Partner Hung Lee Takes Success In Stride

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M Corp has come a long way from a garage, where founding partners Alex Castro, Chuck Czajkowski and Hung Lee were surrounded by tools and trimmers.

Now, the company is on the top floor of a century-old building, a block from the Capitol and around the corner from some of the newest – and some may say coolest –restaurants and nightclubs in Sacramento. Many of the company’s clients, such as California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and Employment Development Department (EDD) are a few blocks away.

“Chuck and I sat there the other day and asked each other, ‘Did you ever think we’d be here?’” says Hung during a late-afternoon break at a downtown restaurant. “Even in our wildest dreams, looking out at K Street … I just didn’t see this.”

Indeed, the fast-growing company – listed at No. 637 on the Inc. 5000 list of privately owned U.S. firms – has come a long way since it started in 2003. And so has Hung.

The environmental science degree graduate who had a difficult time finding a job in Massachusetts and later in Los Angeles, has hired dozens of employees during the past decade.

“Chuck and I sat there the other day and asked each other, ‘Did you ever think we’d be here?’” says Hung during a late-afternoon break at a downtown restaurant. “Even in our wildest dreams, looking out at K Street … I just didn’t see this.”

She credits some of her success to EDS Corp. founder Ross Perot, sort of. The billionaire and one-time presidential candidate’s company hired Hung for a training program and she moved to the Sacramento region, where she learned about the IT industry.

“It was literally a godsend,” she says. “It was a great opportunity.”

She later joined the now-defunct ISP, where she met Chuck while working on a project for the Employment Development Department.

“Chuck and I really work well together,” says Hung, who also worked with him on a California Alcohol and Drug Programs project. “We’re builders and developers at heart … we’re techies.”

Soon, the two discussed developing a program for counties that expanded the Alcohol and Drug Programs project statewide and formed M Corp.

“We were a little ahead of our time, that was our brainchild,” says Hung, adding that the statewide project never materialized, but M Corp did. Chuck knew Alex Castro, who became one of the founding partners of M Corp.

One of the company’s first long-term contracts was a modernization project for the state Office of System Integration.

“That project is near and dear to my heart,” she says of the five-year project to migrate data from a 30-year-old system. “There are so many things that I’ve learned along the way, to change a system that has been there for a lifetime and a day. I learn the most from stuff that doesn’t always go well. It’s like battle scars.”

Every project has its challenges, but some go even better than expected. Case in point: A project to migrate 4 billion rows of data for the EDD on Thanksgiving weekend in 2011.

“At the end of the day, it’s about being the best we can,” says Hung, who has a similar outlook when it comes to successful – or disappointing — bid contracts.

“There’s a lot of pride with the project, it’s a huge accomplishment,” says Hung, who worked on the multi-million dollar, multi-year project. “That was a huge feat. I don’t think many companies could do that. We did everything right.”

The successful EDD project gave M Corp some much-deserved attention in the industry and the media, and helped paved the way for other large-scale projects. But Hung keeps everything in perspective.

“I kind of roll with it,” Hung says of the firm’s success. “I try to enjoy it while we’re here in this space.”

She adds the partners get a lot of attention, but M Corp employees deserve a lot of the praise and recognition as well.

“We’re really lucky, we’ve found some people who are very sharp and dedicated,” Hung says. “We couldn’t do it without folks like that.”

But the never-ending demands take a toll, she says.

“We’re growing so fast, one of my wishes is that we could get together more and collaborate,” Hung says of the 100-person staff, including employees and consultants. “In order to get even better, we have to get our teams together more often.”

A much larger office just a few blocks from many of its clients and employees should help.

“At the end of the day, it’s about being the best we can,” says Hung, who has a similar outlook when it comes to successful – or disappointing — bid contracts.

“It feels so good, this huge sigh of relief,” she says of winning a contract, especially those proposals that can literally take hundreds of hours and multiple teams to prepare. “It feels very good … to see something come to fruition. But I’m kind of numb (when hearing about a successful proposal), my head is already in the next place.”

So much that she keeps everything in perspective, especially the time between submitting the bid and and hearing if it’s a winning proposal, which can take a few weeks.

“Once we submit something and we’ve tried our best … it’s kind of out of our hands,” she says. “I worry about the process, before we submit.”

Her approach is dramatically different than of partner Castro, who is always nervous until the contract is final.

“That’s what really makes us work,” Hung says of the three partners. “If the three of us were so alike, we’d be so unbalanced. And there is always someone to break a tie. Hopefully, we’re all good at articulating at what we want to see happen.”

So what would Hung rather be doing for three months or so?

“I’d like to be futzing around,” laughs Hung, who has two children – Ben 18, and Elisabeth, 13. She would like to spend time gardening and traveling to Boston, where she was raised and where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I’d like to not have to be on someone’s schedule.”

For now, Hung is happy with her fast-paced projects, the relationship with her business partners and the success of M Corp.

“The three of us really set the pace,” she says. “I’m always thinking ahead.”

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