First look at UNICOM, the Calif. company that bought old Merck building

Corry Hong flew to Europe last weekend. He has meetings scheduled this week with some of the top CEOs on the continent. That’s what you do when you’re the founder of one of the largest technology companies in the world — a billion-dollar operation that does business around the globe.

But that’s not how Hong built UNICOM Global, the California company that surprised New Jersey when it announced it was buying and moving into the enormous and majestic Merck campus in Whitehouse Station within Readington Township.

An immigrant who came to the U.S. at age 20 from Korea not knowing a word of English, Hong studied computer programming at Pierce, a community college in Los Angeles, before dropping out to form UNICOM.

He still runs UNICOM as a mom-and-pop shop — and still feels most comfortable with entrepreneurs and self-made businesspeople. That’s why his first event in New Jersey, held last Thursday at the old Merck compound he now owns, was filled with local business owners, contractors and area elected officials.

Martin Webley, UNICOM’s director of business development who doubles as the company’s spokesman and communications director (because, like any mom-and-pop shop, UNICOM doesn’t have a marketing team), said these are the meetings Hong likes best.

“The state meetings will happen in due course,” Webley said. “He wanted the first one to be with the counties and the townships and the individuals and gatekeepers of the local area. This is not the CEOs and the governor; we have had and will continue to have meetings with them as we move forward.

“We’re here because we want to be part of the community and we want to help everyone in the community. These are the relationships we’ve been cultivating in the past two years, and we were able to meet them, face to face, for the first time.”

Local residents will soon learn: Hong makes his local connections his lifelong friends.

The first electrician and the first insurance agent he ever hired still work for him. Hong, in fact, joked that he made his insurance company get licensed around the country so he could continue the relationship as he expanded.

“I want to, as UNICOM grows, give mom-and-pops the opportunity to grow,” he said. “With so many of these entrepreneurial and hardworking people, if I have the opportunity that I can help in some degree, that’s the way I show my gratitude.

“This is my passion as a private enterprise. To me, it is a fundamental. Small business owners are 70 percent of the economy. The major corporations may have this structure or burdensome corporate overhead, whereas hardworking people have a much better feel. I’m more of a small entrepreneur. Giving small business opportunities and seeing them grow is UNICOM’s philosophy.”

Mark Saluk, the economic development director for Hunterdon County, didn’t believe what he was hearing when Webley first reached out to him — two years ago — in an effort to start a local partnership.

He said he honestly didn’t believe it.

“When I first got a phone call from Martin, he was telling me what I wanted to hear most in terms of their philosophy,” he said. “I thought it was a practical joke. I was waiting for someone to interrupt and say, ‘We’re just messing with you.’ It turns out, it’s been very real.”

Unlike anything he’s experienced.

“I’ve worked for 10 years in economic development — have done a lot of work with major Fortune 500 companies — and I’ve never a company that took this much of an interest in the early stages in partnering,” Saluk said. “And not just partnering during their ramp-up phase, but long-term partnering, sharing resources and information and just really making sure that they became part of the community before arrival.

“Frankly, I’ve been telling this to anyone who will listen, that I’ve never experienced anything like this. UNICOM is a unique experience.”

Many in the crowd of approximately 150 agreed with the thoughts.

Richard Wood and Chris Korinchak of Eii Inc., electrical and mechanical contractors in Cranford who had worked at the facility in the past, were thrilled to get a call asking them to come back and hear Hong talk.

Unicom’s Corry Hong gives a presentation at his first event since bringing his company to New Jersey.

“They wanted to know what we did before and if we wanted to do it again,” Wood said.

Hong said he wants to continue those type of relationships.

“That’s the benefit of me being the founder and me being the sole shareholder,” he said. “It’s really a unique opportunity to prioritize what is important. I’ve been just blessed with the opportunities and learning and meeting so many wonderful people. Our goal is going to utilize local opportunity.

“In fact, I’ve been talking to our team. We have about 300 national contractors and suppliers supporting, supplying this facility. I keep telling my team to look into small mom-and-pop shops and bring them in. Merck used thousands of these national-brand companies. Me, as an entrepreneur, I want to reach out to a small mom-and-pop rather than a national brand. As a private company, I’m going to reach out to the local mom-and-pop shop and bring their expertise.”

