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Triple Master - Intertwining heritage, martial arts mastery and innovative business strategies

Pooja Madhav

05-27-2024

For Sangho (Sean) Lee, passions are discovered at the intersection of heritage, goals and talents. Martial arts embodies this intersection perfectly for Lee, offering him a way of life rich in discipline and cultural connection.

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Sean has connected to his heritage and expanded his business to South Korea, where he traveled with students in 2023.

While Lee first found martial arts early in his childhood, his passion for it blossomed after he set foot in the United States. Growing up with six brothers, each sharing his interest in martial arts, Lee was inspired to teach what he loved.

In his pursuit, Lee launched his own martial arts business and obtained two master’s degrees, both online, from Purdue University: an MBA in December 2022 and an MSHRM degree in May 2023. Alongside his brothers, Lee's late mother played a key role in nurturing his passion, instilling a deep sense of strength and pride in their Korean heritage that continues to inspire him. Transitioning into the business realm not only solidified this inspiration, but also provided Lee with a platform to remain connected to his culture and flourish in new ways.

While selecting a school, Lee sought programs that allowed him to “seamlessly integrate [his] educational pursuits into [his] existing lifestyle and professional commitments.” In this search, Purdue stood out. The “robust alumni network, and emphasis on practical, hands-on learning” proved to be “an ideal fit” for Lee’s entrepreneurial aspirations. The lower tuition costs and the flexibility to pursue his education without needing to relocate were huge bonuses.

“Purdue stood out as my unequivocal top choice, and it was the sole institution to which I applied for my graduate programs.” — Sango (Sean) Lee

In the process of pursuing his first degree at Purdue, the online MBA, Lee encountered his first HR courses and recognized the immense value of human resource management as the backbone of any enterprise – encouraging him to return for his online Master of Human Resource Management.

Understanding humans

Both degrees honed Lee’s strategic and management skills and “played a pivotal role in shaping and implementing” his business objectives. Since completing the programs, he has established a “compelling cultural exchange program for [his] students in South Korea and Japan.” Leveraging his education from the Daniels School of Business, he developed a methodical and systematic approach to organizing and executing his initiatives, which enhanced the visibility of his business among his counterparts in South Korea.

His education allowed him to deepen his students' understanding of both the martial arts they practice and the cultural context they belong to, providing them with the opportunity to embrace their roots. Through such initiatives, Lee can “expand [his] global network and create novel opportunities for students globally, while also inventing a competitive edge to the business.” In turn, garnering increased confidence from within his community elevated the credibility of his programs to a higher standard.

Sangho (Sean) Lee
Sean helping with a demonstration
Sean with students

Sean’s business offers martial arts to children and adults alike. Here he’s pictured with some of his students.

Beyond his martial arts studio, Lee extends his mission of fostering physical fitness and mental resilience to at-risk middle school students, through the Junior Police Academy. In collaboration with local law enforcement agencies, Lee guides students with tools that help them navigate peer pressures and steer them toward constructive and nurturing paths. Through martial arts, Lee can instill awareness and harmony in his students, helping them “transcend violence and actively contribute to the betterment of society.”

“I've learned the importance of understanding our offerings, pricing them appropriately, strategically locating our services, and effectively showcasing our business to the wider public. These strategies are pivotal in elevating our business to new heights within our community.”

Enhancing business

In addition, his degrees have transformed his approach to effective inventory management. “Previously, I prioritized stocking ample supplies to minimize delays for my students. However, through my education, I've come to appreciate the benefits of employing Just-in-Time (JIT) inventory methods,” in turn, enhancing inventory turnover and improving asset utilization,” says Lee.

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Sean and his family in 2022.

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Sean connected with his professor, Brian Chupp, during his 2023 graduation for his master’s in human resource management. He often sought out faculty, staff and peers to build a strong network.

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Sean completed two master’s, an MBA and an MS in Human Resource Management. Here he is on campus in 2022.

Lee’s ability to enable strategic decision-making has also improved since he adopted a more methodical and inclusive approach through Purdue's programs. He continues to find value in involving a variety of stakeholders and gathering diverse perspectives. As a result, decisions made are now more collaborative and well-informed, strengthening the commitment of everyone involved.

“I've realized that to navigate the complexities of business, I can't do it alone — I need the input and expertise of my team to chart the best course forward,” explains Lee.

Despite three decades of business experience, Lee admits that he had not fully embraced the power of data-driven decision-making until he arrived at the Daniels School of Business. While taking OMBA classes, he realized the potential of using data to predict future trends and make thorough decisions across vital business operations like talent acquisition, enrollment strategies, and targeted marketing campaigns. “By piecing together historical data and recognizing patterns, I've sharpened my ability to forecast with precision, reducing uncertainties in every decision,” shares Lee. Insights from the Daniels School of Business programs carried the final puzzle pieces that helped elevate the success of Lee’s business strategies and propel his ventures to new heights.

Fostering relationships

Aside from his business learnings, Lee cultivated strong relationships with professors and fellow students through the establishment of an affinity group. What began as a group of five members grew into a thriving community of over 30 as Lee neared the completion of his two master’s degrees. Through fireside chats with President Mung Chiang, the Dean of Graduate Schools Linda Mason, and the Dean of the Business School Jim Bullard, among others, Lee forged deeper connections that continue to inspire and support him in his career today.

“As I often remind my own students, fostering enduring relationships requires proactive engagement and steadfast support — a principle exemplified by my ongoing connection with Dr. Chupp and Dr. Ying,” says Lee.

The process of building these networks brought additional benefits that extended to his day-to-day business operations. Repeated conversations and opportunities to network at the Daniels School of Business influenced the quality of Lee’s client relations and service delivery. In turn, this enables him to provide tailored services and effective solutions that meet client needs more effectively. Furthermore, this experience has enhanced his ability to engage internally within his business. With a daily need to collaborate with a team of 11 staff members and 10 volunteers, and interact with over 200 members weekly, effective communication is paramount.

“I am now more mindful of my body language, tone and choice of words in various situations. By incorporating emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence into my conversations, I strive to understand my clients' perspectives better.”

Reflecting on these skills developed and lessons learned, Lee is now looking ahead to the next phase of his business journey. With a solid foundation built through his degrees, Lee aspires to broaden his business outreach to serve a larger segment of his community and appeal to various demographics, both locally and in South Korea. To create advantageous growth opportunities for his students in the U.S. and abroad, Lee is excited to diversify his program offerings and strengthen his connections with organizations and universities that specialize in martial arts education.

Sean and his successful Lee Brothers Martial Arts have been featured in multiple magazines, and Sean was Purdue’s Say It In 6 contest winner.

If you would like to receive more information about pursuing a business master’s at the Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business, please fill out the form and a program specialist will be in touch!

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