Thursday, July 29, 2010

Grandfather , Father , and Son - "Being where luck will find you "

"Luck comes to a man who puts himself in the way of it. You went where something might be found and you found something, simple as that."
— Louis L'Amour
To the Far Blue Mountains

How much does luck contribute to success ? How much is related to foresight , hard work , inventiveness, courage , and smarts ? Well , I think the successful man is one who goes searching for where luck will find him , and has the courage , toughness , and the smarts to figure out where to be at the right time and then stick it out until luck finds him out .

Jue Joe was such a man . As we have followed his story in the early years , we can see that he was continually moving on , trying to put himself in the face of luck .
Finally , he was lucky enough to become friends with Otto Brant , and enter the vegetable farming business just at a time when it was taking off and very profitable for Chinese farmers, later he was able to buy land in the Valley with the help of his friend Otto , in a time when Chinese were not allowed to buy land . He also switched to asparagus as a crop , just as asparagus prices were skyrocketing in the 1920's. Luck ? Well , yes , but luck will not find you unless you do the hard work to put yourself in it's way and Jue Joe did just that.

His son , San Tong Jue was also such a man . What is often forgotten in our family history is that the Asparagus market crashed in the late 1930's during the depression and before WWII. It was very tough times for asparagus farms in the San Fernando Valley . Sam Chang , San Tong's neighbor and fellow asparagus farmer seriously thinks of giving it up .
"The economic depression spreads throughout the world. My asparagus farm is not doing well. The business and life of the entire Chinese community here is experiencing hard times.... Unemployed Chinese are everywhere ....The asparagus price is lower than any year before. In July it was seven cents a pound. Now it is six. The crop of the old farm sold for less than six hundred dollars, yet the labor and other costs are 2,500 dollars. We must sell that farm. All Chinese asparagus farmers have suffered losses this year since each case of asparagus sells five cents less than last year. I want to switch to herbal medicine, as asparagus farming cannot make a profit and family expenses are heavy"

My Dad tells me that when Jue Joe died and San Tong took over complete responsibility for the family business , it was tough and rocky times. San Tong had a mother to support , a growing family that was to include six children , a wife , and two sisters in college. But again , San Tong , had the guts , determination , and smarts to know what to do . He would stick it out until luck found it's way to him and it did in a big way . During the war years , the bracero program supplied cheap labor and the prices for asparagus rebounded . San Tong expanded farming operations from Van Nuys to Saugus and turned a struggling family business into a very successful and lucrative asparagus farming operation . As we have discussed , luck took a hike from San Tong with the family law suit and he lost everything . For me the remainder of my grandfather's life story was the chronicle of a proud , resiliant , smart and inventive man who was constantly looking to put himself in luck's way again . Any of his business endeavors could have succeeded big time , and it certainly was not for want of determination that they did not succeed. Sometimes no matter how hard you look for luck , it is not to be found .

My Dad , Jack Jue, was destined to have life handed to him on a silver platter. He was the son of a wealthy and successful Chinese asparagus farmer with extensive land holdings. He was educated at UCLA and UC Davis in agriculture and was being groomed to take over the family business. He worked side by side with his Dad learning the ropes of the family asparagus business. He didn't have to work too hard , luck was right in front of him , right in his way ! The family law suit , as it did for my grandfather , caused luck to take a hike for Dad . Without the support of San Tong and without the farm , he had to remake himself . He was thrown on his own for the first time in his life. He struggled in the early years as his family kept growing . He tried a number of business ventures, some not too successful . (I did very much like when he owned a toy store, as I got an endless supply of fancy new toys as a young boy , but unfortunately my good fortune did not last too long !)

Ultimately , he took classes and trained himself as a real estate salesmen and broker , later getting a job at the county , and then starting his own real estate appraisal business. In his job as an appraiser , he often dealt with the local Chinese American banks and got to know John Lee , a local banker. In 1979 John Lee , my Dad and his brother -in -law ,Dan Louie Jr. , got the harebrained idea of starting a new Chinese -American ethnic bank . This was certainly a bit of a stretch as there were already very successful Chinese banks in Los Angeles including Cathay Bank and East West Bank . Lots of folks , including yours truly ,thought the idea was pretty risky and getting investors was a bit of a struggle . But these guys knew that in order to have luck find you , you sometimes need to take risks and put yourself out on a limb.

So the guys decided to put themselves way out on the limb with a small number of other investors . "In 1979, Dan Louie, Jr., John Lee and Jack Jue applied for a savings and loan bank charter which was approved in 1981. Standard Savings Bank opened for business in 1982 in Los Angeles Chinatown with the goal of serving new Chinese American immigrants and businesses. "

Just so happens , luck found Dad and his partners big time ! The success of the ethnic Chinese banks in the 1980 and 1990's is now the subject of scholarly study .

"Asia in Los Angeles -Ethnic Chinese Banking in the age of globilization, Maria W.L.Chee, Gary A, Dymski, and Wei Li " pages 203-231 in Chinese Enterprise, Transnationalism and Identity Routledge, 2003 .

"Chinese-American Banking and Community Development in Los Angeles County," Wei Li, Gary Dymski , Yu Zhou , Maria Chee, and Carolyn Aldana , Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92(4)2002 pp 777-796.

