Zbigniew Brzezinski

In 1928, Zbigniew Brzezinski was born into a Polish family, with a father who was a diplomat. After living in a number of countries, the family moved to Canada in 1938, as a result of a new diplomatic posting. They soon decided to remain in Montreal, however, for Poland fell under the control of the Soviet Union in 1945. In 1950, Dr. Brzezinski obtained his master’s degree from McGill University and later attended Harvard University for his doctorate. In 1956, he worked with Carl J. Friedrich to develop the notion of totalitarianism as a way to more accurately and forcefully classify and criticize the Soviets. Despite years of residence and the presence of family in Canada, Dr. Brzezinski decided to obtain U.S. citizenship in 1958 because he felt he could make a stronger impact in America. “I felt that America has the greater capacity for influencing world affairs for the good, and thus helping to fashion a more international system that would therefore also help Poland.”

In 1960, Dr. Brzezinski became a professor at Columbia University, where he went on to head the Institute on Communist Affairs. He remained at Columbia until 1989, while also starting a parallel political career. He was an advisor to the John F. Kennedy 1960 U.S. presidential campaign, urging a non-antagonistic policy toward Eastern European governments. Among other political responsibilities throughout the years, Dr. Brzezinski served as a member of the Policy Planning Council of the U.S. Department of State. He called for a pan-European conference, an idea that resulted in the 1973 Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Out of his piece entitled Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, he cofounded with David Rockefeller the Trilateral Commission and served as director from 1973 to 1976. Brzezinski selected Georgia governor Jimmy Carter as a member. Upon becoming U.S. president in 1977, Carter chose Dr. Brzezinski for the position of National Security Adviser, where he encouraged the president to engage with the People’s Republic of China. The new relationship between the U.S. and China was instrumental in the Cold War, for it brought China to the side of the US scientific, technological and cultural interchange — and trade relations also resulted from diplomatic relations.

In 1981, Dr. Brzezinski received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in the normalization of U.S.-China relations and for his contributions to the human rights and national security policies of the United States. He is currently a professor of American Foreign Policy at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a counselor and trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. For all of the world changing ideas Dr. Brzezinski set in motion, he never forgot his roots. He made a visit to Poland in 1977, and of his visit, he says, “There was a shift in the definition of my identity. I realized that I was no longer a Pole, but an American of Polish descent.”

Yoon-shik Park

yoon_parkIn 1965, the Immigration and Naturalization Act abolished immigration based on national origin, allowing Yoon-shik Park the opportunity to immigrate to America. Exceeding the expectations of his farming family, Park received the one full scholarship provided by his alma mater, Kyung Hee University in Seoul, to study in the United States. Thus Park immigrated to the U.S. with $16 in his pocket to study at Harvard Business School. He left his family and college girlfriend behind in Korea, promising her that, once he finished his studies, they would marry.

Though there were few Korean immigrants in the area, Park was able to find a small community through the local Korean church, which would convene in an American church for services each week. Once he finished his doctorate in business administration, he kept his promise, and his fiancé, Heawon, joined him in the U.S. They were married at the Harvard University chapel by a local Korean minister. The two moved to Washington, D.C. in 1970, after Park received an offer with the World Bank. At the time, D.C. didn’t have much to offer in terms of Korean culture, as there was only one Korean restaurant, one Korean grocery story and only one Korean immigrant church. By the late 70s, Park had developed a reputation as an international finance expert, and so, the Founder and Chairman of Samsung Group tapped Park to serve as Financial Advisor in Korea. Park’s family stayed in Korea for two years, before deciding that United States would offer more promise for the entire family’s future.

Back in D.C., Park accepted an offer to teach at The George Washington University. While teaching, he also began to consult for organizations like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Finance Corporation, and many other private and public institutions globally. Additionally, he assisted Lee Myung-bak, former CEO of Hyundai Engineering & Construction, in obtaining a visiting scholar position in D.C., before he went back to Korea to be elected as the mayor of Seoul and then the president of Korea. Between 1998 and 2009, Park also served on the Board of Directors of Samsung Corporation in Korea. He clearly is considered to be a scholar mandarin of the highest order.