Webley understands some may be skeptical. But he says it’s very real — and the very thing that attracted him to the company.

“He’s successful — and he continues to be successful with no sales or marketing division,” Webley said. “It’s just, ‘How can I help?’ Or, ‘What do you do?’ Or, ‘What resources can we introduce?’

“This is the fastest-growing tech company that most people have never heard of, yet it’s been around since 1981.

“Through organic growth and strategic acquisition, he’s grown it to 48 companies in 22 countries, with a customer roster that’s a who’s who of international business. That’s why he doesn’t need to impress anybody.”

He impressed plenty last week.

Readington Mayor Ben Smith and Hunterdon County Freeholder Director Matthew Holt both gave short speeches during the event.

Both would have been thrilled to have any tenant occupy even a part of the more than 600-acre complex that, in many ways, controls the fate of the area. To get a company such as UNICOM — one which pledged to stay here forever — and a leader such as Hong, was beyond their wildest dreams.

It appears to be a perfect partnership. In fact, Holt already is picking up on Hong’s philosophy.

He ended his brief talk with a personal tale.

Holt’s father, he said, had been a lifelong collector of pins — and amassed more than 2,000 from around the world. Pins, he said, have become near and dear to his heart.

When Holt was first elected to the freeholder board in 2006, he said he was given three pins representing the county. One, he gave to his father. He presented Hong with a second — taking it out of his lapel in a significant gesture.

“It is without any equivocation and with the greatest of pride, sir, that I would like to present you with this pin representing Hunterdon County,” he said. “This is near and dear to my heart, and I cannot think of anything better to give you that represents our county. Welcome.”

After a burst of applause from the audience, Holt ended with a simple thought.

“Thank you,” he said. “We’re here to help.”

Hong felt the same way.

Read more from ROI-NJ:

3 things we learned Sunday in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

Three takeaways from Day Six of Gov. Phil Murphy’s nine-day trade mission trip to Germany and Israel. Sunday, the governor was in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

  1. New Jersey may land more Israeli startups when they want to come to U.S.

Murphy signed an agreement with the Israel Innovation Authority, making New Jersey the 10th such state to do so. The agreement puts New Jersey on a list of recipients for investment by the authority for companies which are ready to grow in the U.S. market.

This makes the IIA a sort of brand ambassador for the state, when it finds a company that is an ideal fit for the state, New Jersey officials said.

  1. Teva picked New Jersey over Massachusetts

At a roundtable discussion with life sciences companies Sunday at the headquarters of Teva Pharmaceuticals near Tel Aviv, Brendan O’Grady, executive vice president of North America at Teva, said the company had contemplated Massachusetts for its U.S. headquarters, but chose New Jersey for its historical reputation in the life sciences sector and for its value.

Murphy said New Jersey is using a new strategy to win companies such as Teva. He said the strategy comes straight out of the playbook used by Massachusetts, as it will focus on greater research collaboration with academic research institutions.

  1. Murphy coming home one day early due to death in the family

Murphy and his wife, Tammy Murphy, will be returning from their nine-day trade mission trip to Germany and Israel a day early due to the passing of the first lady’s father, Edward Brown Snyder. The Murphys will return home Tuesday evening instead of Wednesday, as originally planned.

In a joint statement Saturday, the Murphys said Snyder would have wanted them to finish their trip before returning. “As a proud member of the Jewish faith, his final ask of us was to continue our trip to Israel. Ever the mensch, he left specific instructions for services to wait until our return. With heavy hearts and tears in our eyes, we will dedicate our presence in this holy land to his memory.”

Murphy to return from trip one day early, due to death of first lady’s father

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Sunday that he and his wife, Tammy Murphy, will be returning from their nine-day trade mission to Germany and Israel a day early due to the passing of the first lady’s father, Edward Brown Snyder.

Snyder was 90.

The Murphys will return home Tuesday evening instead of Wednesday morning, as originally planned.

