Minority Business Corner
Harry Lum: Growing his business from the basement up
By Laura Salinger
  Getting good grades and attending college was non-negotionable in the Lum household./"Education was number one in our household," Lum said.
"There was no question on whether we would go on to college."
  All six children obtained an undergraduate degree from Michigan State University. Three of the six would also go on to obtain a master's degree. Lum
received a degree in advertising. After college, he worked for a manufacturing company in East Lansing that produced scientific research equipment out
of Plexiglas. Here, he worked his way up to production manager. In 1980, he started selling computers and later sold electronic components for
computers and other devices. He founded CEI in 1989 and ran it out of his basement on a part-time basis.
  "After my first year of just me, I did $36,000 in sales," he explained.
  In 1992, Lum decided it was either time to give up on CEI or to grow it. He took the plunge and chose the latter. Like any small business owner, Lum
has faced the challenges and nuances that come with running your own show.
  "There's been times when I've thought about giving it up," Lum admitted. "It's been a struggle. I've put a lot of money and time into this business."
  But Lum didn't give up and is now reaping the rewards for his efforts. In 2002, CEI won an Award of Excellence from the Wisconsin Supplier
Development Council and in 2005, CEI won a small business award from Dane County. In the last four years, sales at CEI have increased 250 percent.
The company currently has 135 customers, compared to the five or six customers it had in its first year.
  CEI, self-described as a "low volume cable, wiring, and electronic assembly solutions" company, manufactures and distributes specialty cable
assemblies for the medical, instrumentation, and industrial sectors. In recent years, CEI has added additional capabilities including engineering design,
board layout and assembly, mechanical design and packaging, prototype builds, and documentation and revision control. Their customers include GE
Lunar, Cardinal Health, and Bruker Analytical Equipment.
  Lum said one of the biggest challenges in running his own business has been finding the right people to help him and keeping the same quality of their
products.
  Lum has spent significant time and energy in creating a strong and viable team of employees at CEI. He is a strong proponent of creating a diverse
workforce. Thirty three percent of his current employees are minorities and at times, 50 percent of his employees have been minorities.
  "Minority owners tend to hire more minorities," he said.
  But regardless of race and ethnicity, Lum has found that treating his employees right is a huge part of a business' success. "I think if you treat people
with respect and care about them, they'll do a good job for you and put in a good day's work."
  Lum credits his employees for his success. About the 2007 Outstanding Business award, he said: "This award is a tribute to our dedicated employees
who have worked hard to maintain a high level of customer service."
  The Outstanding Business award was judged on the following criteria: accomplishments, recognition, market impact, employment, and best practices
in procedures and management. Succeeding in some of these categories is no small feat for a small business, but sweeping all of these categories is quite
an accomplishment for a man who started with a dream in his basement.
 Harry Lum (right), founder of Convenience Electronics, Inc. (CEI), has taken what started out as a basement operation
and turned it into a company that is on track to reach $2.6 million dollars in sales this year. The company was presented an
Outstanding Business award in the small business category at the Governor's Conference on Minority Business
Development this past October. In a recent interview with Asian Wisconzine, Lum explained how he got his start in the
industry and how he managed to grow a one-man operation into a company that currently boasts 22 employees and
extensive growth in sales each year.
  Born and raised in Saginaw, Mich., Lum is the youngest of six children. His parents -- both from China -- ran and
operated a Chinese restaurant in a predominantly White town just north of Flint, Mich.
  "We were the only Asian family at my school," Lum recalled, saying it was sometimes a challenge to be Asian minorities
in the mid-sized town that struggled greatly when the automotive industry took a hit. But, what the family had on their
side -- something that would benefit each of the children in years to come -- was their unbending belief in a quality
education..