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Immigrant Family Owned Business Entrepreneurship

Immigrant Family Owned Business Entrepreneurship

Almost 40 years ago in April 1971, the iconic billboard “Will the Last Person Leaving Seattle – Turn Out the Lights” appeared at South 167th Street and Pacific Highway South near Sea-Tac Airport.  Economic times were difficult in Seattle at the time, employment at Boeing had dropped from 100,800 employees in 1967 to 38,690, when the sign first appeared.  The 62,110 lost jobs directly impacted over 200,000 lives when spouses and children of the laid off employees were incorporated into the calculation.  However, the impact did not stop there as the lost jobs translated to significantly less money being spent at restaurants, retail businesses, and other establishments in the local economy diminishing the income of business owners and their employees throughout the Puget Sound region.

One of the Boeing engineers laid off at the time was Graham Hollingsworth.  He and his wife, Barbara, had moved to America in the late 1960’s from England, so Graham could participate in the design and production of the Boeing 2707, America’s first supersonic transport aircraft.  Happy in America and not wishing to return to England, the Hollingworths did what immigrants to this country had done since the Pilgrims, they rolled up their sleeves, went to work, and started to create opportunity and financial prosperity for themselves by creating a family owned business.  I had the honor of first meeting Graham & Barb around the turn of the century when they interviewed me as a potential mergers & acquisitions broker option to facilitate the sale of their company, Lancs Industries (https://www.lancsindustries.com/).  Through the process of successfully representing them in the sale of their business, they became close personal friends and symbolic in my mind of what is possible for all immigrants coming to the United States in our country’s free market economy that emphasizes freedom & opportunity over control.

IBA, as the oldest business brokerage firm in the Pacific Northwest, has facilitated hundreds of business transactions involving first and second generation American immigrants from around the world.  The stories told by our “sell side” business owner clients and the international buyers we work with are inspirational and emblematic of people who have lived or are interested in creating an American dream that is better for themselves than would have been possible in their homeland.

The following are a few of the stories I have personally experienced.

Wan Kim, a highly skilled pet groomer, immigrated to America from South Korea.  Happy with a shear & scissors in his hands and a vision of the perfect presentation for each dog breed, Wan desired to own his own pet grooming business. Supported by family, he found an opportunity represented by IBA for sale and completed the transaction. Today, Wan continues to work in his preferred trade as the owner of Le Coupe (https://www.yelp.com/biz/la-coupe-seattle), a shop that allowed him to support the educational goals of his two, highly intelligent, hard-working daughters of becoming doctors. There is not a parent that does not dream of a better life for their children than they have experienced. The difference between that being a dream and a reality is engaged parenting, the most rewarding & challenging project a person can take on in life. Mr. Kim has lived life to its fullest and most productive. He is one of the kindest, good hearted people I have ever met.

Ivan Komashinskiy & Sergey Khristoforov immigrated to America from Russia.  They initially worked in the technology sector, but desired to own a business and take advantage of the unique economic opportunities presented through entrepreneurship in the United States. Desiring to sell products they believed in, they gravitated to companies that distributed and sold products manufactured with European craftsmanship.   In 2017, they completed their first business acquisition through IBA buying the company with the United States distribution rights for Pedag products (https://pedagusa.com/), a German manufacturer of high quality insoles. Finding a home in serving a marketplace applicable to every person, feet, they followed up the acquisition with the 2019 purchase of the Mephisto shoe stores in Seattle & Bellevue and the online shoe retail website, https://www.shoesnw.com/.  Innovative & passionate entrepreneurs, I believe the future will be bright for them.  As a business broker, I consider it a badge of honor that I buyer returned to buy a second business from me.  It demonstrates I facilitated a “win-win” transaction as a professional intermediary, a goal for every IBA facilitated transaction.

The technology sector has brought many talented individuals to the Pacific Northwest from around the world to work for Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and other companies.  Many of the individuals come from entrepreneurial cultures and families.  This is commonly true for immigrants from India.  Surender Mohan & Kanwardeep Madaan are two individuals who fit this demographic template.  They approached IBA looking to purchase a mature, profitable company that was ready for a technological evolution where they could enhance value through the introduction of systems based on their prior experience. American Retail Supply, https://www.americanretailsupply.com/, matched this acquisition criteria and they completed a transaction purchasing the company from Keith Lee, an entrepreneur who had made the company a national brand with locations in multiple states employing a high customer satisfaction model emphasizing representatives with strong client relationships.  The missing element was a strong online presence to generate new customers. The creation of that business component employing current knowledge & best practices was right in Surender & Kanwardeep’s wheelhouse.

