Hao and Lisa Lam met and fell in love in a refugee camp in the Philippines after escaping Vietnam. Based in Seattle, they are franchisors of the Best in Class Education Center, with 30 centers around the country. Educators provide tutoring services at the center and help students prepare for college. The Lams provide jobs for 85 to 100 individuals just at their Washington location. They share key lessons from starting out in a refugee camp to operating a family business.
"Business is risky, but there's nothing worse then risking our lives to escape from Vietnam. I was shot many times when I tried to escape. It took me more than 10 attempts before I could finally escape to the Philippines. Besides dying, I'm not afraid of anything," Hao shares. He moved to Vancover, Canada when he left the refugee camp.
His wife and co-franchisor, Lisa, also lives fearlessly. She moved to New York after leaving the same refugee camp, and became a social worker. When she encounters fear during her journey as an entrepreneur, she reminds herself what it took to arrive and live in New York. "If I dare to gamble my life to be in New York, I think I can survive anywhere. If anything seems risky, I think 'What can stop me, I can do anything!'," Lisa explains.
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Be prepared to meet opportunities.
When Hao graduated from college in 1995, he entered into a license agreement to provide tutoring services. "When I started, I didn't even know how to read a profit and loss statement. I had to borrow money. It was a big risk and all of my family and friends told me not to do it."
He operated as a licensee for 15 years. When the licensor retired, Hao purchased the tutoring business. He hired an attorney and turned the business into a franchise. "I spent all my savings. I knew if I had a really solid and good system my business would take off."
Lisa believes that education is the reason for her success. She manages a center because it's her opportunity to serve. "I am grateful for my business. I get to help low-income students. I want to manage a center because I get to help students, and nothing else brings me more joy."
She has helped some families who could not afford tutoring services by reducing costs and plans to launch a nonprofit organization to fund scholarships to families who cannot afford tutoring services or pay for college tuition.
Related: Leading as a Servant
Serve one another.
Hao did not speak English when he moved to Canada at the age of 21. He graduated from high school at age 23 and received his college degree at age 27.
"Having a tutoring business as a refugee is super difficult. Learning the language and now being able to teach and lead a team has taught me alot," Hao explains.
The couple complement each other's leadership style. When Hao gets overly aggressive in business, Lisa is there to pull him back. They support each other's ideas and rely on each other for decision making.
"We are different characters. We have conflict sometimes. I support him because of love. We respect each other," says Lisa. "She is conservative and I am aggressive, so we meet in the middle." says Hao.
Be a solution.
Some of Hao's franchisees were customers in Seattle who relocated to a different state. They wanted to continue with the materials and services they benefited from.
"There's a big market for the tutoring business. It's getting harder for students to get admitted to universities. Look at the schools across America. We are cutting budgets. Class size is getting bigger," Hao explains.
He believes his centers provide a solution to the problems in education. He updates tutoring materials to keep up with various trends. Hao shares, "We can't stand still. You have to move forward or you'll get wiped out."
Hao and Lisa encourage everytone to pursue their dreams and live fearlessly. Hao explains, "Do what you're passionate about. Don't be afraid of failure. Being [in America] is already Heaven. That's why we are willing to take risks and to contribute. We are blessed every morning to be in a great country. This is a country of opportunity."