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Son is satisfied living in Sorenson shadow

Published: Saturday, July 4 2015 6:29 a.m. MDT

James Lee Sorenson, a U. accounting graduate, is in many ways the front man of the Sorenson Cos. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News) James Lee Sorenson, a U. accounting graduate, is in many ways the front man of the Sorenson Cos. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News)
When your father ranks as one of the world's richest men, you become accustomed to walking in the shadows.
For James Lee Sorenson, eldest son of Salt Lake billionaire James LeVoy Sorenson, the shadow always has grown larger.
"I decided very early on that I would either have to move somewhere else, change my name or be content in my own feelings of satisfaction for my business involvement success," James Lee Sorenson said.
And being content is what the younger Sorenson has appeared to master.
Rather than having his own story on the front page, James Lee Sorenson has had to settle for some space inside.
Yet the 53-year-old Sorenson, an accounting graduate from the University of Utah, is in many ways the front man of the Sorenson Cos.
He is chief executive over two of the family's most visible holdings: Sorenson Media and Sorenson Medical. He sits as chairman of the board for DataChem Laboratories, an environmental and industrial hygiene testing company. And his influence extends over many of the vast holdings of Sorenson Real Estate.
When it comes to the final say over these companies, James Lee Sorenson's decision carries the day, not his father's.
While the elder Sorenson defines a broad, enterprising vision, James Lee Sorenson handles the details at a separate office across town from his father's.
"My father is always out looking at new frontiers, and I am trying to make companies work and turn a profit," James Lee Sorenson said.
Ken Olsen, president of DataChem Laboratories, said James Lee Sorenson has an uncanny ability to look at mounds of financial data and quickly make sense of it. He also describes his boss as an aggressive business competitor, but one that won't compromise his standards.
One particular instance, a patent dispute, stands out in Olsen's memory.
"We had a real serious problem because there was one fact that we could not prove," Olsen said. "The inventor turned to Jim and me and said, 'I'll just go back to my office and create a backdated letter so that we can document this fact.' Before I could open my mouth to object, Jim said, 'We don't do business that way.' At that point in time I decided that that was a man that I could work for."
Perhaps James Lee Sorenson's most noted success is a compression technology — originally developed by Utah State University and licensed and improved upon by Sorenson Media — that reduces video file size for transmission over the Internet.
Called Sorenson Squeeze, the application has been used by Lucasfilm, Disney, MGM and Paramount to prepare high-profile movie trailers for release on the Internet.
In addition, roughly 50 media outfits — including Newsweek and Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times — used the software earlier this year to transmit images of the U.S. invasion of Iraq back to the states.
Sorenson Media also is riding a wave of prosperity with its D-Link i2eye video phone, used for video conferencing over the Internet. A modified version of the phone has been a smash success within the hearing-impaired community. The video phone, manufactured by California-based D-Link, allows an interpreter and a deaf person to see each other and communicate live. The sign language is then instantly translated to the intended party, allowing the call's receiver to carry on a conversation.
The video phone this year pushed the company's sales growth to more than 600 percent, according to David Parkinson, a spokesman for the company. And Parkinson predicts that Sorenson Media will sell four times as many phones — about 250,000 — over its leading six competitors combined this year.
James Lee Sorenson also is responsible for the establishment of a new venture capital buyout firm that targets troubled or undercapitalized companies in the $25 million to $150 million revenue range.
As co-chairman of the senior investment committee for the fund, he was instrumental in attracting a top-level business team that includes Fraser Bullock, chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games; former NFL quarterback Steve Young; and business executives Ron Mika and Richard Lawson.
The size of the fund is anticipated to reach $200 million to $275 million by the end of this year.


E-mail: danderton@desnews.com

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