Kevin Dominik Korte of Univention: “Make your own decisions”

Make your own decisions. No one is going to hand you success on a golden plate. The key above all is to be in control of your destiny. I would not have come to the U.S. if I had not decided to pursue the opportunity. Remember to take action when an opportunity comes, and be […]

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Make your own decisions. No one is going to hand you success on a golden plate. The key above all is to be in control of your destiny. I would not have come to the U.S. if I had not decided to pursue the opportunity. Remember to take action when an opportunity comes, and be in charge of your life is the most critical building block. So get into the driver’s seat.

Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Dominik Korte, President of Univention North America, where he is responsible for the US team and helps clients use open source identity management systems. Univention provides standardized identity management systems for organizations from 5 people to 5 million. Kevin’s team provides Sales, Support, and Professional Services for Clients in the USA, Canada, and Mexico. The intense focus on optimizing the client’s identity and access management and help them reach their goals more efficiently is the particular focus of Kevin’s diverse team.

Kevin’s forward-facing personality and broad knowledge make him one of the central individuals in Univention’s North American expansion. He is a trusted voice for both technical questions and the C-Suite.

Kevin gained his initial experience in Univention’s Professional Service Team, where he was primarily responsible for rolling out the world’s first commercial Samba 4 implementations. Kevin earned both his MSc and BSc in Computer Science from Jacobs University Bremen, in Bremen, Germany. A German native, Kevin has moved to Seattle in 2013, where he enjoys a seldom quiet life with his wife, two children, and a family of brown bears that often walks through the garden.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Growing up in Germany as a middle-class millennial had me experience the advent of our second information age first hand. Cellphones went from a thousand dollars for a brick to 200 dollars for a smartphone back to a thousand dollars for a phablet. Social media went from the exciting ping of an AOL instant message to Facebook and the horror of seeing people surrender fully to social media. Somewhere in there was me growing up from a bright high school kid without much drive to the person I am today.

As with most teenagers, I would pin my change down to entering Jacobs University in Bremen in 2006. The competitive environment of one of Europe’s top universities pushed me from being in the top 1% of the class to being average. Yet, it also taught me a valuable lesson — the need to control your impulses and your destiny. The world did not change to fit me, and it was much too big for me to change the world just yet.

Accepting that I only can control myself has since then been one of the drivers behind my decision-making. It helped develop a keen focus on the things that I can handle because just because things happen does not mean that they need to play out in a certain way. Since then, I help others take control of their world, whether it is as a Board Member for my Alumni Association, Toastmaster, or assisting people in keeping control over their organizations’ I.T. This desire has led me to join Univention, a company dedicated to “be open” in all its endeavors and promote open-source and digital control personally and professionally.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?

I was at the one year into my career as an I.T. Project Manager at Univention. Univention sells Identity Management software. Its core product, UCS, ensures that companies can access their Computers and I.T. Services securely and efficiently. At that point, my wife was graduating college and got a job offer in Seattle, including an H-1B visa. Thus, there were three options. The first option was not to take the opportunity and stay in Germany. The second option was for me to come along on an H-4 visa. Lastly, Number 3, I could somehow manage to get one of the precious few visas available. Coming along on an H-4 Visa would have meant not working for five or more years. Which meant we quickly ruled out the option. However, getting a job with a visa is difficult, even with skills and a master’s degree in computer science.

Thus, I hatched the plan to create my new position in the USA by convincing Univention’s CEO, Peter Ganten, to create a branch office on the other side of the Atlantic. Thus, I drew up business plans and projections for starting the venture and turning the then 30 people small business into a multi-national enterprise. After redoing the expectations multiple times, we finally reached an agreement. I would go to the U.S. on an L-1 visa, start a new subsidiary, and show U.S. Businesses the advantages of using Open Source Software to keep control of their I.T. systems and data.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

Three days before our plan was going to leave, we were in a state of panic. Most of our possessions were packed and already on the ship to the U.S.. Yet the envelope with the Passport and Visa had still not arrived. We frequently checked the tracking information and were already worried that we might have to cancel one flight. Finally, the Passport was there, and we boarded the plane.

