The Pacific Ocean is home to endless and exotic forms of life. The body of water that covers more than 30 percent of the earth’s entire surface is also the deepest—the Challenger Deep section of the Mariana Trench is nearly 36,000 feet deep. There are countless mysteries in the depths of the ocean that have yet to be unlocked by man, but one thing is certain: Steve Son must be tired of staring at the Pacific.
The vice president of international trade and regulatory affairs at SK hynix Inc. has regularly ping-ponged across the Pacific. The South Korean native who grew up in the city of Daegu also spent eighteen years of his life in the United States but with little consecutiveness. There was his master’s degree at the University of Georgia; five years at Hyundai Semiconductor Manufacturing in Eugene, Oregon; another nearly five years on behalf of SK hynix Memory Solutions America in San Jose, Texas; and the past four years in Washington, DC, in his present role.
Most of those roles are segmented with return stints to his home country. It’s a taxing routine that Son admits that his wife is not crazy about, but he doesn’t mind.
It’s not just the constant relocation, but also the fact that Son’s family has effectively toured every climate the US has to offer. It’s the challenge of being the South Korean company’s resident US expert—a title that has been well earned.
Like his legal expertise, Son’s fascination with the culture of the United States runs deep. It started early, learning English via Southern rock and, more specifically, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Everyone around him was listening to Korean pop music, but Son had fallen in love with “Sweet Home Alabama.” They’re still his favorite band.
Son started watching American football on the Armed Forces Korean Network. He even bought a rule book to better understand the strange and brutal game.
“For those with interest in other cultures, I think you have to practice a great deal of openness,” Son explains. “You have to be open to new people, new languages, and new knowledge. To be successful in multiple settings and different circumstances, you just have to keep learning.”
The VP’s legal work has earned him accolades along with his relocations. Son won a prestigious Star Award from his present organization after securing three separate joint alliance agreements with Samsung, IBM, and HP along with another strategic acquisition all in the same year.
Son was intricately involved in the litigation surrounding the well-publicized dynamic random-access memory price fixing scandal of 2002, and he aided SK hynix US’s 2022 $9 billion acquisition of Intel’s flash memory business that required European Union approval. His trade remedy experience is world class.
As the attorney enters his fifth year in Washington, DC, he’s helped establish the critical headquarters in a city where SK hynix previously had little interest.
“Washington, DC, used to just be about politics, not business,” Son explains. “But as US-Chinese relations continue to escalate and the geopolitical situation continues to grow more complex, I think more companies have moved to the city to focus on governmental relations. I was literally buying the furniture for our first office here.”
The nation’s capital plays home to embassies with whom Son is tasked with cultivating relationships and collaboration among businesses and governments alike, be it South Korea, Japan, or European partners.
Although export control, foreign investment, and other priorities for the semiconductor business continue to grow, Son’s not sure where the next year will take him. If history is any indication, his expertise will require a move, either somewhere in the US or back to South Korea.
“Either way, I’m still excited about future opportunities in my career,” Son says. “Staying here is fine. Going home is okay, too. I hope to be able to grow my team more here, but I’ve found that anywhere can be home.”
SK hynix’s Sommelier
Steve Son isn’t just a global trade and regulatory law expert. He’s the man friends and colleagues will call from South Korea whenever they have a question about wine. While working for the American branch of Hyundai Semiconductor Manufacturing in Eugene, Oregon, Son started educating himself on the fine pinot noirs of the Willamette Valley. His interest quickly grew, and the lawyer found his palette being consulted almost as much as his legal advice.
Son has even taught an advanced wine class for SK hynix employees. While he says presenting in front of a group can still make him a little self-conscious about his language skills, it was a perfect opportunity to share one of his true loves with a wider audience.
Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP:
“Steve is a talented and savvy executive at the forefront of the semiconductor industry. His wide-ranging knowledge of international trade issues enables him to guide SK hynix seamlessly through increasingly complex global markets.”
—Dan Porter, Matt McCullough, and the Curtis International Trade team