. Afterwards, I interned with an organization called Rebuild LA, which was a public-private partnership in response to the riots. My work there really got me interested in economic development and impacted choices I made later on.
Graduate school was a really interesting experience. Pursuing a graduate degree allowed me to learn how to tackle complex problems. At the same time, I was surprised by how green I was. I was in school with people who had quit jobs I would have killed for to go back to graduate school. One of the things I appreciated about PPIA, and that helped in graduate school, was the being around people who had very different backgrounds and experiences. Meeting people from across the country who had different perspectives helped me grow.
I was fortunate that my roommates during grad school were also PPIA alumni. Once we got our acceptance letters we got in touch – this was pre-Facebook- and managed to get housing together and we’re lifelong friends. It’s easy to take that kind of diversity for granted but it really made a difference. It made the graduate experience less intimidating and richer. There was a built in network that became a built in family. It goes on even after you graduated. You have a network that can help you with life decisions, career decisions, and that’s powerful.
Who or what has influenced your career decisions over the years?
I have a very entrepreneurial mindset. I wanted to work for myself but at the same time I wanted to create something new. Recently, I helped found a minority and woman owned business, Atalanta Realty Investments, which is focused on investing in areas with rapidly changing demographics. Part of that experience has come from my studies and understanding how to invest in communities to have the best impact. We are focusing on how to help local communities and do it differently. A core value for all of us at the company is giving back. My partners and I all have a lot of experience that we bring to the table and we wanted to figure out a model to invest in growing communities.
I’ve also served on a number of nonprofit Boards, like the Asian Business Association where I served for over 5 years, including as Vice Chair, seeking to promote and drive small businesses and help them thrive. That’s been a big focus for the organization and my involvement with them. It was especially relevant because of the economic downturn. We made great strides and are proud of what the ABA was able to accomplish.
PPIA emphasizes the value of having a network and connecting. How do you stay connected with people that you’ve known over the years? What advice do you have for students about to enter the work force on starting to build relationships with peers and mentors?
Networking and connecting is something that is near to my heart. I enjoy helping folks spread knowledge, connecting people, being a sounding board. I have had a particular focus on helping our veterans – getting them internships, getting them in front of opportunities. I think it’s the least we can do. Someone took me under their wing 25 years ago and being able to do that for someone else is really gratifying.
The big thing is where you’re networking. My brand is to be someone who is willing to open my network to make things happen for the issues and people I believe in. For example, I invest in classmates who run for public office. Networking is also about being willing to give and not receive. I still remember the people who did informational interviews with me 20+ years ago and were willing to give me advice and buy me lunch even though I couldn’t do anything for them. I try to be mindful of that and do the same for others.
What is your proudest achievement?
I think I am most proud of the work I have done to help other people over the years. Recently, I helped someone get through the PPIA program. He was a veteran and I coached him on being a junior college transfer into UC Berkley, helped with the PPIA application process and continue to mentor him. He went to the UC Berkeley JSI and is looking to apply to grad school now. I’m proud that I was able to pay it forward.
About Aden Kun
Aden W. Kun is a principal with Atalanta Realty Investments, LLC, a minority and women owned real estate investment firm focused on areas with rapidly changing demographics. Active in the real estate industry since 1994, Kun was a partner with Buchanan Street Partners, a real estate investment management firm and CalPERS advisors, where he identified equity investments for CalPERS, the largest pension fund in the United States. He structured real estate transactions and investments in excess of $700 million of value while with Buchanan Street Partners.
Kun is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (1991) and also holds a master’s degree from Harvard University in Public Policy (1994) with an emphasis in Finance and Urban Economic Development, where he was the distinguished recipient of a Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) fellowship. Kun is a licensed real estate broker with the State of California. He served as Vice Chair and Board Member of the Asian Business Association and has participated in national real estate associations including Urban Land Institute (ULI) – Urban Mixed-Use Development Council, National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) and the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).