Sunday, February 17, 2008

Nam Ngo

Nam is a great friend and business associate of The VIP Guys. He is the man behind the business cards and the famous VIP Stickers; a true VIP Enthusiast. His is a story of great trials, good fortune, and hard work. After a candid conversation with Nam, it is my pleasure to feature his story to you. ~JWN

JWN: When did you start GraphiXpress?

NN: 1987. It’s been over twenty years now.

JWN: What inspired that? I know you worked for the Democrat & Chronicle for a period of time right?

NN: I wanted to start to make some money for myself. I wanted more freedom and more control of my destiny.

JWN: What got you into the print business?

NN: I liked to work with my hands. I got exposure when I was in high school in a graphic art class. Back then it was more of a craft. Now it is more automated. A machine does all of the work for you. It is totally different. I like the technology part of it but the craftsmanship is gone. It makes life easier but we had to change drastically about five years ago because the whole industry changed.

JWN: How do you feel you have adapted to the change?

NN: Quite well. We go to a lot of trade shows and working at the Democrat & Chronicle helped too.

JWN: How long did you work at the D & C?

NN: I worked there about 18 or 19 years. I just finished there about 3 months ago. They eliminated the imaging department, so they cut everything they could. The newspaper industry is in rough shape. It’s not like it used to. I thought I might have had a job there for life.

JWN: So, you were in imaging there?

NN: We would take the pictures from the photographers and then manipulate them, tone them, and enhance them to make them look better. If you just take the raw image, it would look very muddy because the paper is not high quality like photo paper. So, that was our job basically. We would do imaging and also make the plate for the press.

JWN: I’m curious about your childhood. Where did you grow up?

NN: My childhood. I was born in South Vietnam in the city of Saigon. Now it is called Ho Chi Min City. I was there until I was 10 when the Vietnam War was going on. My mom and I escaped from the war just one day before they took over. We got out just in time. We escaped to the Philipines when the Viet Kong took over the city. We were very lucky.

As a refugee we stayed in the Phillipines for a couple days and then got transported to Guam. We stayed there probably about a week and then got moved again to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. We waited there a few months and then got a person to sponsor us. Our sponsor was from Alabama. We were there for about a year. He taught me English every night. I didn’t know any English when I came over, so that was a big help. I started school in sixth grade and made a lot of American friends. They taught me English, so I picked it up pretty quick. You’ve got to adapt quick. A lot of people helped me.

So, I had sixth grade in Louisiana. Then my mother found a job in North Carolina so we moved there.

JWN: What does she do there?

NN: She works in a furniture factory. We stayed there until I graduated from high school. We lived in a trailer park that we shared with two other people. It was a small trailer. I worked at a restaurant on the weekends. I’ve been working all my life.

JWN: How did you end up in Rochester?

NN: The reason I moved up here was because of RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology). I applied to the School of Printing. I got accepted and have been here ever since I graduated.

JWN: How was that program?

NN: I learned a lot there; much theory and some hands on things. It has helped a lot. But, since I’ve graduated technology has changed so much. It gave me the foundation. You learn the most when you are working though.

JWN: I’m curious more about the experience of being a refugee. Can you elaborate more on the emotions involved?

NN: It is emotional when you leave your home country. Because I was so young I don’t really know that much, but leaving your relatives and family is tough. I just followed my mom. It was difficult at first. We wrote to them every chance we got but after that my mother sponsored my sisters and brother. I’m the youngest. She sponsored one after the other, not all at the same time.

As a refugee I adapted pretty quick. I had a lot of friends that were helpful along the way. The Americans treated me well. We were well fed and had a decent dorm; military dorms.

JWN: So the Americans helped you evacuate?

NN: We were much better off than the boat people. They were drifting in the ocean. I was lucky because I flew on a cargo plane. So, the hardship wasn’t bad. We were very lucky.

JWN: How has your experience in America been? Have you been back to Vietnam?

NN: I went back two years ago. The only relative I have left is my nephew. The country has changed a lot since when I was young. There is a lot of traffic. It is growing fast.

JWN: Do you think you would move back there?

NN: I will stay here. I may visit occasionally though. I consider this my country as I’ve been here most of my life. I’m 44 so I’ve been here for 34 years.

JWN: I know you work very hard. Here during the day and the Democrat & Chronicle at night. What inspires that?

NN: I think it is my family. I want to do the best I can to support them so they don’t have to struggle. I am the provider for them. To have everything that you want, you have to work for it. There is no free lunch. The work ethic I learned from my parents. You’ve got to work hard.

JWN: What did your father do?

NN: He was a business man in Vietnam. He got drafted into the Army so he had to stay when we fled. When I was really small he would bring work back to the house. We would help him assemble mechanical stuff together.

JWN: I’d like to hear a little bit more about your family.

NN: I have two sons; 10 and 16. I met my wife about twenty years ago. My mother is still alive but my father passed away. My sister lives about forty minutes away from Rochester. She owns a nail salon. My brother does nails as well. He has moved around a lot; North Carolina for a while and now he is in California.

JWN: What are some of your goals?

NN: For the business, right now it is pretty small. I would like to move it forward by adapting some internet practices. I don’t exactly want to be like Vista printing, but I would like to target toward smaller companies because we feel we can better support their needs. We want to keep it personal, while providing more opportunity for clients.

The internet thing is difficult to get right. The logistics are different. There is a lot to learn. We are looking to start off small and then move it forward.

Personally, I have some goals as well. I just became a Christian. I would like to finish the New Testament in 2008 and learn how to be a better salesman. Ben (DeGeorge) has been helpful with teaching sales.

JWN: Who are a few leaders that have inspired you or you would like to meet?

NN: I would like to meet John F. Kennedy. He inspired a lot of people with his speeches. I would like to learn from him to be a more motivational speaker. Another person would be Jesus. Those are two of the main ones.

Nam Ngo