Apart from this episode, most of the move was a collection of lists to ensure everything went where it should. We went to Seattle two summers ago and had friends from college already here, so we thought we had sufficient information. Settling into a new home in a new country and receiving the first shipment of firewood in the form of our broken dining table kept us busy. Thus it probably took us time to find our rhythm and build a life out of the new existence.

Learning to run a business in the U.S. at the same time was a significant learning experience. It took a substantial amount of resilience on my side and meaningful mentorship and support through Univention to turn it into a successful business. While both the U.S. and Germany are western countries, the details make the difference that can break a company.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

My time here in the United States would have been very different without my boss and mentor, Peter Ganten. Apart from believing in the idea and making the plan possible, he continued to provide feedback and guidance.

The most memorable situation happened around six months after moving to the U.S. I was extremely frustrated. When coming to the U.S., I had this notion that sales would work by customers starting to call as soon as I had registered the phone line. Naturally, I had made one deal during the whole period. I will not forget the four-day meeting we had at that point. It had the right combination of encouragement and advice to set me up on the right path to Univention North America’s success. Since then, his advice has helped me on my mission to keep the I.T. of American business free of external control.

So how are things going today?

Seven years later, the world has changed significantly. The question of who controls our data has gained greater importance with every new technological innovation. Focusing on keeping businesses’ I.T. free from undue outside influence and circumstances has helped me successfully grow Univention’s Identity Management Business in the new market. I have gone beyond being the only one here and actively hired new employees, even during the pandemic. I am still making sales today, but it has become something I enjoy.

The focus on giving individuals the freedom to choose their path has also dominated my activities outside my day-to-day job. As an early-stage investor and as a mentor, I have made it my mission in life to give other control over what happens to them.

My proudest achievement, of course, is to see my two sons grow up integrated into a supportive community and neighborhood. Providing that is of more value than any other success.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My path shows a combination of skills, daring, and luck. I cannot influence the luck people are experiencing in their lives. However, I can make sure they have the skill and daring needed to take control whenever an opportunity arises. Thus, I am actively supporting my alumni association in recruiting new students to experience Jacobs University in Bremen. Including making sure that there are sufficient scholarships to help young adults from less privileged circumstances.

Further, I am an active Toastmaster. Bad communication can hinder the best plan with the most skilled individual. Learning not to fear speaking up and out is an ability that I have come to embrace. As such, I am very proud to enable others through constructive feedback and a safe setting to learn to overcome their fear.

Lastly, I have made it my mission to ensure we stay in control of our data and digital identities. The Internet and the Cloud offer us all an endless amount of possibilities. Yet, they also enable businesses and governments to profile us in a way that no one ever thought possible. Teaching companies and individuals that data, even mundane pieces like “from where you logged into a website and when,” as a value is not just a driver behind my job.

You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?

We have been very privileged in our dealing with the U.S. immigration system. I am sure that others have stories and wait times far beyond ours. Nevertheless, both as a person who went through it and now as an employer, three things immediately come to mind.

The outdated assumptions are my most important criticism of the system. The system assumes that only one in the family works. That compensation is mostly in cash, and that at USD 60.001, you are at the top of your field. All of these assumptions most likely were true at the point when the system last was overhauled. Today, however, they are probably not up to date anymore.

In non-Covid years, fees pay for USCIS. Thus, I do not understand why the wait times at the agency are so significant. Before the pandemic, it was not unusual to wait for 3 to 6 months for an application to process. Even today, issuing a replacement green card can take a year. Either the fees charged do not cover the costs and should be raised, or they should get adequate staffing levels.

