Success stories are a dime a dozen on the Internet these days. But every now and then, there is one which really resonates – and Andrew Ly’s journey is undoubtedly one of them. From fleeing his own country as a refugee on a desperate and perilous journey, to being singled out by the President of the United States as an “embodiment of what America is about” – his is a story about defying the odds – hardship, poverty, dedication and family values; one filled with perseverance and hope.
His story began in a small village in November 1978, shortly after the Vietnam War. The Vietnamese government had just offered the Ly family permission to leave and escape a war-torn nation in exchange for their property.
The family of 8 took it and in that leap for a better life, lies the beginning of the successful family-owned enterprise: Sugar Bowl Bakery
Ly and his family set sail on a cramped boat with 143 other desperate refugees, including young babies. The sea churned and tossed them for 6 long nights and what little possessions they had stowed were stolen by pirates.
Reaching the shores of Malaysia, the boat was turned away. The Malaysian government would not allow refugee boats to come ashore, and the authorities pushed them back repeatedly. Facing a seemingly hopeless situation, 30-year-old Andrew came up with a risky plan: destroy the boat and swim ashore. Years later, he would confess they swam past corpses of other refugees who had tried and failed.
This ingenuity and willingness to take risks would serve Andrew well.
Finding their way to shore and a refugee camp, the Ly family lived with 53,000 other escapees and Ly would describe the conditions as “horrible.” They lived in this way for 9 months before a U.S Catholic Conference would help them immigrate to the United States.
San Francisco in 1979 was not a much easier place. With little education and even lesser English – Andrew and his siblings worked long hours at menial jobs or scrimped for education. The entire family occupied a single room apartment.
“We didn’t take trips or spend money like other people. We just saved,” says Andrew looking back on those days.
Balancing a tight, gruelling schedule of job and night-classes for close to 10, Andrew managed to eventually earn a Bachelor’s degree in financial accounting in 1987 and even more impressively – this humble family of hard-workers and saved up enough capital to start their own business: a small coffee shop called the Sugar Bowl Bakery.
Through dedication, passion and commitment this small bakery grew into a wholesale operation with annual sales approaching $100 million. The sweet delicacies made here can now be found in Costco, Kroger and Wal-Mart supermarkets all over the United States.
Ly is more than a self-made business mogul, he believes in remembering where he came from and in contributing back to the society. His motto for life is one worth remembering, “If you do something for yourself, those things will die with you; but if you do things for others, those things will remain in the world”.
Yesterday, Andrew Ly was on a narrow, cramped refugee boat in search of a better life. Today, his hard-earned family business is one of the biggest suppliers of baked goods in the United States.
At Tokio-Marine, we understand and appreciate the days that build success stories. If you’re starting or running a business, speak to us to find out how our understanding can help your success better.
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