I suggest that everyone read about Dr. Ping Fu in December 05 "Inc." magazine, (http://www.inc.com/magazine/20051201/ping-fu.html) Entrepreneur of the Year, Founder and President of Geomagic in Research Triangle Park, N.C., a purveyor of soft-tools for complex parts manufacturing and inspection, taking a quantum leap forward. But there is much more to her story. At age seven she was thrown into a Chinese prison and with no schooling for eleven years, emerged from prison and was deported at age 23 in 1981, was sent to America, earned a PhD, and formed a $30 million software firm in 2005. Hers is a remarkable achievement. Thinking of my own life, it has been my joy and privilege to know similar interesting, talented people. It occurred to me that their stories are wonderful examples for everyone's aspirations to provide inspiration and a lesson for those who need a push onto the road of success. Here are some examples of my personal friends.
Essie came to America from a dirt-floor hut in Sierra Leone because her village elders recognized she had talent and collectively raised money to send her to college at St. Lawrence University on Long Island, N.Y. Why there, nobody knows. Culture shock is an understatement, and she ate nothing of the new food for weeks before finding her way to the airport to return home and finding that she only had a one-way ticket to America. With no choice Essie stayed, graduated from law school at Howard University, and married a "similar story" surgeon from Dry Tortugas. Essie and I shared offices on Connecticut Avenue for a few years. From a mud hut to a law office in the heart of the most powerful city in the world is a long journey, especially keeping the smile and balance Essie has to this day.
While buying a new telephone, I talked with a lady at the store and found she was also a chemical engineer. Elsabeth grew up in poverty in Ethiopia with a family that recognized she had talent but had no means to aid it. Elsabeth somehow made her way to Norway, learned the language, worked and graduated from Tronhiem University as a chemical engineer, learned English, was hired by 3M after re-earning a BSChE degree at University of Massachusetts, and then moved to Washington DC six years later to improve her social life. A proud moment for me was to assist her in becoming a process engineer at the Navy's Best Manufacturing Practices Center of Excellence. Tell me how many people you ever met coming from such beginnings who speak Amharic, Tigrine, Swedish, Norwegian, and English and by their mid-30s became an accomplished professional and a delight to know.
My friend Kish was someone caught in that perpetual ethnic clash between Hindu and Moslem in South Asia, fearing death at the hands of Moslem fundamentalists in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Kish escaped that demise and became a PhD physical organic chemist graduate of Boston University and postdoctoral collaborator with a Nobel Laureate at University of California, Berkeley, challenging and rewarding endeavors. Kish was lead scientist for the first commercially available hydrocarbon optical sensor developments and major technical contributor at several companies. He is president of his own firm near Los Angeles today and is for me an unusual, personal treasure.
When he was "up to here" with the Soviet regime, Lev walked from Ukraine to Los Angeles where he worked for a firm that noticed his talents and advised him to continue his education. Lev enrolled at University of Southern California and obtained his PhDEE in 36 months while working full time and contributing ten patents to his employer's estate. Lev and his friends "spun-off" from that company, and he is now president of a subsidiary he founded in a public company. Lev is a genius and as nice a person as I have known in my life. In his own words, "My hardships in the old country were mostly internal and the few inflicted on me by Soviets were in line with prevailing policies of the time. My benchmark was the life of my parents and grandparents under Stalin, for which my own (experience) pales by comparison."
These stories have value for parents, teachers, and employers as motivation and inspiration. If we could capture that yearning with the intensity and desire to succeed that these people demonstrated to themselves and those who know them, what a different and better place our world would be. My message to readers, because you have means and responsibilities, is to spread these joyous words and strive for excellence that these exemplary people have achieved.