Luck arrived to Dad and his partners in the form of what these authors call the "diasporic convergence " in the 1980's and 1990's : the development of the "ethnoburb" of the San Gabriel Valley and the development of "ethnobanks" to service this new ethnoburb . Changes in immigration laws resulted in a large number of wealthy and professional Chinese , many from Taiwan and later Hong Kong , to choose to immigrate to Los Angeles County . "When newly arrived immigrants from Taiwan attempted to launch businesses in Chinatown , it's old timers resisted the newcomer's efforts . These Tawiwanese subsequently found opportunities for real estate and commercial development in the nearby city of Monterey Park... Monterey park , in fact ,began to surpass Chinatown as the population and commercial hub for ethnic Chinese. It was being promoted as a destination of choice for Chinese immigrants, hailing Monterey Park as the "Chinese Beverly Hills". Attracted by the suburban life style, active real estate promotion, and chain migration , the more affluent immigrants began leapfrogging over Chinatown to Monterey Park. The "Chinese Beverly Hills" catered to the new Taiwanese and Hong Kong immigrants, offering restaurants, markets, and stores attending to Asian tastes. In a chain reaction , this increased population stimulated the growth of more businesses serving co-ethnics, and more businesses provided additional convenience for local residents. This , in turn , attracted more home-buyers and renters and encouraged Chinese American banks to expand in this area. " It has been called the " First Suburban Chinatown". Ethnic Chinese banks, such as Standard Bank, originally headquarted in Chinatown began to open numerous branch offices in Monterey Park and the surrounding San Gabriel valley.

"Some of the new immigrants had language difficulties and /or lacked prior credit histories, this made it difficult for many to use mainstream banks . Chinese -American banks understood this problem well and took opportunities created by their shared language and cultural /business backgrounds. These banks provided the financing these new Chinese imigrants needed to purchase real estate and establish enterprises. The imigrants created the critical mass of customers needed for Chinese-American banks' own expansion . As a result the 1980's were also a boom period for Chinese-American banks. The inflow of financial wealth and the high concentration of Chinese residents and businesses provided a ready deposit base for banks in the San Gabriel Valley , as well as infusions of capital enabling banks to increase their asset size and expand their loan base. Chinese ethnoburb and Chinese-American bank development have thus been closely interrelated. . According to one estimate at least $1.5 billion were deposited with Chinese American banks in Monterey park in 1985. According to the 1990 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report issued by the Monterey Park Management Services Department , by 1989 the combined deposits in Monterey Park .. had swelled to over $1.9 billion .. roughly $30,000 for every man , woman and child in town ."

Besides the inflow of imigrants and their capital , the authors also relate the success of the Chinese American banks to their human capital . "The Chinese American banking sector has become far more robust than the Korean and Latino banking sectors. Light (1984) proposes a way of accomodating this discrepancy, via his resource theory... their different levels of access to resources. These resources include skills and education , social capital, financial capital , and cultural traditions; in sum the class and ethnic resources which Borjas has referred to as constituting ethnic capital (1999)."

Part of this human ethnic capital are the skills and resources of the founders. In the case of Standard Bank the authors state " A former executive of East-West Savings and Loan Association ( the predecessor of East West Bank ) started Standard Savings. Fluent in English and Chinese dialects including Cantonese, he is a Chinatown community old-timer and ethnic Chinese from the Phillipines educated in the United States several decades ago . To start this formal financial institution , he gathered two friends and associates and four more were introduced to him via friends. They were all old-timer Chinese professionals and businessmen associated with the Chinatown community." John Lee was of course the founder of Standard Savings Bank, his two friends were Dan Louie Jr. , my uncle( my mother's brother in law ) , and Jack Jue , my father . My uncle Dan was well known in the Chinese community as a very successful produce farmer and merchant , who was also a community activist and fundraiser.
"Dan Louie, Jr. was born and raised in Los Angeles. After obtaining his B.S. in agriculture, he helped manage his family's farms and wholesale produce business. He later obtained a plant physiology from UCLA. He grew over 30 kinds of Asian vegetables in California and Mexico. He imported other vegetables from Hong Kong, Fiji, and Japan; and shipped them all over the United States. -Chinese Historical Society of Southern California- Banking Pioneers "

My father had his own real estate appraisal company headquartered in Chinatown and supplied important knowledge concerning the real estate market and proper valuation of real estate loans.

"Jack Jue and his father specialized in asparagus farming. They expanded their operation from Van Nuys to Saugus and Newhall and to a wholesale market produce in Los Angeles. Jack Jue graduated from UC Davis in 1950. He was president and co-owner of National Appraisal Corporation. He was also an Associate Professor for the Los Angeles Community College District for twenty years. -Chinese Historical Society of Southern California- Banking Pioneers "

Banking knowledge, community organizing /fund raising knowledge and real estate knowledge .. . certainly a lot of human resources and capital to give Standard Bank a head start when luck got in it's way !

What are other secrets to success?
"From the song Out the Back by Fort Minor

Listen, it's like poker, you can play your best
But you gotta know when to fold your cards and take a rest"

"With twenty four years of outstanding performance and a strong capital base, Standard Bank was merged with East West Bank in 2006. At the time of the merger Standard Bank had six branches, in Monterey Park, Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights, Los Angeles Chinatown, San Gabriel and San Marino, with $923 million in assets. "

Yes , quite a story of three men , Grandfather, father , and son working to put themselves in luck's way ! What about the next guy in line ? Hey , that's me ! Sorry , Jue Joe , your great grandson is no risk taker or entrepreneur . He has spent his whole life working for others as a service industry worker, albeit a rather high paid one ( medical doctor ) :)! I hope you are not too displeased !

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