For Paul Hsu, the path from arriving in the United States with $500 in his pocket to becoming the successful entrepreneur he is today is a testament to the way America continues to be a land of promise.
“I am a first generation immigrant—I came to over to this great country from Taiwan in 1976 and my 40 years experience is living proof that America is truly a land of opportunity,” he told NationSwell during an interview about his book Guardians of the Dream: The Enduring Legacy of America’s Immigrants.
His first U.S. business, the military electronics company Manufacturing Technology Incorporated, grew to employ 450 people and bring in $60 million in annual revenue, and he went on to found data content provider and medical device manufacturer companies in a career that led to a presidential appointment with the Small Business Administration and a research fellowship with Harvard University.
It’s no wonder then, that when Hsu saw a banner proclaiming the American Dream dead at a San Diego parade six years ago, he felt inspired to prove the point wrong by telling his own story. The target audience for Guardians of the Dream is young people, Hsu said, as he wants them to understand that the American Dream is available to everyone—but it all depends on how hard you are willing to work for it.
In a chapter titled “How America is Still the Innovation Nation,” Hsu outlines eight principles that have helped him do business with an innovation mindset, drawing on personal stories that convinced him of their importance. For example, he was asked to take over ActiGraph, the electronic medical device company, with little knowledge of the field. But instead of saying no, he paused and said he would think about it. “I took a small step forward. I agreed to listen. And the rest is history,” he writes.
He also emphasizes the importance of being bold and staying curious, explaining that he has learned most of what he knows through business experience, and by pushing himself, versus through his studies and Ph.D. in engineering management.
Building relationships and striving to understand what makes people tick is essential, he continues, explaining that “those of us in technical and technological fields can sometimes forget that what we do is really about serving people.” He outlines the importance of welcoming new ideas while also adhering to strong values. And he says to build wisely, drawing again on his own experience when he describes innovation as a process versus a destination.
“I’ve always built my companies slowly and was never in a rush to get big. Often when I talk to students or young engineers, they have stars in their eyes,” he says of people who hear about innovators making millions for inventing apps. “I had a firm principle of never moving beyond what I know we could produce.”
When NationSwell asked Hsu to define the American Dream, he broke it down into five elements: freedom, integrity, ingenuity, opportunity, and inclusion. Hsu referenced something former U.S. President Ronald Reagan once said about how living in France does not make you a Frenchman, living in Japan does not make you Japanese, but live in America, and you are an American.
The recipe for success in this mixing pot must include hard work and gratitude, Hsu emphasized. “Sometimes immigrants in a way are more successful because we never take anything for granted,” he said, describing the way he tried to instill these values in his kids, now entrepreneurs themselves, when he took them to see their mom working at Pizza Hut and had them learn small business lessons on a smaller scale by opening and operating a lemonade stand.
Hsu said he hopes his book, and the road map it provides for recognizing the American Dream in our own lives, will inspire any and all who read it to make something of this great opportunity America provides, “to become contributors to this society instead of burdens to this society.”