A Dragon Born in a Stream

PROVO, Utah – Jan 11, 2019 – Sunnie Giles grew up catching river salamanders in her small South Korean farming town while dreaming of someday attending college. Though her parents were unwilling to support her pursuit of higher level education, she didn’t let that stop her. 
Giles worked hard in school and always took pride in her work. She aimed high with the goal of being accepted to the best schools, and her discipline earned her good grades. Despite her ambition and promise, Giles remembers her mother telling her she wouldn’t make it as a woman in business in Korea. Her mother told her that while someday her brothers would likely branch out around the world and be able to pay for their mother to come visit them, Giles would likely stay close by and may not even be able to afford a bus ticket. 

Despite that lack of confidence shown by her family, Giles worked hard enough to be accepted to some of South Korea’s top universities. Unfortunately they were too expensive, and Giles feared the glass ceiling was still too prominent where she was from, to allow her to be successful. Instead, she decided to save up and make the journey to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where she was likely to have better opportunities as a woman. 

Giles had saved for eighteen months prior to coming to Utah but that was only enough for one semester’s tuition and one month of rent. Giles went anyway, though she had no idea how she was going to pay for the rest of her education. Fortunately, Giles’ visa allowed her to work on campus, so she quickly found a job as a janitor. 

Working early morning hours and studying at BYU without the support of her friends and family was difficult, but Giles was motivated. She remembers thinking, “I have to make something of my life, I am working too hard, and it has to be for something.” Intrinsically motivated, Giles refused to give up on accomplishing her dreams. Her proudest accomplishment to this day is graduating from BYU without debt.

Giles received her BS in accounting from BYU and her MBA from the University of Chicago. While studying for her PhD in systems psychology at BYU, Giles researched and developed a theory on what makes businesses successful, something she calls the radical science of innovation. After receiving her PhD, Giles started her own business and wrote a book based on her research findings.  

TEDx talks, travel, and presenting research at conferences around the world are ways Giles gains momentum with her business. Giles was recently invited to attend the prestigious Global Peter Drucker Forum in Vienna and present her research. Her book named after her research, The Radical Science of Innovation, helps Giles teach business leaders how to be successful in a world of VUCA—volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. One of her main messages is that failure is a necessary component for long-term success. Giles encourages people to try new things and not fear failure because that’s how we learn. According to Giles, we shouldn’t be afraid to innovate because “What got you here, won’t get you there.” 

Though Giles encourages failure because it’s necessary for success, she doesn’t encourage giving up. Her advice to people trying to make it in business is to “dream big, work hard, and don’t ever, ever, ever give up.” Giles gained this philosophy at BYU. “I had to work hard to get good grades, I couldn’t just wing it. That gave me a solid foundation to build my career on, and I never felt inferior to my peers.” 

One of Giles proudest moments was when she was able to fly her mother to the United States to visit. When her mother arrived, she told her, “You are a dragon born in a stream, and I thought you were a salamander. Dragons belong in the ocean.” 


Sunnie Giles
Sunnie Giles

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Katie Harris