After working 13 years at his father’s multibillion-dollar company, Donald Sun thought he might be getting a promotion when his dad, David, called him into a meeting two years ago.
Instead, the elder Sun told Donald that there was nothing left for him to learn at Fountain Valley-based Kingston Technology, and that it was time for Donald to branch out on his own.
“In my head, I was starting to burn out a little and I think he saw that,” Donald said. “So when he talked to me, he was like, ‘… If you stay here, it’s fine, but no one’s going to let you fail, which mean’s you’re never going to learn faster because there’s this safety net of Kingston.’”
Suddenly Donald, who had even spent his middle-school summers folding boxes for computer parts at Kingston, was looking for something he could call his own.
Given his experience working for a computer-memory titan, Donald says his father expected him to buy a corporation within the industry. Instead, Donald took his next step in the polar-opposite direction.
A former indoor player at Irvine’s University High, Donald fell in love with playing beach volleyball as a teenager and admired the world’s top players on the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour.
Memories of those high school summers fueled his decision to purchase the AVP for $2 million in April 2012 — a move that even his father didn’t see coming.
Though computer memory and beach volleyball have next-to-nothing in common, Donald has steered the AVP with the same humble attitude that he inherited from his father.
Donald recalls going on business trips with his dad and watching David, whose net worth is valued at $4.8 billion according to Forbes, personally drive clients around and carry their bags.
“Some of the employees would go with us, and he would take the bags for the employees, too. You’d think it’d be the other way around, but no,” Donald said. “He never gets chauffeured around. He never has any of that stuff.”
While Donald applauds his father’s modest actions, he shrugs off his own. At last year’s Salt Lake City Open, Donald discovered that nobody had gotten food or drinks for the players, so he drove out to Costco with a car full of coolers.
“I don’t think any CEOs at any company volunteer to go make a Costco run,” said AVP star and Olympic gold medalist Phil Dalhausser. “Usually you go get an intern to do it or somebody else.
“He flies coach. In years past, CEOs for AVP I don’t ever think flew coach. They always were in first class.”
Sun’s eagerness to take on even the most minute task stems from his lifelong love of the AVP, which also separates him from previous ownerships.
“What they were trying to do was build up the equity in the hopes of selling it off so that they get whatever they need to get and they’re good,” Sun said. “It’s basically flipping a house. … For me, I don’t have that thought. Everything is an investment out of myself.”
But Sun’s passion and rose-colored memories of the AVP’s heyday don’t amount to anything fiscally for the league, which hasn’t turned a profit since filing for bankruptcy the first time in 1998.
Instead, Sun’s slow-growth plan and ability to attract sponsors will be the keys to financial stability.
“The AVP today is very much like a new start-up company,” David Sun said via email. “To be successful, you have to work hard, surround yourself with a great team and be smart about taking chances. There will be many challenges so you must also be patient for it to grow.”
It’s unsurprising that after so many years working for his father, Donald’s strategy mirrors David’s advice. He credits his father for being the “best mentor that anybody could have, not only from a business side, but for life.”
And Donald has brought his mentor’s lessons, no matter how small, with him to the AVP. Even to this day, Donald’s hands can assemble an imaginary package without missing a beat.