While others had no idea what they were going to pursue as a career in life, he knew what he wanted to do.
“I wanted to be an Old China Hand,” he said.
Kennedy, now 53, was recently back in Refugio County, reminiscing and visiting his dad, who now lives in Portland.
History shows that an “Old China Hand” referred to traders in the 1800s and also to those who had a great knowledge of China, including its diverse people, culture and language.
For Kevyn, the influence to be a China Hand may have come from his father, Bill, and late mother, Tomiko Kawamura Kennedy, a well-liked teacher who died in April 2010.
After high school, Kevyn joined the U.S. Navy. Afterward, he found himself enrolled at the University of Texas-Austin.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in Chinese studies in 1986, and he promptly turned his eyes to the Orient.
“Although I studied the language, I went straight to Taiwan to study Chinese,” he said.
Even after all these years, Kevyn said he considers his Chinese passable, but not fluent.
“I can go anywhere in China and get by,” he said.
Kevyn is now the manager of CBI Consulting in Shanghi, China.
He said he conducts private investigations for the firm. His background is in due diligence, brand protection and counterfeiting.
He’s been doing similar work for 22 years, starting off with the liquor industry in Taiwan.
He said his office was “crammed with alcohol right now.”
Unfortunately, some of that alcohol is counterfeit brands, and Kevyn has to test the contents of the 406 bottles.
“The fact is I’m still working with the liquor industry. The last project included all the bars and restaurants—any place that sells liquor,” he said.
He said he travels back and forth from China to Taiwan about four times a year, but he has managed to keep ties with his alma mater—UT-Austin.
In 2008, he and his six siblings, who all attended college thanks to their parents, created a William H. and Tomiko Kennedy Memorial Endowed Presidential Scholarship, a gift to their parents who sacrificed a lot to see them all through.
The annual scholarship is awarded to a UT student who is studying Chinese as a second language.
“We had six recipients (this year). One is currently in Taiwan, and one was in Hong Kong as an intern,” Kevyn said.
He said he is looking to hire one or both of the students for his company.
Kevyn came back to the United States with the primary reason to attend a conference in Washington, D.C. on FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) regulations and compliance.
The trip to Refugio and San Patricio counties was secondary.
On China, Kevyn said, “It’s the most capitalistic place in the world. Politically, not that advanced,” he said.
“But we’re seeing something that’s unique in history—an abject number of people going from poverty to a middle class lifestyle,” he added.
Kevyn said he loves being a China Hand—it was his calling in life.
“I woke up one morning when I was 40 years old and thought, ‘I can’t do anything else. This is all I know how to do,’” he said.
In Shanghai, he lives with his wife, Chien-Yi, and their 14-year-old son, Matt.
He said he does have some time to see the sights in China.
“The most incredible vistas I’ve seen in my life are the Grand Canyon in the United States and the Great Wall of China,” he said.
Anyone who wants to know more about China needs only to ask Kevyn—the old China Hand.