Asian American companies find rewards in the U.S. marketplace
Asian American companies are enjoying great success through resourcefulness and hard work
Certification and partnerships have been key for many
By Sonya Stinson
Companies like Seven Seven Softwares, Inc, Dahl, Taylor & Associates, SHI International Corp, and Zones, Inc represent the leading industry sector among Asian American-owned businesses. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), professional, scientific and technical services account for fourteen percent of all Asian American firms, the largest single category.
By a host of measures, the Asian American business community is thriving. Asian American entrepreneurs became the first U.S. minority group to reach parity with their representation in the U.S. population, according to the 2007 Survey of Business Owners by the U.S. Census Bureau. That year, the adult Asian American population was 4.9 percent of the U.S. total, and Asian Americans owned 5.9 percent of all classifiable businesses. Those companies generated 2.8 million jobs and $506 billion in gross receipts, half the receipts of all minority-owned firms, the MBDA reports. They were also at or above parity in number of paid employees.
For many of these businesses, the strategy for success has included becoming certified as minority business enterprises (MBEs), and partnering with larger companies that want their team of suppliers to reflect America's growing diversity.
Prudential: a tradition steeped in diversity
Beth Canning, supplier diversity manager for Prudential (Newark, NJ), has been with the company for twenty-five years and, as far back as she can remember, Prudential has had an initiative to diversify its roster of suppliers. That effort was formalized in 2000, when Canning assumed responsibility for managing supplier diversity full time. "We believe that tapping into suppliers who reflect our customer base makes sense for everyone," Canning says. "Prudential's supplier diversity program creates meaningful opportunities for qualified, diverse suppliers to compete for our business."
To get on board, participants must provide third-party certification that they are minority-owned or women-owned businesses, preferably from the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) or the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), Canning says. Prudential is a national member of both the NMSDC and WBENC. The company is also active in the NY and NJ Minority Supplier Development Council, an NMSDC affiliate, and the Women Presidents' Educational Organization, a WBENC regional partner organization, where Canning serves on the board.
"We also participate in the Financial Services Roundtable for Supplier Diversity," says Canning. She co-chairs that organization's membership committee. "That's a peer group of firms that promotes supplier diversity within the financial services industry."
Along with women and minority-owned suppliers, Prudential also tracks companies owned by veterans, service-disabled veterans and people with disabilities, as well as LGBT-owned businesses, small businesses and locally owned firms.
Seven Seven Softwares expands its usefulness and its opportunities
Seven Seven Softwares, Inc, an IT services company based in Rockaway, NJ, has been a Prudential supplier since 2001. The company was initially hired to develop the software for a Prudential Securities trading system.
"Since then, our partnership has expanded to over 100 fulltime dedicated resources covering numerous businesses and corporate groups within Prudential," says co-founder and CEO Delle Sering, who grew up in Manila, Philippines.
After arriving in the United States in 1979 with a BS in commerce from St. Paul's College in the Philippines, Sering spent eighteen years in New York City's garment industry, advancing to the position of director of purchasing at a textile company.
The launch of Seven Seven Softwares in 1996 was inspired by the looming Y2K challenge, which Sering and her business partner, Macario Fojas, realized was a field with plenty of demand. "We co-founded Seven Seven with the aim of providing consulting services to Wall Street firms that were in the process of adopting emerging technologies," Sering says.
Despite what many people guess, the New Jersey company's moniker does not signify an affinity for Atlantic City casinos. "My partner thought of the name," explains Sering, who says seven just happened to be a favorite number. "The original concept was to find an uncommon name that would leave clients wondering."
Another eyebrow raiser is the grammatical incorrectness of the name, but Sering says adding that "S" to the end was intentional.
Seven Seven expanded in 1999 to include an offshore delivery center in Manila and added another overseas location in Singapore in 2006. The company now has more than 1,000 employees worldwide, including more than 200 in the United States. Its U.S. clientele is concentrated mainly in financial services, while its overseas market is more varied, Sering says.
