A Remarkable Meetup 22 Years in the Making
Danny Lee CC’95 and Alan Steinberg CC’48, SEAS’50
On a warm Florida day in fall 2016, Danny Lee CC’95 headed to meet the man who had provided him with a Columbia College scholarship more than 22 years earlier. The meeting was challenging to arrange, given the 13-hour time difference between Miami, where the donor lives, and Hong Kong, where Lee lives. Lee wondered what Alan Steinberg CC’48, SEAS’50 would be like and struggled to find the right words he would say to the person who had made such a difference in his life with the gift of the Alan W. Steinberg Scholarship Fund, which has been supporting Columbia College students since 1990.
“You must be Danny,” Steinberg said with a smile as Lee arrived at Steinberg’s home. Waiting inside were also many members of Steinberg’s family who lived nearby. As the two alumni became acquainted Lee mentioned that he went to Brooklyn Technical H.S. Steinberg and his wife, Suzanne, laughed. That’s where Steinberg had also graduated from! As none of his children or grandchildren had attended Columbia, Steinberg had requested his scholarship fund be awarded to someone who, like himself, had expressed an interest in math and economics. All those years later, Lee finally learned how he was selected for the assistance he had received.
“It was good to thank him and tell him that I am carrying on his tradition and paying it forward,” said Lee, who recently created the Danny L. Lee Scholarship Fund after starting a job that has allowed him more flexibility with his schedule and commitments. “Now I can actually pause, look around and think about the things I want to do make me happy,” he said.
Steinberg was impressed by Lee’s distinguished career, the start of which Lee credits to his mentor, David Halperin CC’65. After working at Lehman Brothers in New York for two years post-graduation, Lee was transferred to Hong Kong. He joined the Columbia University Alumni Association of Hong Kong and met a handful of alumni, including Edith Shih TC’78, who eagerly welcomed him into the community.
“Alumni in Hong Kong are very active.
Sometimes I think the further you are
from Columbia the closer you feel to it.”
— Danny Lee CC’95
Halperin introduced Lee, then 25, to the idea of switching from investment banking to private equity, and Lee then went on to work at Bain Capital for nine years and establish its Asian office. At that same time, Halperin introduced Lee to Jack Ma and Joe Tsai of Alibaba, the world’s largest online commerce company. (Lee now works at Ma and Tsai’s family office.) “That’s the moment when I realized I didn’t go to Columbia just for academics,” said Lee. “The alumni network was so selfless. I wanted to do the same and make a difference in someone else’s life.”
For nearly 10 years, Lee has mentored students and young alumni and has been the Hong Kong point person for Columbia Experience Overseas, which offers summer internships abroad for dozens of undergraduates. “They get a real job, they go to different places, they open their horizons and they see the world. They make friends and they sometimes make great contacts. I catch up with my mentees whenever I go back to New York.”
Through the years, Lee said, he has learned — in part thanks to a tip from his wife, Amy Fung, who is a life coach — that mentoring isn’t about giving advice. “You have to empower young people to think for themselves, let them decide for themselves.”
The idea of mentoring also comes full circle to reinforce Lee’s professional work. “To be a good investor you need to learn from young people and know the latest trends,” he said. “I learn a lot about myself through interacting with students and watching them grow, which is why I love doing it.”
Lee feels there’s still more to do, though. He would like to see more support for international students to help create a student body that mirrors the global landscape (Lee immigrated to the United States from China when he was 13). Recently, he added the College to his will. “I want to give back because I believe in cycles — both in the history of the world and in one’s own life. And if you do good deeds it comes back to you,” he said.