In a joint statement Saturday, the Murphys said Snyder would have wanted them to finish their trip before returning.

“Yesterday, we learned of the passing of Tammy’s father, Edward Brown Snyder. We consider ourselves lucky and blessed to have been able to speak with him one last time, only 12 hours before his passing. He taught our family so much through his example and we will cherish his every lesson on a life well-lived. Though we already miss him, we know that his spirit will always be with us.

“As a proud member of the Jewish faith, his final ask of us was to continue our trip to Israel. Ever the mensch, he left specific instructions for services to wait until our return. With heavy hearts and tears in our eyes, we will dedicate our presence in this holy land to his memory.”

Snyder, who lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia, founded Checkered Flag Motor Car in 1964, according to his obituary. The company grew to be one of the largest import dealers in Virginia, with 11 franchises.

Read all of ROI-NJ’s coverage of Gov. Murphy’s trip:

Top Teva exec says company picked N.J. because of its ‘value,’ history in life sciences

When Teva Pharmaceuticals announced in July that it was going to consolidate its U.S. headquarters in Parsippany, it was a big win for Gov. Phil Murphy.

It turns out, it also was a big win over Massachusetts.

At a roundtable discussion with life sciences companies Sunday at Teva’s headquarters near Tel Aviv, Brendan O’Grady, executive vice president of North America at Teva, told ROI-NJ that the company had contemplated Massachusetts for its U.S. headquarters, but chose New Jersey for its historical reputation in the life sciences sector.

Despite the high cost of living in the state, and concerns employees had about the tax brackets, O’Grady said Teva ultimately liked New Jersey for its access to New York City, and echoed the governor’s comments that the state offers value for the money.

Most of the approximately dozen companies present at the roundtable Sunday have or had a New Jersey presence. Others said they were contemplating the move.

Massachusetts, which has wooed away a number of pharma companies from the state, was brought up often.

Murphy said New Jersey is using a new strategy to win companies such as Teva.

Murphy said the strategy comes straight out of the playbook used by Massachusetts, as it will focus on greater research collaboration with academic research institutions.

“I think you add up a deepening of the academic relationship into the real, applied commercialization economy,” he said.

But not without paying a price for the “value” the state is offering.

“We look at ourselves in the same group as Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and California,” Murphy said.

“But … you pay a premium to live in a place like that. We will never be the low-cost place to do business, that is not our model.”

Read more from ROI-NJ:

Agreement with Israel Innovation Authority is highlight of Murphy’s first day in that nation

Gov. Phil Murphy spent Sunday, his first full day in Israel, and the sixth day of his nine-day economic trip, focused on cybersecurity, life sciences and the overall innovation economy in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

In Jerusalem, Murphy signed an agreement with the Israel Innovation Authority, making New Jersey the 10th U.S. state to do so. The agreement puts New Jersey on a list of recipients for investment by the authority for companies that are ready to grow in the U.S. market.

This makes the IIA a sort of brand ambassador for the state, when it finds a company that is an ideal fit, New Jersey officials said.

It also can help foster collaborative relationships between existing New Jersey companies and Israeli startup companies, allowing a different type of union than a traditional merger or acquisition, officials said.

Murphy told ROI-NJ on Sunday that he believes the sectors New Jersey can likely thrive in include life sciences, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, clean energy and financial services.

“This is the startup nation,” he said. “They have a real appetite and they’ve done these before with other states, and they’ve done it with a particular focus. In Nevada, it’s water. In New York, it’s the energy grid, I believe they said. With us, it’s a bit more open.”

Currently undetermined is the role the New Jersey Economic Development Authority will play — but there is a good chance the EDA will commit some dollars or try to match the dollars committed by the IIA.

The benefit to the IIA, for choosing New Jersey to grow its startup, is similar to the strategy startups in Germany are employing: an entrance into the U.S. market once they have grown to a sizable market share in their home countries.

It’s surprisingly effective as a draw for larger companies — especially in the life sciences sector.

