Against the odds

Roofing contractor Brent Lee built a new life in the U.S. after growing up poor in South Korea

Brent Jihoon Lee was born in South Korea and grew up in a poor area. Living in the countryside on the outskirts of Seoul, he didn't see a car until he was 7 years old. His first job involved walking up to the peak of a mountain to get spring water, walking back down and selling it.

On average, one out of 25 people in the area where he grew up went to college. When Lee, an only child, moved to the U.S. at age 15, he didn't know the English alphabet—let alone the English language.

Now, about 20 years later, Lee owns his own company, J & K Home Improvement, in Rolling Meadows, Ill. The company, which has been in business for six years, remodels about 350 homes per year and has a sales volume between $2.5 million and $3 million.

"I started with nothing," Lee says. "I feel fortunate to work with a good set of guys and have a booming business."