The success of Seven Seven has garnered some notice. In 2009, Sering was named one of the 100 most influential Filipina American women in the U.S. by the Filipina Women's Network, and in 2011 she received one of the Asian American Business Development Center's Outstanding Fifty Asian Americans in Business Awards for 2011.
Dahl, Taylor: a dream realized
After working for a decade as an engineer at Dahl, Taylor & Associates, Inc, Quang Vu bought the Santa Ana, CA consulting firm from his bosses.
"It was always my goal and my plan to get into management and to build something for myself," says Vu, adding that the company's founders, Neil Dahl and Russel Taylor, had been grooming him to take over the management. "They were getting up in age," he explained. "In 1991, when I bought out the firm, chairman Russel Taylor was seventy-one years old."
Vu, a Vietnamese American, earned a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Evansville (IN). Before arriving at Dahl, Taylor he worked for Black & Veatch in Overland Park, KS.
With more than thirty employees, Dahl, Taylor's roster of clients includes Southern California Edison (SCE), AT&T, Verizon, the California Department of Water Resources, as well as several Southern California municipalities, federal agencies and the military. The firm just completed a project in San Diego to design, engineer, build and install a power system including renewable photovoltaic energy and storage battery power at the city's emergency management center (EMC).
"We store the power in lithium batteries and use the energy to feed into the EMC," Vu says. "Now the EMC can have four sources of energy: power from the utility company (San Diego Gas & Electric), solar PV power, battery power and a portable generator."
A project completed in January 2012 involved engineering and building solar-powered street lights at Fort Irwin, a national U.S. Army training base in the California desert.
Persistence pays off
The company landed its first SCE contract in 2009 after submitting fourteen unsuccessful bids over nearly three years. Vu asked for several post-bid debriefings so that he could learn how to improve his pricing and presentation. The payoff for his persistence was landing a major client with a large, ongoing demand for engineering and construction services.
Dahl, Taylor has now completed design-build work for two large SCE mechanical and electrical equipment room (MEER) buildings and a battery energy storage system. In 2013, the firm will begin work on another MEER project.
"That's why we wanted to tap into that source," Vu says.
SHI: little tech company grows into a giant
Thai Lee, CEO of SHI International Corp (Somerset, NJ), runs a thriving global information technology business with customers in the financial, IT, pharmaceutical, telecommunications and aerospace industries. But it wasn't always so.
"SHI was not always a thriving tech company," says Lee, who now counts Prudential, BNY Mellon and many other major corporations among her customers. "When I originally purchased SHI in 1989, it was a very small subsidiary of a larger holding organization. What was then called Software House consisted of one customer, eight employees and only $1 million in annual sales. Slowly we were able to add to our headcount by recruiting some of the best and brightest sales and technical personnel in the industry. Our sales grew organically, without ever merging or acquiring another organization."
Providing technology around the world
Today SHI claims to be the largest minority and woman-owned business in the United States. Lee says the company is on track to surpass $4 billion in revenue for 2012. With twenty-seven offices in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Hong Kong, SHI employs more than 2,000 people.
An eleven-time winner of the Microsoft Operational Excellence Award, the company offers services that include software and hardware procurement, deployment planning, data center optimization and cloud computing.
Lee is an MBA graduate of Harvard Business School who also has a BS in biology and economics from Amherst College (Amherst, MA). Despite her own impressive resume, she gives a great deal of credit to the experienced staff at SHI for its remarkable achievements,
"The average tenure of an SHI manager is thirteen years, and that of a field rep is seven, and that includes all of the new faces that have joined the team since 2008," she says. "My staff and their dedication to providing innovative solutions backed by world-class customer service are the reason for SHI's success."
One of SHI's newest offerings is its Managed Private Cloud solution, launched in August 2011. Unlike others on the market, this cloud system can be deployed without replacing an organization's existing infrastructure.