Gov. Phil Murphy was all smiles during a meeting at Teva Pharmaceuticals in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Later in the day Sunday, Murphy held a roundtable discussion with life sciences companies at the headquarters of Teva Pharmaceuticals near Tel Aviv.

Teva recently announced it is consolidating its offices in the Northeast to make Parsippany its U.S. hub.

During the roundtable, Murphy said he has been surprised by the level of interest that larger companies have — in the life sciences sector, especially — for working with or acquiring smaller companies.

“I used to stupidly think it was a zero-sum game,” he said. “I now realize that it’s far from that.

“We have lost research and development jobs; that’s what we need to turn the corner on. The startup culture has an unusual impact on the appetite of the big company to want to do the research there. … I underestimated that.

“It matters a lot. When I talk about the Evergreen Fund to companies, or you take that Bayer model we saw in Berlin, where the sponsor (of the incubator) is a corporation … that’s a much bigger deal than I thought.”

Murphy ended the day with a signing with Hacker U in Tel Aviv, which will increase collaborations around cybersecurity and education research between the Israel and New Jersey.

Gov. Phil Murphy meets with representatives of Hacker U in Tel Aviv.

Hacker U connects top professionals in the cybersecurity space with companies and entities in need of such expertise. The newly formed relationship will benefit Rutgers University in having access to the courses the entity has.

Jared Maples, New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness director, joined the New Jersey delegation for this leg of the governor’s trip, and said cybersecurity is a key focus for the state.

“New Jersey is the state leader in cybersecurity,” Maples said. “There’s a lot more we can do to leverage the private sector’s expertise, whether that be recruiting people to be in the industry, in the field, because we are all connected … so, the more people focused on this work and are good at this work is important to us from a security perspective, because it makes us more secure.”

While New Jersey is a leader, there are more advanced technologies in Israel that the state could use, he said.

This, he said, in turn helps the private sector, which will want to take advantage of the latest technology being used by the government.

Traditionally, the military has always been ahead with its technology, but the world is changing, and all sectors of the economy have to be equally protected, Maples said.

“The focus on cybersecurity is something we take very seriously here,” he said.

Read all of ROI-NJ’s coverage of Gov. Murphy’s trip:

Read more from ROI-NJ:

The ROI-NJ Podcast: Choose N.J.’s Lozano and EDA’s Mathews discuss Murphy’s trip to Germany

The new ROI-NJ Podcast lets you hear straight from the business leaders and newsmakers in New Jersey. The podcast is a product of ROI-NJ, the premiere business news organization of the Garden State, and hosted by Managing Editor Anjalee Khemlani.

Jose Lozano, CEO and president of Choose New Jersey, and Wesley Mathews, vice president of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority‘s Office of International Trade and Investment discussed the first leg of Gov. Phil Murphy’s economic trip on the last day in Germany.

The governor is now in Israel, focused on the cybersecurity and life sciences sector.

Mathews shares some insight into Murphy’s time as U.S. ambassador to Germany under President Barack Obama, and Lozano discusses the strategy for Choose New Jersey, and why the business community should see the events in Germany as tangible results.

Read all of ROI-NJ’s coverage of Gov. Murphy’s trip:

Listen to more of the ROI-NJ Podcast:

Atlantic Health to open surgery center in Lopatcong in joint venture with Pa. network

Atlantic Health System has signed a definitive agreement to partner with Pennsylvania-based Coordinated Health on an ambulatory surgery center in Lopatcong Township, it announced Sunday.

Coordinated Health will manage the day-to-day operations of the surgical center, which will offer outpatient surgery in dentistry, ophthalmology, general surgery, gastroenterology, orthopedic surgery, pain management, plastic surgery, podiatry and urology.

The center, which will be located next to an existing Coordinated Health Phillipsburg medical office building at 222 Red School Lane, is expected to open in November.

The organizations hope the center will enhance access to surgical care for New Jersey residents living near the Pennsylvania border. And they hope it is the first of additional collaborative joint ventures in the future.

Coordinated Health is an integrated health care network with locations throughout eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. The company employs more than 1,400 personnel across 18 multispecialty medical campuses, including two hospitals, two ambulatory surgical centers, six walk-in care centers and an inpatient rehabilitation suite.