Different cultures can also produce unique transactional elements.  One of the most interesting ones I have experienced occurred when facilitating the sale of Brittany Flowers, https://brittanyflowers.com/, many years ago. The owners of the business at the time, Frank & Ryoko Tsui, were of Japanese origin.  They had run the florist shop successfully for many years incorporating beautiful Ikebana elements into their designs.  They were also the preferred florist of the Seahawks, when their practice facility was in Kirkland. The buyer, Clare Shiu, for the business was a very talented Chinese floral designer with an amazing portfolio of prior projects.  The parties easily reached agreement on the significant terms for the transaction. Significant goodwill was established between the buyer & seller.  However, one confrontational issue remained to be negotiated.  Was the aquarium going to stay in the business with the buyer or leave with the seller?  The aquarium contained several Koi that had been a gift from Frank & Ryoko’s son.  They wanted to take the aquarium with them post transaction. Clare, a believer in Feng Shui, considered it bad luck to remove water from a business.  Being a proponent of “win-win” transactions as a professional intermediary, what was the solution?  How about the aquarium stays, but the fish relocate with the seller?  An experienced, knowledgeable business broker can always present options to the parties to find a pathway to “Yes”.

Every business owner values repeat customers.  The average entrepreneur owns a business for seven years, so even after 26 years in this profession, it is rare to represent a business owner in the sale of a business more than once.  One of the parties I have done this for are partners Waldemar Szreder and Jozef Plichta.  Waldemar & Jozef are highly skilled Polish marine electrical engineers.  They immigrated to America from the shipyards in Gandsk where they worked alongside Lech Walesa, who went from that platform to become the first democratically elected President of Poland, to work in the shipyards in Seattle.  They were the last electricians working at their employer when they closed their doors.  The loss of this job did not create despair, but an opportunity.  Shortly afterward, they opened Eltech Electric and built a highly successful marine electrical contracting company serving the fishing and cargo industries.  Burning out after too many long hour work weeks, they contacted IBA about selling their business as the premier business brokerage firm serving the marine niche in the region.   Moved by their story and wanting to help, I personally took on the project as the President & CEO of IBA.  Together, we completed a sale for premium market terms.  Entrepreneurs to the core, after their non-competition agreement expired, Jozef & Waldemar decided they wanted to get back into the entrepreneurial game and built a second successful marine electrical contracting company, Elmore Electric (https://www.uselmore.com/) which I sold for them to Joe Williams, a local entrepreneur with a passion for the marine industry.  Mr. Williams has since acquired another company, FM Automation, with my assistance increasing the company’s market share in the industry.  A business broker only has their reputation and ability as assets.  Sellers who use IBA a second time and buyers who want to purchase from us again are the best testimonials we can receive of a job well done.

COVID-19 has forced the closure of many first & second generation immigrant owned businesses with stories similar to the ones I shared.  These companies form a significant component of the backbone of the American economy. They have since the founding of our nation.  Many of these entrepreneurs have experienced life hardships we cannot begin to appreciate with a sympathetic ear.  Many are highly resilient and optimistic about the future available in America.  All value what we have in the United States in terms of freedom and economic opportunity.  It is my hope that the Governors across this nation, including Governor Inslee of Washington and Governor Brown of Oregon, will give these entrepreneurs, and all family business owners, a freehand shortly to fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams, offer employment to their selected teams, and support their families, as they desire without government assistance, but through their own hard work and execution of a vision.

IBA, the Pacific Northwest’s premier business brokerage firm since 1975, is available as an information resource to the media, business brokerage, mergers & acquisitions, and real estate communities on subjects relevant to the purchase & sale of privately held companies and family owned businesses.  IBA is recognized as one of the best business brokerage firms in the nation based on its long track record of successfully negotiating “win-win” business sale transactions in environments of full disclosure employing “best practices”.

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