Would you share some of your background and personal story?
Like a company, the balance sheet can never tell the entire story. In 1985, my mother took four children in the middle of the night to escape Vietnam for a better world. My father never made it on the boat. He was caught and put in jail, which was very much like a concentration camp. On that same night, our boat was met by Communist guards before we entered international waters and everyone on the boat offered up their valuables to earn our escape. It worked, and they let us go.
The following day, we were robbed by Thai pirates. Since we had already given everything away, they retaliated by killing many people on the boat, including my mother, and three-year old baby sister. The pirates took their six boats and continuously rammed our fishing boat until we were slowly sinking. Holding onto a wooden board to stay afloat, we were eventually rescued by an oil driller and brought to Galang Island, a refugee camp in Malaysia.
Luckily, my aunt, my father’s sister, was also on the same boat, and became our legal guardian at the refugee camp. She has six children of her own, and a niece and nephew from her husband's side of the family. Together we were sponsored by her husband who escaped in 1981, and eventually traveled to Salt Lake City, UT. In 1986, when the family heard that there was mill and factory work in Worcester, MA, we packed up to travel there and have stayed ever since.
I went through the Worcester Public School program, and graduated valedictorian of my high school, Class of 1996. With the help of my guidance counselor (since my family members didn't know what further education was), I was accepted to Brandeis and graduated in 2000. I was originally on a path to attend medical school, but later switched my interest and ended up in law school.
How did you find your path to becoming an attorney?
For me, becoming an attorney was accidental. As a Vietnamese immigrant, the elder generation always associated attorneys with liars and cheaters, and so it was never anything I thought to pursue as a career. After graduating Brandeis University in 2000 with majors in Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, I eventually realized I no longer wanted to go into the medical field.
In 2003, I got my real estate license and worked towards obtaining my real estate brokerage license in 2005. From there, I established LeHong Real Estate & Business Brokerage. In the years following, I purchased several businesses and decided to enter law school as a part-time night student at Western New England School of Law in order to better protect myself and my investments.
Quickly into my second year of law school, I realized I could see myself practicing law as a career. In 2010, I graduated with my JD/MBA and sold everything to start my own law practice.
Who do you consider your mentors?
My mentors have always been my educators, beginning with Mrs. Dowd, who taught me English in ESL class at Granite Street School. Then my guidance counselor in high school, Mr. Dowd, helped me apply to college and exposed me to the possibilities of higher education. At Brandeis, Professor Kalpana White not only mentored me in the biology lab, but outside of the classroom as a human being. I still call her for advice today.
What are some of life’s most valuable lessons that you apply to business?
I have learned that hunger develops a drive, but it’s important to make sure this drive keeps you on an ethical path. Having a JD is actually a double-edged sword because you can use it towards helping people or hurting them. I work hard to make sure the path I take is clear, and that billable hours don’t dictate important decisions.
Everything I do as an attorney has long-lasting effects on families and I find more value in that than using my JD to serve myself personally.
What are some of your passions outside of work?
Life is about giving back, and I have always wanted to leave the world a better place than I found it. I am inspired by my mother’s sacrifice and the educators who helped me get to where I am today. I currently serve as the board president for the Southeast Asia Coalition, which I have been part of for five years, and have aided in the service of over 10,000 immigrants like myself. I am also the VP of the Vietnamese Business Association of Massachusetts and work to grow the community and help mentor those in need of business assistance.
What do you value about your partnership with Kristen Walther?
Since meeting Kristen by chance through a mutual loan transaction, she has become much more than a business partner; I consider her both friend and family. I can call her in the middle of the night for advice on family issues, and she is always there to answer. This relationship and willingness to go beyond the parameters of a traditional business partnership has founded a loyalty and trust that can’t be matched.