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Living His Bucket List Life: Meet Co-Founder Patrick Kim

By most measures, Pat Kim hit 40 in success-filled stride: an inventory of his life at that time included a great marriage, two kids, professional success, and more.

And yet, after nearly two decades at large firms—first with global consultant McKinsey & Company, then with one of the nation’s leading law firms Williams & Connolly—something was missing.

Call it that ground-floor vibe.

“I did this bucket list exercise and while I’d already achieved a lot of great goals, the one thing that kept coming up was that in my career, I essentially bolted onto these big firms and followed their pre-set career path,” he said. “That made me really start thinking that I’d love to do some sort of startup—do something where nothing really existed before.”

Fortunately for us, right around then, Pat got a call from his good friend Steve Ham, who had some legal questions about starting an investment firm focused on the very nascent cannabis industry. And as he worked through Steve’s concerns regarding the legality of cannabis-based profits, potential liabilities from the investments, and others, Pat started helping out with the business plan.

Shortly thereafter, he scratched that entrepreneurial itch by joining Steve to co-found Altmore Capital.

“At some point, I realized that the industry was basically at the ground floor and I wasn’t going to get that many other opportunities like this,” Pat said. “I really believed in it, so I talked to my wife, who was very supportive, and I joined Steve.”

Recently, Pat shared deeper insights into his career path.

An Up-Close View of Cannabis’ Turning Point …

Early on at Altmore, the questions we got from potential investors were largely focused on legality issues, especially whether state-level cannabis programs could be reversed. As more and more states passed legalization laws, however, those worries started to fade.

And then, what really locked the industry in place, I believe, was the pandemic. Not only were people at home and consuming cannabis, state and local governments were running out of money with so many businesses shut down and unable to pay taxes. Yet, suddenly, the localities and states that had medical and recreational cannabis were getting checks cut to them because the industry was growing sales rapidly and hiring many new employees. That resulted in a real profound shift in the way those governments looked at their cannabis programs.

... Validated that Fork in the Road Choice

When Steve called with this new opportunity, I’d achieved success at Williams & Connolly, where I’d become a partner. I loved working prominent white collar cases, as the firm relied heavily on my corporate finance background.

But as I looked at the results of that bucket list exercise, I realized I could literally see how the rest of the 25 years of my career would play out. Where I would be in two years, four years, eight years, 10 years, and so on.

I’d also missed the first Internet wave, when I put together a few business plans—like everybody else—but nothing came of them. Since I’d never been part of a startup, although I really enjoyed what I had done to that point, I realized I’d always been an institutional firm guy, a cog in these firms. And when Steve came around and I started looking at cannabis, I realized it was an amazing opportunity.

The Spark for the Law Firm Life

Just like when I jumped into law 15 years earlier, 2002 was a landmark year of change for me: I got married, left McKinsey & Company, left apartment dwelling, moved to Washington, DC, and bought a house. And I went back to the law.

When anyone looks back on their life, I’m sure there are two or three conversations that end up being pivotal, even if it isn’t clear at the time. For me in 2002, I was looking for finance and business development jobs in DC since I had just spent five years at McKinsey. I went to a party and met one of my law school classmates who was at the nation’s premier litigation law firms, Williams & Connolly.

He'd just finished his first trial and I said I wished I had at least tried law because doing a trial seems like it would be an amazing thing. He said he thought I’d be pretty good at it. We talked for a bit more and as the conversation ended, I casually asked “but who would be interested in a guy five years out of law school?” Two or three days later, he called me and asked me if I was serious. The firm had been litigating the Enron matter and it was really a challenge to find enough junior mid-level—even senior—lawyers who knew their way around a balance sheet with structured finance. So, I interviewed, took the job, and I ended up spending 15 years and making partner there.

A Unique Role at Williams & Connolly

For many years, I was one of the few financially savvy people at the firm and we did a lot of financial litigation. Initially, it took me some time to get accustomed to writing again. At McKinsey, PowerPoint is how you communicate: You don’t use full sentences, it’s concise market strategies, and it’s charts and stats. I admit, I had to hire tutors and really go back to the basics to get that writing muscle in shape again.

As I rediscovered that, I was asked to work on many fascinating cases that utilized my corporate finance background. I figured I’d do it for a couple of years and I ended up doing it for 15.

A First-Generation Foundation

I’m the first generation American of an immigrant family and I think that colors many of my experiences. My father came to the U.S. to study at the University of Michigan and he proceeded to work in the auto industry as an engineer for a large part of his career. At one point, my parents moved back to South Korea, but I stayed and attended boarding school. I visited my parents regularly and it was really interesting to go back and forth because Korea had turned the corner and you could start to see its industry and culture hit first world status, and that created a lot of momentum for the country.

Midwestern Perspective Dominated for Years

The first years of my life in Ann Arbor were actually in student housing, where my parents lived, and we stayed in Ann Arbor after my father started working in the auto industry. So, the University of Michigan was a natural progression and it’s funny, it wasn’t until I went away to law school that I realized how much my perspectives were influenced by the Midwest.

For example, I legitimately thought Gerald Ford was one of our great Presidents: An All-American center on a Michigan national championship team who helped the country heal itself after Nixon. OK, I later figured out that he wasn’t that great of a President. I also remember running into someone on campus at law school and they were going to see Ralph Nader speak. You mean Unsafe at Any Speed Ralph Nader? The hit piece on the Chevy Corvair? I came around to the realization that others who hadn’t grown up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, looked at things differently.

And since my father was an engineer, I grew up with a lot of math, but in boarding school and college, I veered toward the other side of the brain and got a double major in literature and philosophy. That led to me being very undecided on my life’s path, so like a lot of humanities majors who are undecided, I applied to law school. I really liked law school, which is probably the most academic among the professional schools about theory, including a lot of debate about how to interpret the Constitution and economic theories.

Although I really enjoyed it, I ironically ended up not practicing.

At the time, McKinsey & Company was interviewing in PhD programs and law schools, not just business schools. So, I threw my hat in the ring. And when they offered me a job, I was still kind of undecided about what I wanted to do as there hadn’t been a particular part of the law that jumped out at me as something I’d want to do for the rest of my life. I liked business and finance, however, so I figured working with McKinsey for a couple of years would be like an on-your-feet MBA, which it was. I wound up staying for five years and moved a lot toward finance at the end, which set me up well for bouncing into the legal world.

Today, Sights Set Firmly on the Horizon

At Altmore, the opportunities we’ve funded in cannabis have been incredibly gratifying. And I’ve realized that while litigation is very backwards looking, this is very forward looking—we’re helping plant seeds and grow something. When we started in 2017, it was such a small industry that the train was in the process of leaving the station, but there was this fear that somebody could hit the brakes and reverse it back to the station. Now, the station is long in the rearview mirror. That’s not to say the industry is fully formed, but it’s come a long way and we’ve loved being a part of that evolution.