"I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I realize that anyone who has dreamed of that has always believed their organization would be successful. Why else would you do it? But I know that I am supported by what I believe is the longest-tenured staff in our business.
"I am most proud that SHI continues to develop and deliver innovative IT solutions that address customer pain points," Lee says. "Aside from selling software and hardware, it is SHI's ability to help our customers manage those assets, streamline their operations and maximize their investments that sets us apart from the competition."
Recognizing the value of diversity
Many corporate leaders recognize the value that society derives from companies like SHI. "The economic engine of so many communities is fueled by small, diverse businesses and entrepreneurs," says Claire Scanlon, vice president and head of BNY Mellon's global supplier development program. "Just think about how Lee's business started. We know there are so many other terrific diverse businesses with the power to shape our communities, foster innovation and promote economic independence. That's why we put such a strong emphasis on our supplier development program."
Zones: a rescue and a vision create a powerhouse
Zones Inc, a technology solutions provider based in Auburn, WA, sells hardware, software and professional services to some of the largest utility companies in the United States. So partnering with Washington, DC-based Pepco Holdings, Inc (PHI), which supplies electricity to the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., seemed like a natural fit, says Zones CEO Firoz Lalji.
"Some of PHI's management team, including supply chain director Reggie McCauley and supplier diversity regional manager Maurice Williams, were really interested in working with diverse suppliers," Lalji says. "They went out of their way to help smaller MBEs get together with other companies to compete on bigger opportunities with Pepco. That was how we got going."
Zones won a three-year, multimillion-dollar Microsoft enterprise agreement with Pepco. Lalji notes that successful software licensing partnerships require vendors to have deep knowledge of both the licensing process and the particular technology infrastructure and requirements of the client company.
"Enterprise agreements are very complex, and we were able to demonstrate the value and skill we would deploy in support of Pepco, so we were awarded the contract over the incumbent," Lalji says. "The team at Pepco was very knowledgeable themselves, and they were very specific in their approach and clear in their goals, which made the process run smoothly."
Born and raised in Uganda, Lalji traces his family roots to India. He earned a bachelors degree from the London School of Economics, then spent several years in Canada, where he bought a chain of three camera stores. After building the chain to eighty stores, he sold the Canadian units and moved to Washington State in 1981.
Lalji was an investor in Zones when the company was incorporated in 1988. Although the company grew rapidly in the early years, by the late 1990s it was struggling. As the largest shareholder, Lalji agre ed to step in as CEO and try to turn things around.
A targeted turnaround strategy
One of his first steps was to switch the business model of Zones from consumer to business-to-business. He also focused on customer segmentation by evaluating the specific needs and buying habits of various types of business customers. Zones zeroed in on businesses with more than 100 seats as its target market.
Lalji's strategy has turned Zones into a $1 billon international business, with global offices in India and the United Kingdom. A new Canadian office will open in 2013. Along with its significant business in the utilities industry, it has Fortune 500 clients in retail, healthcare and financial services. The expanding company currently employs more than 1,000 people. "We keep recruiting, and we're growing at a fairly good clip," Lalji says.
The workforce includes experts in software sales, licensing executives and engineers. Lalji says that since he took the helm, the company has "recruited people who care, who are very passionate about technology.
"Our main differentiation is the expertise we bring to the table, the flawless execution, five-star service and consider-it-done approach to how we do business with our customers," he declares.
COMPANIES ACTIVELY SEEKING MBEs
Check website for current listings.
|Company and location
|BNY Mellon (New York, NY)
|DTE Energy (Detroit, MI)
|Electric and gas generation and distribution
|Pepco Holdings Inc (Washington, DC)
|Electric power generation and distribution
|Prudential (Newark, NJ)
|Southern California Edison (Rosemead, CA)
|Electric power generation and distribution
|W.W. Grainger Inc (Lake Forest, IL)
|Industrial supply distribution
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