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There are a lot of adjectives that could describe Truong Nguyen (pronounced Joon Win). He is a clinical systems analyst at Community Regional, a former Asian vegetable farmer, a great father to daughter Jessica and twin boys Justin and Travis, an avid boating enthusiast, a cancer survivor and an expert in the eco system of salt-water aquariums. So, in one all encompassing word – Truong is an entrepreneur.
He credits his work ethic and drive to his father Tho Van and his mother Quan. “My mom is my hero,” he said as we sipped iced green tea at the Starbucks at Cedar and Shepherd. She owned restaurants in Vietnam, but in 1980 when a new communist constitution was being adopted, the family decided to leave for the United States. He arrived at the age of five along with his six brothers and sisters and his parents, who were expecting another child. No one spoke English. Shortly after arriving in San Francisco, they moved to Clovis and into a small three-bedroom house near DeWitt and Sierra to be close to family. “We had nine people sharing one bathroom,” Truong said with a smile. “I remember being really happy there.”
To pay the bills, everybody worked. “We were the Fresno Bee family,” Truong joked. “At 4 a.m. everyone would get up to fold newspapers and then we’d all deliver.” But the newspaper business didn’t provide enough cash to care for a large family, so his mother, whose keen eye saw a market niche, started growing Asian vegetables in their garage. Veggies like bitter melon, which Truong said is ‘really really bitter,’ bok choy, Chinese okra, daikon, long beans, moqua, singua, Thai chili, and lemon grass. Demand was so great; they outgrew the garage and built a greenhouse. Then they outgrew the greenhouse and leased some land. Until one day the Nguyen’s purchased a farm.
At the age of 17, Truong was managing the operation. At 19 he bought 15 acres from his parents and took over all the financial and operational duties, including daily and sometimes twice daily deliveries to Sacramento. You’d think that this would keep him busy enough. But in the winter, when things slowed down, Truong decided to take computer science classes. As I listened to his story, I was awed by his humility, sense of humor, resilience and willingness to tackle big challenges.
“How did you get interested in tropical fish?” I asked. Around the age of sixteen he fell in love with fishing when he accompanied his uncle to the pond at Woodward Park. He also became mesmerized by salt-water aquariums, and explained, “This is an expensive hobby.” So, in what seems to be a normal pattern of inventiveness, Truong discovered that he could buy used aquariums and then sell the parts for enough money to cover the cost of outfitting his entire tank. “The ability to hammer a nickel into ten cents - I get that from my mom,” he said with a smile.
“I’ve heard it’s pretty tough to keep a salt water tank going”, I commented. “Not really,” Truong responded. What he explained next seems like a playbook for keeping clown fish and corals, but also to building healthy teams.
Steps to keeping your Eco-System healthy:
How healthy is your eco-system? If you love the team you are on, share some of what makes your environment healthy and fun. If you have suggestions about how to make teamwork better, let us know. If you know Truong and just want to recognize him for his support of your team, you can add that too. Add a reply with your name and you’ll receive a package of yummy goldfish crackers.
Thanks Truong for sharing your story!