Hector Salomon Garay

Hector Salomon Garay was born in El Salvador with the hope of someday being able to make it to the United States. By the time he was 25, he saved up the $1,200 needed to hire the “coyote,” who took him in a group of 34 people across the border in the middle of the night. But it wasn’t an easy journey. Throughout the course of 19 days, his group was forced to walk and swim through the river, hide in bushes and behind trees, and be crammed into small spaces, such as a single pickup truck and room that housed 64 people. Additionally, much of their time was spent waiting without knowledge of when — or even if — someone was coming to guide them on their next leg of the journey. Eventually, Salomon did make it to Houston, Tx., where he had to pay an additional $400 to make it to his final destination of Washington, D.C., where his sister resided.

Shortly there after, he was given a fake Social Security number, which allowed him to be hired in construction. He found that, as long as his work was satisfactory, no one looked into his documentation. Once his sister gained U.S. citizenship the following year, she took him to apply for his own Social Security number. Though the office personnel recognized he was in the country illegally, they were lenient and allowed him to apply. So, within four weeks, he was working legally and paying taxes.

Then, eight years later, Salomon became an entrepreneur by opening his own house painting business, while also completing a few related small jobs as needed. His work is so thorough and high quality, that he now finds himself turning away potential clients. In 2005, he was able to obtain U.S. citizenship, but he recognizes it is not so easy for new immigrants. He hears personal narratives of people waiting in daily lines at the U.S. embassy for a visa, which are often full by 7 a.m. Even the $125 application fee offers no guarantee. When people ask him for advice, Salomon truthfully tells them it is now extremely difficult to find work in the U.S., and that while he will try his best to help, he cannot assure them of their fate. Ultimately, he wishes the process could be much easier for all.

Michel Amsalem

Michel Amsalem was born in Algeria in 1947 into a proud Sephardic Jewish family. Much of the Jewish population in Algeria was able to assimilate into French culture — which became prevalent after France took control of Algeria in 1830 — further separating them from the Muslim pre-French population. In 1962, Algeria gained independence from France, making it difficult for families, such as the Amsalems, to stay. Because Amsalem’s father worked for the French government, they moved to Paris. In 1971, Amsalem immigrated to the U.S. to study in the MBA program of Columbia University; in 1972, he began his doctorate in business administration at Harvard Business School.  While working on his thesis, he also began consulting for the World Bank — and, in 1975, he was offered a position as an economist for the Africa region for the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank.

Amsalem moved back to NYC in 1979, after accepting an offer to teach at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. He was then approached by Citibank in 1985 to start its Structured Finance Department. He left Citibank in 1991 with a group of colleagues to start the investment bank for Latin America and Eastern Europe of Banque Indosuez, embracing the opportunity to live in France and England. But, in 1995, he decided to return to the United States because the operations of this new investment bank were seriously impaired by the impact of a French real estate crisis. Back in the U.S., Amsalem worked with Alan Patricof to start Patricof Emerging Markets. He was in charge until 1999, when the venture was sold along with other Patricof group operations to the Bank of New York. Thus, Amsalem began teaching courses in business strategy as an adjunct professor in the Executive MBA program of Columbia University.

Then, in 2002, Amsalem decided to launch his own hedge fund that focused on the financing of small and micro-cap listed companies in the high technology area. Through the management company Midsummer Capital, Amsalem continues to manage this fund. While Amsalem fondly recalls Algeria, he states that his country, as he knew it, is entirely different. He believes the U.S.’ strength lies in its diversity — and in its historical tolerance of this diversity. He only hopes the U.S. and its people continue to embrace such diversity.

Magaret Ghadar

Though Margaret Ghadar was born in the United States, she was too young to have any memories of the U.S., as she moved with her family back to Iran when she was four. She spent most of her childhood years moving around the Middle East, where her father was an ambassador. During this time, she believed her father was being punished for some undisclosed action. She later learned, however, that he was in charge of the Iranian Intelligence Agency and that this various stationing was quite strategic and important.

In 1969, she graduated high school and decided to return to the United States for college at Regis College in Wellesley, Ma. A year later, though, she transferred to Boston University. While in Boston, she met and married Mourad, a Harvard Business School student. After a few moves in Europe, Mourad’s father asked him to join the family commodities trading company back in Switzerland.

