Immigrants make up 13% of the U.S. population. They come here in pursuit of the American Dream, an opportunity for a better life in exchange for hard work. For many, their unique skills and fresh perspectives lead them to entrepreneurship.
That may explain why one small-business owner in six in the U.S. is an immigrant, according to a recent report by the Fiscal Policy Institute's Immigration Research Initiative. Professional and business services, such as waste-disposal services and office administration and cleaning, boast the largest number of immigrant business owners, followed by retail, construction, educational and social services, and leisure and hospitality industries. "Immigrants are such a varied group with people from countries all around the world that have a wide range of skill sets . . . and these [fields] have always been a natural fit" both locally and nationally, says David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of FPI's Immigration Research Initiative.
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The seven entrepreneurs featured here come from diverse backgrounds. They made their millions (and, in one case, billions) in industries ranging from Internet technology to restaurant services. Here are their stories.
1. Josie Natori
Country of origin: Philippines
Occupation: Founder and CEO, the Natori Company
Her advice to immigrant entrepreneurs: "There is no better place in the world for an immigrant to succeed than in the U.S. Follow your dream and make it happen."
Moving from the Philippines to Westchester, N.Y., to attend Manhattanville College in 1964 was a complete culture shock for Natori. "The cold winters, the food and the sense of humor were just different. I was very homesick," she told Kiplinger. But it never stopped her.
After earning an economics degree, she went to work for Bache & Company on Wall Street, moving to Merrill Lynch in 1971. But climbing the corporate ladder wasn't enough. "While I loved the [corporate] culture, I also had a very strong desire to build something myself," she says.
In 1974, Natori became a U.S. citizen. And after giving birth to a son in 1976, she and her husband Ken brainstormed a variety of ideas for starting her own business -- from opening a car wash to running a McDonald's franchise. It was by chance in 1977, however, that she would become a high-end women’s sleepwear designer after showing a nightgown (made from what was originally a hand-embroidered blouse) to a buyer at Bloomingdale's.
In the early days, Natori ran her company solo. "It's easy to take for granted the amount of work that goes into [making] the clothes you see in stores," she says. "There are so many elements -- from the design concept to production -- that all need to work in order to make something happen." Today, she has nearly 400 employees. Her husband is chairman, and her son, Kenneth, is vice-president of finance and e-commerce. Her business has expanded to include fragrances, eyewear and home décor. In 2011, Natori teamed up with mass retailer Target for a budget-friendly line of lingerie and loungewear. That same year, her company generated $150 million in retail sales.
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"Some people may see their immigrant status as an obstacle," she says. "I have always viewed it as one of my biggest assets. Natori is unique in the design world, because of its East-meets-West aesthetic. All of that is due to my background and heritage."
2. Lowell Hawthorne
Country of origin: Jamaica
Occupation: Founder and CEO, Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill
His advice to immigrant entrepreneurs: "Anybody can achieve the American dream. You've got to be focused, educated, have discipline, and just go for it."
Shortly after moving to the Bronx from Jamaica in 1981, Hawthorne, 21, green card in hand, landed a job as an assistant stock handler with the New York Police Department. He earned an associate's degree in accounting from Bronx Community College and was eventually promoted to accountant. But entrepreneurship beckoned.
Hawthorne had watched his father operate a bakery in his native Jamaica and knew he wanted to work alongside family. So he pitched the idea for Golden Krust, a Caribbean-themed, family-style eatery, to his seven brothers and sisters who had also come to the U.S. At first, they couldn't get a small business loan. "The banks were hesitant to grant loans to new restaurants because of the failure rate -- especially niche restaurants such as ours," Hawthorne recalls. "We also didn't have a lot of personal assets to guarantee the loan." So the siblings took out second mortgages on their homes and borrowed money from family and friends, raising $107,000. In 1989, the first Golden Krust restaurant opened in the Bronx. In 1991, Hawthorne left his job with the NYPD for good. The next year, he became a U.S. citizen.
There are now more than 100 Golden Krust locations in nine states along the Eastern seaboard. Hawthorne and Golden Krust have been profiled in major publications such as The New York Times, the Washington Post and Black Enterprise magazine. In 2011, the company generated $100 million in revenue. Hawthorne says in addition to opening more franchises, there are plans to expand the company with a line of cooking sauces.
"Risks not taken are opportunities missed," he says. "You've always got to take calculated risks in entrepreneurship.”
3. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Country of origin: Austria
Occupation: Hollywood actor and former California governor
His advice to immigrant entrepreneurs: Don't let others' negativity discourage you from achieving your goals.
"Aw-nold" wasn't always a famous face with a big bank account. He's originally from Thal, Austria, and immigrated to the United States in 1968 at age 21. His meal ticket back then was body-building. Schwarzenegger would eventually become a five-time Mr. Universe and seven-time Mr. Olympia champion, which helped open many doors for him -- especially in Hollywood. From 1969 to 1980, he was cast in a series of small roles in films such as "Hercules in New York" and "Stay Hungry." When he was cast as the title character in the 1982 film "Conan the Barbarian," Schwarzenegger's acting career took off. He became a U.S. citizen in 1983. One year later, he starred in "The Terminator" and has gone on to star in more than 20 films.
Schwarzenegger's entrepreneurial ventures include the Arnold Sports Festival, which he started in 1989 and is held annually in Columbus, Ohio. It hosts thousands of international health and fitness professionals and has expanded into a three-day expo. He was one of the founding celebrity shareholders in the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain that opened in 1991. Schwarzenegger also owns Oak Productions, Inc., a movie production company, and Fitness Publications, a publishing interest with Simon & Schuster.
In 2003, he ran for governor of California, and won, ultimately serving two terms. Today, Schwarzenegger is worth an estimated $300 million. His films have grossed $1.6 billion domestically. In October, he published his memoir "Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story."
Earlier this year, he was profiled in ESPN's "30 for 30" short documentary-film series. During that interview, Schwarzenegger discussed how early in his career, he refused to let naysayers stop him from pursuing his dreams: "I didn't pay any attention to it. . . I did not listen to the 'no' . . . and it worked out. I used that attitude as a blueprint for the rest of my life."
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