Lastly, we live in a world where every business can update me on the status of an order by E-Mail or on one website. Each of the many fiefdoms of the U.S. immigration system, in contrast, has its way of communicating, making it difficult for a non-lawyer even to determine the status. While it has gotten better in the last years, It is still nowhere close to a modern, efficient, and cost-effective operation.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

My first advice would be to learn from failure. When planning to come to the U.S., I prepared numerous proposals. Each time there were issues. Some points needed clarification, assumptions were too optimistic, and some costs were too expensive. If I had given up at the first no, I would have never made it to the U.S. Instead, every time someone pushed back, I used it as an opportunity to refine the plans.

My second thing is to focus on bout the things you can control. In 2015 I was actively trying to win medical insurance companies and medical providers. With the onset of the 2016 election, we saw significant turmoil in the market. Our contacts were afraid of what a republican victory meant for the Affordable Care Act and subsequent their companies. Instead of wondering how we can change the market, we refocused on a different subsegment.

Do not stop learning. During my time, I have learned how to sell and how to speak with confidence. I still remember the first time I stood in front of my Toastmasters Club to give a talk. It was a terrifying experience. Three years later, neither networking events nor public speeches are terrifying anymore.

Focus on what is important and say no to everything else. Each new day brings with it numerous tasks that can occupy my time. When we hired another sales rep last year, I spent copious amounts of time reviewing the administrative part. Looking over the material we put out there and ensuring all the clerical issues were in order. At the same time, I spend very little time networking and finding someone. While we got a great addition to the team, it mostly came down to the bad economy, making many good people available.

Make your own decisions. No one is going to hand you success on a golden plate. The key above all is to be in control of your destiny. I would not have come to the U.S. if I had not decided to pursue the opportunity. Remember to take action when an opportunity comes, and be in charge of your life is the most critical building block. So get into the driver’s seat.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

I find that there are much less gloom and doom behind the veneer of national politics and media. We make our future, and if we look deep enough, we see people every day taking charge of their lives.

I, in particular, see that when observing how many new ideas get produced every day. If you look beyond the national headlines, you can see that our society is still developing. We do not just have new technologies that improve our lives. We also have new forms of art, music, and literature. We are developing new ideas in philosophy. As long as we still grow in all of these areas, I would be optimistic that we can grow as a society and overcome any struggle.

Deeply woven into the first reason is that we still debate policies and politics on a local level. Leaving the national cable news behind and entering the world of local media and gatherings, one can find debates between politicians and citizens with different views. I see people who listen and reason their points on controversial topics from climate change and policing to such mundane questions as new powerlines’ height. Despite all the talk about partisanship and echo bubbles, these discussions are productive, constructive, and well-attended. If we can transfer this spirit back to our national level, I am sure we can overcome the current divide.

Most importantly, people more and more want to be back in control of their lives. They strive to be in the driver’s seat of their lives. They neither want big tech nor rioting mobs to control what one is allowed to think, say, or do. Everyone wants to be free to express themselves and not conform fully to all societal expectations. As long as we continue “yearning to breathe free,” we will have a positive future ahead of us.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I firmly believe that access to education will shape continue to shape society. With the internet providing us in the first world access to information at the click of a button, we often forget that most people do not have this luxury. Thus, I would love to have Breakfast with Stormy Peters to talk about the “Kids on Computers” project, which she cofounded. I firmly believe that if we want to create a more equitable future where everyone controls their destiny, we need to make education available for everyone.

Further, I admire her past work with the Mozilla Foundation and GNOME’s Board of Directors. As someone working at a company dedicated to free and open-source software, I think it would be a fascinating exchange of ideas and opinions.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

For the latest updates, you can follow me on Twitter [@univention_us] and LinkedIn [].

Alternatively, I enjoy a well-written, old-fashioned postcard, but that would not be online.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you so much for having me. As Doc Brown said: “The future is what you make it.” I am looking forward to hearing from all the readers inspired to take control of their opportunities.

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