It was in Geneva that Margaret found a niche where she was able to excel working for the Iranian ambassador. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that her marriage was destined to fail. So, after five years, she returned to the United States and obtained a divorce. She rejoined her family in Iran and worked for an international company that worked with the Iranian stock exchange. With a revolution imminent in Iran, however, Margaret was forced to leave and soon after returned to Washington, DC.  She helped run The Computer Emporium, a company her brother, Fariborz Ghadar, had started, while obtaining a masters degree in International Finance. After graduating, she obtained a job as a financial analyst in NYC with Morgan Guaranty Trust, the company name JP Morgan went by until the 1980s. She eventually worked her way up to become a vice president at JP Morgan.

After being asked by her brother to serve as president of Intrados, she was immediately immersed in training all the highest-level government officials from developing countries. Intrados, under Margaret’s leadership, went on to forge a path in not only privatization, but also in setting up stock exchanges, in equipping Central Banks to handle the trades, and in established depositories for funds in a number of countries around the world. The rewards for all this hard work were much more than monetary. While having been successful at JP Morgan, Margaret has been disheartened by having to sell the riskiest of derivatives. But at Intrados she was helping birth new capital markets around the world. Margaret says she owes a lot of success to the fact that when these officials from developing countries were looking for assistance and partners from the US, they looked favorably on her being an immigrant to America. These officials viewed her as one of them, for she could understand from where they came. She was someone who did not ignore or dismiss them, someone who understood them, and someone who believed enough in their potential to invest time and resources.

Fariborz Ghadar

ImageMy immigrant story isn’t as simple as the tale of moving to another country and choosing to stay there. Though I spent some of my early childhood years in the United States, I was born in Iran and, because of my father’s job, my family moved around a lot. It wasn’t until I entered university that I was able to go back to the United States.

At the age of 17, I went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, after finding that Ursinus College wasn’t the right fit for me. There, I joined the Chi Phi fraternity, where an Iranian name like Fariborz was either too difficult or to intimidating to pronounce. Because there was no “Bob” in the house, my frat brothers thus decided to call me by that name. After earning two undergraduate and a master’s degree, I went to study at Harvard Business School, where I earned an MBA and a doctorate.

Upon finishing academics, I followed in my grandfather’s and father’s footsteps by serving my country as the deputy vice minister for international investments in Iran’s Ministry of Finance. My career took a turn, however, when I came across corruption in the ministry and reported it, without knowledge of how high up the practice went. So I resigned and returned to the States to join the World Bank group as an investment officer at the International Finance Corporation.

In 1977, when a number of my colleagues came into power in Iran, I returned to hold the vice ministerial post for just over a year. In late 1978, I realized the Shah’s government was about to be toppled in revolution. With my father’s connections with his majesty King Hossein of Jordan, I was fortunately able to leave Iran.

I once again came back to the United States, where I accepted a tenured position as a professor at the George Washington University. My arrival back to the U.S. coincided with the Iranian hostage crisis, when 52 Americans working in the embassy in Tehran were held hostage for 444 days by a group of militants in Iran’s revolutionary movement. During this time, it was a little disturbing being an Iranian, as the media whipped the public into a never-before-seen media frenzy. When dealing on a personal level, I was relieved to find my students at GWU being very respectful. It was also during this time that I made the decision to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

I continued to teach at the university level and grew my own consulting and executive education business for Fortune 100 companies. I became sought after as an authority on future business trends, global economic assessment, and global corporate strategy and implementation. In 1992, I interviewed with Penn State benefactor William A. Schreyer, chairman emeritus of Merrill Lynch, along with Dean J. Hammond, and accepted the newly endowed position as professor of Global Management, Policies, and Planning, with the understanding that I would additionally be the founding director of the new Center for Global Business Studies. Schreyer became my friend and mentor and later encouraged me to join the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the world’s preeminent think tank.

Eventually, I began to wonder when I would be asked to serve on any boards. While these Fortune 100 companies readily asked for my insight, I saw no offers proffered in my direction. I soon figured out I would have to swallow my pride and actually ask to be considered. So, in 2006, I was granted a seat on the board of directors at Westfield Insurance Group and was honored to serve. Then, a year later, the former Vice President of Kodak North America and prior head of Kodak’s Healthcare Business United Bob Hamilton approached me to sit on the board of the newly formed Nason Medical Center.

This is only one story of an immigrant. My success is built on hard work, a supportive family, and the American culture, which is based more on meritocracy and the tolerance of immigrants than on one’s heritage.