America is known as a melting pot – a country built on the hopes and dreams of refugees and immigrants who sought to escape the dangers and violence of tyranny and authoritarianism.
The greatest lessons learned often come from those who have overcome the greatest challenges and survived to create remarkable success.
What makes it all possible is the core values of acceptance, diversity, and inclusion. Here is a remarkable case in point:
Escape from a War-Torn Country
Tim Tran was 4 years old when his parents fled communist North Vietnam on a US landing craft going to South Vietnam. He received a four-year scholarship from US AID and received a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (Accounting and Finance) from the University of California, Berkeley in 1974, but he was required to return to South Vietnam after graduation.
He landed a dream job with Shell Oil in Saigon, only life became difficult and very dangerous when South Vietnam fell to the communists on April 30, 1975.
His time in America and his employment with Shell as an Internal Auditor made the nationalized company officials (taken over by the communists) suspect he was a CIA agent. He was interrogated by security and subsequently fired. He realized he had to escape or face arrest or imprisonment. He and his young wife, Cathy, fled for their lives.
Over the next four years, after many failed attempts to reach freedom were met with deceit, betrayal, and even the murder of his father, they made it to a coastal province in Malaysia. They carried fake IDs and travel documents, paid bribes in gold, and finally boarded a rickety, overcrowded boat (with a 50-person capacity) with 350 other desperate people.
They were savagely attacked by seven groups of pirates in the open seas. The pirates even robbed him of his Levi jeans and prescription glasses. With the boat’s engines damaged during the attacks, the captain crashed and destroyed the boat on the rocky shore and they all jumped out and ran for higher ground, only to be placed into a make-shift barb-wire prison on the beach, followed by months in a Malaysian refugee camp.
The U.S. at the time had a policy of taking in refugees with family connections to America, and his sister in Oregon sponsored his application to immigrate through the United States Catholics Conference (USCC).
At the requests of his friends, U.S. Senators Bob Packwood and Mark Hatfield and U.S. Congressman Les AuCoin wrote letters to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to advocate for his application. He was later interviewed by the U.S. delegation and approved for asylum and resettlement in the U.S.
When he arrived in Forest Grove in 1979, he carried all his worldly possessions in a UNHCR plastic bag with the words UNHCR printed on it. His college friend Roberta “Bobbi” Nickels met him in Forest Grove, Oregon.
He joked, “I travel light,” and she burst into tears.
She helped him get a part-time job tutoring math to Upward Bound students at the Multnomah Library in downtown Portland, and he restarted his career in a low-level accounting position with Johnstone Supply, a Portland Oregon-based distributor of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment. Over the years, he worked his way up. He was promoted to Controller, and eventually, 5 years later, he was appointed Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Finance. His wife Cathy worked for the U.S. Bank, then Standard Insurance, and went on to become an accounting manager. In 2017, the Trans established a Library Endowment Fund at Pacific University. In honor of their gift, the building on the Pacific University Forest Grove campus was dedicated as the Tim and Cathy Tran Library.
Acceptance in America
Tran acknowledges that it was the American values of acceptance, diversity, and inclusion that turned out to be the turning points for his personal and professional development:
US AID helped him get a four-year scholarship that resulted in him receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (Accounting and Finance) from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1974. He received support from dozens of people that resulted in the approval of his immigration to the United States.
Receiving an entry-level job offer, in spite of being a boat-person and a penniless refugee.
Being recognized for working hard, extra hours, and coming into the office on weekends. His boss even handed him a $100 check for gas money.
Having his opinion respected and being given the opportunity to take the time to develop and deliver a concise and detailed briefing package that allowed a proper and important decision to take place.
Having his company further his education and sponsor his MBA degree, which empowered him with the latest developments and knowledge in the field.
Receiving the total and unwavering support of the president of the company and leading highly competitive contract negotiation, so there could be no appeal over his head by the vendors.
Tran recognizes that equity, diversity, and inclusion are incredibly important in every organization and must be brought to the forefront in the workplace and in society.
1. The CEO must be front and center. In other words, the CEO must show up at every meeting and training and give prep talk… Don’t outsource this job exclusively to HR.
2. The company must make diversity and inclusion one of the goals of the organization, must include this in its mission statement, and assure that it is reflected in every decision and action.
3. Executives, managers, and all employees must “talk the talk and walk the walk.” When top executives make business decisions, they should ask themselves if they have brought the company closer to the “diversity and inclusion” goals through their actions. Feedback and discussion must be encouraged and used to ensure relentless improvement is achieved.
4. Cultural diversity needs to be acknowledged and championed constantly. Let everyone in the organization get to know other employees by featuring him or her in the organizations’ newsletters or social media and use employees’ pictures. Discuss employees’ experience, special talents, skills, hobbies…with special emphasis on cultural background and various lifestyles.
5. Celebrate all cultural days, holidays, or big sporting events (Lunar New Year, St Patrick’s Day, Independent Days, Cinco de Mayo, Bastille Day, Black History Month, FIFA World Cup, etc.) to encourage and inspire inclusion, foster learning, acknowledgment, and appreciation of cultural differences.
6. Mix up all organization teams to include members of different ethnicity, background, and gender, whether these are sports teams, presentation teams, problem-solving teams…Allow teams to trade members to get the “most diversified team prize.”