Can a poor person succeed in business?
I asked successful businessman Chin “Charlie” Houng, a Taiwanese immigrant who replied, “I came to the United States in 1973 with an empty suit case and a lot of dreams.”
What brought him here? A tiny story he read in a Taiwan newspaper that deeply touched him. “Two cats are on a roof, one is fat and the other skinny. The fat cat says, ‘Look how skinny you are and you eat from trash cans.’
“The skinny one says, ‘Yes, but look how lovely the night is. The moon is beautiful, I breathe fresh air and I come and go as I please. I enjoy my life and have no worries. A rich family feeds you but they are your owners and when they call, you must go.’ “
Charlie stopped smiling, and stared at me as he said, “That’s why I decided to come to the U.S. I was 33 years old and had been working for a big company. I wanted my freedom.”
Charlie was an eel salesman and eels are popular food in Japanese restaurants. He came to Los Angeles with $3,000 and stayed “3 – 4” months absorbing the culture.
To see if he could make a living in Los Angeles, he looked in the Yellow Pages, and chose three Japanese restaurant suppliers to call on.
But when the first two said “No!” and abruptly turned him away, it hurt his feelings and it shook his confidence.
But Charlie didn’t give-up. He found the courage to meet with the third firm. All he wanted was a chance to prove himself and after listening to him they decided to give him a small $5,000 order, which gave Charlie his start.
Charlie returned to Taiwan and with considerable difficulty persuaded his wife Fang to come back with him. It would require a great sacrifice for Charlie and Fang had two little boys and their lack of money meant their boys temporarily would have to stay behind with family.
Hurting from the separation, the couple came to Los Angeles. Determined to pursue his dream of becoming a business owner, Charlie searched for opportunity. He found it on the Redondo Beach Pier with an Asian style hamburger stand in which the owner wanted to retire.
But the owner wanted $30,000 and Charlie had just $3,000. After a considerable effort, Charlie raised $10,000 from his family, $5,000 from a friend and got a $9,000 bank loan. He convinced the owner to loan him the $3,000 difference.
Charlie and Fang were deeply in debt, but as he had dreamed, they owned a business. “We ran the restaurant momma and poppa style,” Charlie said. “No days off. Beside sleep, we just came back every day. We worked at least 14 hours.”
The couple lived in a tiny apartment nearby and couldn’t afford a car. To do his banking, Charlie took the bus. The banker collected the loan payments and then watched Charlie catch the bus to work. This dedication made quite a favorable impression.
From long hours of hard work, Charlie and Fang paid off everyone and began buying other pier businesses, in part with bank loans from this banker who respected their work ethic and in part with loans from the sellers.
With the pending birth of a third son and anxious for their other sons to join them, they needed a house. A real estate agent offered them one near their businesses for $87,000. Charlie and Fang put $10,000 down and got a 30 year mortgage for the difference.
They raised their family there and they still own that home today, paid off and worth many times what they paid for it.
The Redondo Beach Pier is a Los Angeles area favorite and near the entrance to the Pier is the highly visible “Charlie’s Place,” a popular walkup restaurant that makes Charlie especially proud.
How did he pay for it? By now you know the formula. He borrowed the money and worked hard to pay it off.
Charlie and Fang also own a coffee shop on the Pier [a friend owns 20%] and they own a nearby penthouse condominium overlooking the ocean. Each acquired with payments and hard work.
The money hasn’t changed Charlie, who remains a humble cheerful man.
At 66, will he retire? “I still work every day but I try to relax more,” Charlie said. “I come and go but every day I work 8 to 10 hours. I love the [businesses]. They are my homes [and] I don’t think of it as work.”
If you get within 25 yards of Charlie, you’ll hear his hearty laugh as he and others near him share stories and tell jokes. “I enjoy it, seeing and talking to people. Nice friends come to say, ‘Hi.’ I like to cook. I cook for myself, for my family and sometimes for the customers.”
Success Tip of the Week:
Charlie didn’t let a lack of money stop him from attaining his goals nor do you have to. If you are willing to work hard, sacrifice, honor your obligations and treat people well, business opportunities will be plentiful for you.
In the next KazanToday:
How to easily meet and speak with people, even if you’re shy.