At my last corporate job, one of my favorite co-workers wasn’t actually a “co-worker,” he was one of the janitors. His name was Fidencio, and he was an immigrant from Mexico who was part of the team of custodians that cleaned the building and mopped the floors outside my row of cubicles. Fidencio had a wife and two daughters back in Mexico, and he sent money to them every month.
Most people might think that being a janitor is a lowly, dead-end job, but Fidencio made the most of it. He was always making friends with people at the company, he was always talking with people (he could talk to ANYONE from entry-level staff to senior executives, and everyone knew his name) and was generally just a very outgoing, friendly, positive presence at the office.
Fidencio was always happy to be at work. I always asked him, “Fidencio, how are you doing today?” And he’d say, “I’m awesome!” I talked with Fidencio about all sorts of things, whether it was work or family life or more serious topics; one time, after a friend of mine had committed suicide, I told Fidencio about it while we were walking out to the parking lot after work, and he said, “That’s so sad, you know? Because life is so good!” And I really remember being impressed by that statement.
After all, here was a guy who was thousands of miles from home and family, learning a new language, working at a low-wage, low-status job, and yet…he was so relentlessly optimistic and trying to make the most out of the situation every day. I even tried to help Fidencio find some other non-janitor jobs to apply for – I would have gladly recommended him, based on what I knew of his personality and work ethic.
I have a great admiration for immigrants like Fidencio. They come to this often-crazy, chaotic country, they learn a new language and culture, they start from nothing and work their way up, they put up with hardships and people who treat them like they’re less-than-worthy of respect. And yet, more often than not, they succeed in building a better life for themselves and their children. And many immigrants start businesses that provide opportunities for all of us.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, immigrants are 30% more likely to start businesses than the average American. Immigrant-owned businesses generate $67 billion in annual business income, 11.6% of all business income in the U.S. (as of the 2000 Census).
All of us as business owners need to try to look at our challenges through the eyes of an immigrant like Fidencio. Ask yourself:
- Are you fully appreciating the opportunities that you have?
- Are you seeking out all the possible ways to build connections and grow in new directions?
- Whenever you think your challenges are insurmountable, can you imagine what it might be like to face those same challenges while also dealing with an unfamiliar language, lack of familiarity with U.S. laws, business filings and governmental/regulatory procedures, an unfamiliar culture, and a lack of nearby family, friends and social contacts?
If immigrants can succeed in starting a business in the U.S. despite all the extra complexities and challenges that they often have to overcome, then I think all Americans should take heart and know that if you decide to start a business, you can succeed with hard work, dedication and relentless focus on your goals.
Nellie Akalp, the CEO of CorpNet, is an immigrant to the U.S. as well – she was born in Iran, and migrated to the U.S. along with her family in 1976 while Iran was going through the social unrest of the Iranian Revolution. Despite the hardships and challenges and upheavals that they had experienced, not to mention the linguistic and cultural barriers to overcome, Nellie’s parents immediately decided to start their own business after they arrived in the U.S. They opened an antique shop selling Persian antiques that they had brought over from Iran. Nellie Akalp’s family roots in entrepreneurship are a big reason why she has pursued a similar path of starting a business – time and again.