[Full disclosure: Cora Oriel, president of the Asian Journal, is the vice chair of the Asian Business Association’s board of directors]
Cora Oriel (the Asian Business Association’s Vice Chair) and Lan Ong (ABA’s Board Member), co-chairs of the organization’s 41st banquet committee, greeted the awardees and VIPs, coincidental to the onset of sunset. The sun’s rays gilded their heads, which harmonized with the program booklet’s symbol, with the sun’s rays projecting down on the landscape, the colors of blue, green yellow, orange and red, symbolic perhaps of how these Asian American businesses are growing to be the prime engine of recovery from the 1992 recessionary periods in Southern California to the “economic well-being of the region.”
Ronald W. Wong, president and founder of Imprenta Communications, spoke to the Asian Journal, two days after his firm was recognized as the ABA’s Image Innovator Award at its annual banquet on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at the newly built Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
He said, “The [Image Innovator] award is particularly meaningful because I feel like I have given a lot to the Asian Business Association (ABA) and frankly, I served as the co-chair with Gary [Yamauchi] and I was a pretty active board member because I believe that Asian businesses are at the cutting edge here in Southern California. We are not just mom and pop stores. We are playing significant roles in the economy and the economic well-being of the region. We need to be advocates for each other as entrepreneurs and businesses that are making a significant impact to the region and that is why I got involved with the ABA. That is why I am particularly proud to get this award from the board, and Dennis. Dennis [Huang] is a good friend, and he deserves a lot of credit for bringing a lot of longevity to the organization and to make that organization run well.”
His statement carried historical significance, as 41 years ago, the ABA was a fledgling organization, struggling to grow its membership base. But, the successive tenure of ABA’s visionary leaders changed it from a struggling entity to a viable organization that now enjoys support from the Asian American business community, but also the mainstream business community, like U.S. Bank, Walt Disney Company, Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas.
As the U.S. Census Bureau reported April 28, 2011, “The number of U.S. businesses owned by people of Asian origin increased 40.4 percent to 1.5 million between 2002 and 2007, increasing at more than twice the national rate, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released. These businesses also generated $507.6 billion in receipts, a 55.4 percent increase from 2002.
According to Census Bureau Deputy Director Thomas Mesenbourg, “Asian-owned businesses continued to be one of the strongest segments of our nation’s economy, bringing in more than half a trillion dollars in sales in 2007 and employing more than 2.8 million people.”
In 2015, Asian Americans had an “estimated buying power of $825 billion, which is expected to grow to $1.1 trillion in 2020, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia,” according to the Atlantic’s Alexia Fernandez Campbell on August 24, 2016. “In the past 15 years, the Asian American consumer market grew by 199 percent, outpacing gains in the disposable income of Latinos, whites, blacks, and Native Americans.”
As Korean Air accepted its award for Inspiring Excellence, Y.H. Cho, its chairman and CEO, was highlighted as saying that “Los Angeles is his second home because he’s spent so much time here and his family has made many long-term investments here. He believes that Los Angeles, as the Capital of the Pacific Rim, has enormous opportunities.”
At this newly renovated Intercontinental Hotel, where the awards banquet was held, Korean Air will relocate its headquarters to this new billion-dollar mixed-use facility, a “crown jewel” for flourishing downtown Los Angeles.
Another awardee was Tony Yu, president of DSG Business, Tax & Wealth Planning as Community Champion of the Year, whose “consulting firm advises high net worth families on Wealth Protection and Succession.”
He spoke of two benefits he has gotten from ABA: first is the benefit of lifetime friendships and connections and the second is empathy which he describes as the core of humanity and sustains his awareness away from SCS (single child syndrome) and to not being blind to the feelings of others and the importance of community service. Aside from his multi-lettered status as a lawyer, CPA, financial planner, and at least 10 licensed titles, he is the president of the Asian Pacific CPA Association, former chair of the Asian Pacific Community Fund, Taiwanese American Lawyers Association and co-chair of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s Trusts and Estates Committee.
Other awardees included The Walt Disney Company as the Corporation of the Year, with Mickey Mouse joining the stage of the award givers and receivers. Mickey Mouse elicited such joy amongst the attendees. Disney is now reported to operate in “more than 40 countries, our employees and cast members work together to create entertainment experiences that are both universally and locally cherished.”
The social enterprise of the year award was given to MilkandEggs.com, which is an online farm-direct grocery store that has eliminated middlemen by linking local farms to customers directly. It is an online trek to the farmers’ market, bypassing actual travel by the consumer, as it brings produce and groceries directly to their doorsteps, “enabling Los Angeles residents to feed their families in a healthy way. “
Another award winner was Fred Abdelnour as Advocate of the Year, who works as the director of community and government affairs with Enterprise Rent-A-Car and whose defining principle is “his firm commitment to reaching out to people of all backgrounds, as he has worked to advance the company’s marketing strategy, diversity goals, community relations initiatives and governmental affairs in all areas of its business,” as the program indicated. During the VIP reception before the award ceremony, Fred was celebrated loudly by colleagues and friends, taking selfies with him.
What was uplifting, from this writer’s perspective, was that these awardees-firms’ commitment to supplier diversity, which used to be a social cause and an unmet aspiration of the small businesses decades ago, but now, an actualized practice amongst some of these businesses, working to grow the overall economy of California.
Notable among the award givers was California State Controller Betty Lee, who shared her humble beginninwgs and now, the Chief Financial Officer of the 6th largest economy in the world, California’s $2.6 trillion economy. (As a comparative, Great Britain has a $2.62 trillion economy.)
Wong wisely summed up the role of Asian American businesses in the U.S. economy, of being a significant force in the well-being of California as well as the growth of its California economy, once in recession in 1992.
Take Imprenta Communications Group, a company Wong created 16 years ago, to one which has a business model, that embraces and celebrates diversity, and whose clientele includes advising Fortune 500 companies: Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Gas Co. and other entities like California Community Colleges, LAUSD, California Endowment, and Caruso Affiliated, among others. He projected his firm’s earnings to grow to $20 million in 2016 when interviewed by the Los Angeles Times.
Tracing the growth alone of the Asian Journal Publications, Inc., a business that started its first publication using a single desk, in 1991, shared by Roger Oriel with his graphic designer; Cora and Roger Oriel have grown this business into several offices in Manila, Los Angeles/Glendale, New York, New Jersey, Las Vegas and San Francisco. Its 26 years of existence mirrors the growth of the Filipino-Americans’ population in the U.S., which is now close to 4 million.
Wing Hop Fung, a pillar of the Chinatown business community since 1985, has also seen its growth by being the trusted source for Asian products in Southern California. Now run by the first and second-generation family members, e.g. Lan Ong, it has become a thriving family-owned enterprise, using passion, hard work and integrity. It nurtured its growth with: “two time-honored Chinese principles: huo zhen jia shi and tong sou wu qi. The former means that we guarantee all of our merchandise is genuine and fairly priced and the latter means that we treat each customer with respect and honesty.” The business has now expanded to locations in Monterey Park, Santa Anita and Los Angeles.
Diversity to these Asian American businesses has meant growth and prosperity to them, as well as the region’s growth in the economy.
But while we have so much to celebrate, Dennis Huang, ABA’s executive director, has both the present and future in mind: “I thank the board members, but especially Cora Oriel and Lan Ong, for working so hard for this banquet. They are instrumental to getting the right folks to attend and through Asian Journal, to get more Filipinos to think more entrepreneurial. In America, it may be harder for us [Asian-Americans], especially new immigrants, to look for jobs to better their lives. If corporations won’t hire us, then, we have the option to start our own businesses because we need to make ends meet and support our families. The ABA’s awards banquet is a big production for us. But we also believe that it’s a great way to celebrate the businesses’ successes and continue to do good for our community.”