The new generation of leaders in the San Gabriel Valley’s booming Chinatown harken largely from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. Most are still men, although more women are playing prominent roles.
Although far from a complete list, the leaders spotlighted here are representative of the kinds of people giving the new Chinatown its energy and momentum.
Native of: Taiwan
Eddy Chao came to the United States 20 years ago to get a degree in forestry at the University of Idaho. But Chao didn’t see much of a future for him.
“It’s a very narrow field,” he said. “Either you go to a paper company, or a wood products company, or you become a ranger.”
Thinking his options would be limited, Chao dropped out of school and headed south to Los Angeles. He took a succession of low-paying jobs in restaurants using his off-hours to get a real estate license. He began selling homes in the mid-1980s, then moved into the lucrative commercial real estate industry as a tenant representative.
In 1989, Chao and developer Richard Alter formed Alhambra-based Candet Properties to broker commercial deals. Their big break came in 1994, when they sold the 520 Broadway Building in Santa Monica to Taiwanese investors for $12 million.
Other big deals followed, including the sale of the Biltmore Hotel to Hong Kong investors for $62 million and the sale of the Inter-Continental to a group of Asian investors for about $40 million.
Within L.A.’s new Chinatown, Chao has developed a reputation as a hard working and very low-key businessman who enjoys being behind the scenes.
ALSO, IS HE NOW CONSIDERED ONE OF THE PREMIER CHINESE REAL ESTATE FOLKS IN TOWN? WE NEED TO BE A LITTLE MORE DECLARATIVE
“He has a lot of patience working with Taiwanese investors,” said Anthony Chien, president and chief executive officer of Eastern International Bank.
Chien sees big things ahead for Chao.
“He’s always working on improving himself,” he said.
Panda Management Inc.
Residence: South Pasadena
Native of: China
Born in China just before the Communist revolution of 1949, Andrew Cherng came to the United States to study mathematics at the University of Missouri.
He ended up as the founder of one of the biggest Chinese food chains in the country Panda Management Inc., which operates the ubiquitous Panda Express outlets in malls around the country.
“When I graduated, my cousin bought a restaurant in L.A. and needed a manager,” Cherng recalled. “I came out here to help him.”
That was in 1972. A year later, Cherng had caught the entrepreneurial bug. He and his father who had been a cook in mainland China opened their own restaurant in Pasadena, the Panda Inn. It became a success but, cautious about overextending themselves, they waited 10 years before opening their second Panda Inn in Glendale in 1983.
Now confident that they had a winning formula, the Cherngs began expanding at a lightning pace.
At last count, Cherng’s Panda Management Co. Inc. of South Pasadena had about 250 restaurants in 30 states and Japan, most of those Panda Express fast food restaurants.
Not a man of many words, Cherng is known in the new Chinatown as both a hard working and pragmatic businessman.
“He has passion, but he’s also well organized,” said Li-Pei Wu, president and chairman of GBC Bancorp.
Place of Birth: Taiwan
Residence: Diamond Bar
James Chu is hardly a household name in L.A.’s new Chinatown, but that hasn’t stopped him from building his company, Walnut-based ViewSonic Corp., into L.A.’s largest minority-owned business. In just 10 year’s time, ViewSonic, which makes and sells high-end computer monitors, has grown from $4 million in revenues in 1987 to $510 million last year. The firm expects revenues to grow even more, to $810 million in 1997.
Unlike many business leaders in L.A.’s new Chinatown, Chu did not come to the United States as a student. In fact, he didn’t even finish college in Taiwan, where he dropped out after three years of study for degrees in physics and sociology. He tried several jobs before landing a sales position with a computer keyboard firm in Taiwan.
Chu came to the United States in 1986 as president of the firm’s U.S. office in the San Jose area. But he left the company a short time later over differences of opinion about management issues.
He came to Southern California a year later and opened Keypoint Technology Corp., a keyboard importer that later became ViewSonic. Chu considers himself unconventional in his approach to business, often preferring to follow his own lead rather than listen to others. As a case in point, he recalled his decision to specialize in high-end computer monitors at a time when his friends said the future was in low-end products.
“I always look for the opportunity,” he said. “I don’t always follow other people. If they say go left, I would probably go right.”
Monterey Park City Council
Residence: Monterey Park
Native of: Los Angeles
While most leaders from L.A.’s new Chinatown were born overseas and immigrated to the United States, Judy Chu is a native Angeleno.
That may explain Chu’s penchant for politics, even as most members of L.A.’s new Chinatown spurn politics in favor of business.
While Monterey Park is 60 percent Asian, Chu is currently the only Asian in the city’s five-member city council.
Born to a Chinese-American father and a Cantonese mother, Chu grew up as one of only a sprinkling of Chinese in South Central Los Angeles during the turbulent 1960s.
She got her doctorate in psychology and went into teaching, but she never fancied herself a politician until some friends urged her to run for a seat on the Garvey School District board in the mid-1980s.
The district was 29 percent Asian at the time but had no Asians on its board.
From the school board she was elected to the Monterey Park City Council in 1988, kicking off the first of three consecutive terms there.
Chu considers herself a bridge builder between Monterey Park’s Chinese and mainstream communities.
Many in L.A.’s new Chinatown agree, saying her persistent but diplomatic style would make her a good candidate for higher office.
Chu says a run for higher office “may be in the future,” but she hasn’t made any decisions yet.
CAN’T WE GET A FEW MORE QUOTES FROM HER? SOUNDS INTERESTING
Born in central China during World War II, Marshall Chuang is not only a prominent businessman in L.A.’s new Chinatown but also qualified as one of the area’s true old timers.
Like many Chinese who left the Far East in the 1960s and 1970s, Chuang came to the United States via Taiwan in 1967 to study for a graduate degree in this case a degree in food science and nutrition from the University of Missouri.
Chuang, whose parents had fled the communist Chinese regime on the mainland, said he felt no particular allegiance to his family’s adopted homeland of Taiwan.
“I had the idea to come (to America) since junior high school,” he said. “Those of us (in Taiwan) without strong roots and connections said, ‘maybe we can make out better here than in Taiwan.'”
After college, Chuang found a job at the Rath meat packing plant in Vernon, where he worked from 1975 to 1979
WHEN DID HE GRADUATE? TIMING SEEMS OFF
. He bought his first home in Cypress in 1977.
Capitalizing on the real estate inflation of the late 1970s, Chuang sold his home in 1979 to finance his purchase of a Pioneer Chicken franchise.
It was perhaps the best business decision he ever made.
Chuang used the profits from the franchise to finance a string of other businesses, including an electronics store and several Burger King outlets.
In 1989, Chuang opened Alhambra Mazda, which has become his primary business. Chuang has expanded his sales line over the years, and now sells about 1,300 cars a year including Pontiacs, GMC trucks and Kia vehicles.
While other prominent names in L.A.’s new Chinatown are known for their business dealings and political work, Chuang is equally well known for his laid-back style WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? WE SHOULDN’T JUST USE VAGUE DESCRIPTIONS and as an old-timer his connections and active role in the local Chinese community.
East West Bank
Native of: Hong Kong
Born in Hong Kong, Dominic Ng came to the United States in 1977 to study chemical engineering and accounting at the University of Houston.
His appointment in 1992 as president and chief executive of East West Bank, an institution with $1.6 billion in assets, could easily be the highlight of any businessman’s career.
But Ng says that the real highlight was his hiring by accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP just after his graduation from college.
Were it not for Deloitte & Touche, Ng said, he probably would have returned to Hong Kong and ended up on a different career track.
It was at Deloitte & Touche that he met Sjamsul Nursalim, the owner of Indonesia’s third largest bank who was looking to establish a U.S.
With Ng’s help, Nursalim purchased East West Bank in 1991 and made Ng president and CEO the following year.
Within the Chinese community, Ng is known for his work ethic, his egalitarian management style and interest in community involvement.
AGAIN, WE’RE USING VAGUE DESCRPTIONS RATHER THAN SPECIFIC EXAMPLES
“He’s not only involved in Chinese things but mainstream things as well,” said Wesley Ru, another prominent businessman in L.A.’s Chinese community. “I see him taking on roles as a facilitator, a mediator. He’s already successful, but he still has a long way to go.”
Asian Business Co-op
Residence: West Covina
While most business leaders in L.A.’s new Chinatown take a low-key approach to their work, such is the case for Marty Shih.
Starting out with a single flower cart in the ’70s, Shih has built his current business, Asian Business Co-op of Rosemead, into one of the biggest telemarketing firms to Asian immigrants in the United States, with $200 million in revenues last year.
Shih arrived in L.A. from Taiwan 18 years ago with only $500 in his pocket, intending to study at UCLA.
But after balking at the high tuition, he and his sister went into business for themselves by opening a flower cart in downtown L.A.They eventually built that business into a chain of 15 She’s Flower stores, before Shih switched industries and opened a telemarketing firm that would later become the Asian Business Co-op.
Shih fancies himself a man with ideas but not so much business sense.
Others in the Chinese community say his business sense isn’t so bad, but what really differentiates Shih from the pack is his unorthodox and outspoken style and his marketing savvy.
“He’s young and very, very aggressive,” said Marshall Chuang, owner of Alhambra Mazda.
“He never reads his financial statements.
He says, “As long as my bank account has cash, I’m OK.'”
Hui Lan Wang
Chinese Daily News
Residence: South Pasadena
Native of: Taiwan
Among the business leaders in L.A.’s new Chinatown, Hui Lan Wang is one of the few who comes from a well-to-do background.
She is also one of the Chinese community’s few female business leaders.
A native of Taiwan, Wang is the daughter of former Taiwanese media mogul Wang Tiwu, owner of one of the island’s largest newspaper media groups.
Following in her father’s footsteps, Wang is the president of the Monterey Park-based Chinese Daily News (sold outside L.A. as the World Journal) which has become one of the biggest and most prestigious Chinese-language daily newspapers in the United States.
Wang is well known in L.A.’s new Chinatown as a shrewd but low-key businesswoman with traditional Chinese values.
Wang declined to be interviewed by the Business Journal. BECAUSE? “She’s a little aloof,” conceded one associate, who added she is nonetheless “a very smart businesswoman.”
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? KIND OF A CHEAP SHOT NAMELESS QUOTE — DON’T WE HAVE ANYTHING BETTER?
Name: Sophie Wong
Alhambra School Board”
Native of: China
When Sophie Wong was first elected to the Alhambra School Board in 1990, there was only one other Asian on any other San Gabriel Valley school board. That number has grown to eight since then, though Wong remains the only Asian board member in the heavily Asian Alhambra district (which includes most of Monterey Park).
Born to a Christian minister in China, Wong came to Los Angeles with her family in 1956. In addition to her school board duties, she currently runs several small businesses, including Chinese for Christ Inc., a non-denominational seminary founded by her father.
“As my kids grew up, I felt like I wanted to make a difference too, so I got involved in the community,” Wong said. “I got involved with the school board because, all my life, my dad and mom’s organization served young people.”
A former president of the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce and the Asian Business Association, Wong is known as an aggressive businesswoman in a culture where aggressiveness is not always looked upon favorably, especially in women.
HOW IS SHE AGGRESSIVE? NEEDS EXAMPLES
Wong acknowledges she has met with resistance from some men in the community because “I’m a strong woman,” but that in the end “they respect me as a woman who knows what she is doing.”
Mayor, City of South Pasadena
A native of Shanghai, Paul Zee came to the United States via Hong Kong in 1968 to study business administration in San Diego.
A career in politics and his current job as mayor of South Pasadena were the furthest things from his mind upon his arrival.
Rather, Zee was interested in business, and he pursued his ambition first in Hong Kong and later back in the United States as a glove importer.
It was an unlikely scenario that first got Zee, a South Pasadena resident, involved in city politics in the late 1980s.
“I ran my import business until 1989, at which time the South Pasadena teachers were on strike,” said Zee, a father of two.
“It was of concern to the Asian parents, and some got together to voice their opinions.
We decided to form the South Pasadena Chinese-American Club, and I was selected as founding president.” From founding president of the club, Zee served on various city commissions before finally running for mayor in 1992.
Zee calls his move into politics a way “to pay back the community,” especially for the free education his children received.
Among his Chinese colleagues, Zee has a reputation as an adept moderator with good people skills.
“He communicates well with people that’s his strength,” said Judy Chu, a Monterey Park City Councilwoman . “He’s inspired a great deal of trust in the people around him.”