Amy Perry, CEO hospital division, senior vice president, integrated care delivery, for Atlantic Health System, said she feels the agreement will improve services in western New Jersey.

“We are pleased to partner with Coordinated Health as we continue to seek new ways to fulfill our mission of delivering high quality, innovative and personalized health care, to build healthier communities in western New Jersey,” she said in a release.

“This partnership is another example of how we are increasing access for our patients to our system and the health care services they need and deserve in their community.”

Perry said patients who are diagnosed in the greater Phillipsburg area often are sent to Pennsylvania for treatment and/or surgery. The facility will enable patients in the region to receive care close to home, in an outpatient, ambulatory care setting, while providing the same or higher quality of care at lower costs.

Coordinated Health CEO Emi Dilorio said the partnership can serve as a model.

“Atlantic Health System is an innovator in health care and an ideal partner to collaborate with on new ventures,” he said. “This ASC will serve as a model for value-based care, which is a focus that both of our organizations share.”

Amy Nyberg, president and chief operating officer of Coordinated Health, agreed.

“Warren County patients can now stay close to home to receive high-quality surgical care,” she said. “Through this joint venture with Atlantic Health System, we are providing Warren County with the higher-quality, lower-cost care they deserve.”

ROI-NJ’s Khemlani discusses business on Adubato TV program

ROI-NJ Managing Editor Anjalee Khemlani shares her insights and analysis on everything from New Jersey’s “innovation economy” to the evolution of different sectors that are growing regionally as well as the potential for the evolving business scene in Camden during an interview with Emmy-winning broadcaster Steve Adubato on “State of Affairs with Steve Adubato.”

3 things we learned Friday in Berlin

Three takeaways from Day Four of Gov. Phil Murphy’s nine-day trade mission trip to Germany and Israel. Friday, the governor was in Berlin.

  1. Tough to form alliances

Gov. Phil Murphy met with the executive director of DIHK, an organization that companies in Germany are required to register with and belong to. Martin Wansleben said that it is a tough time to commit to being an ally to America.

“To be quite honest, it’s not easy. But we are totally convinced it is worth it to fight for that friendship.”

  1. No offense, Mr. President

Yet another jab at President Donald Trump and his administration Friday, on the fourth day of Murphy’s economic trip. This time, diplomatically, by the governing mayor of Berlin.

“I am very pleased indeed that we’ve come together, especially in these trying times, all over the world. That we promote good dialogue and cooperation. Especially when things in the big political arena are not going as smoothly as they used to be.”

  1. Meeting with Audible’s Katz

Murphy was joined by Audible CEO Don Katz Friday for a signing that focuses on developing the right system for a tech ecosystem. Afterward, Audible hosted a lunch and Katz and Murphy rubbed elbows over the meal. When asked what they discussed, Katz said the two have always had honest discussions about how to jumpstart the startup economy in the state.

“We’ve been talking about how to target economic growth. The truth of the matter is, there is a lot of inertia that affects governmental polices,” Katz said. “If you look at the character of investment and trying to retain really large, old companies in New Jersey — how well has that really gone for us?”

Read all of ROI-NJ’s coverage of Gov. Murphy’s trip:

The ROI-NJ Podcast: Audible’s Don Katz on the lessons of Berlin

The new ROI-NJ Podcast lets you hear straight from the business leaders and newsmakers in New Jersey. The podcast is a product of ROI-NJ, the premiere business news organization of the Garden State, and hosted by Managing Editor Anjalee Khemlani.

Audible CEO Don Katz sat with ROI-NJ at the Newark-based company’s Berlin office to discuss the news of the day, the signing of a memorandum of agreement with Berlin to learn from the German city’s best practices.

That will benefit Newark Venture Partners, which Katz founded, and give the New Jersey city a leg up in the tech ecosystem.

Katz shares his thoughts about Berlin’s success, and why New Jersey can benefit from its lessons.

Click below to hear the podcast.

Read all of ROI-NJ’s coverage of Gov. Murphy’s trip:

Listen to more of the ROI-NJ Podcast: