Nowadays, Thach Nguyen lives a great life.
A John L. Scott real-estate agent and former Rainier Valley resident, Nguyen spends his time developing high-rise condominiums and creating communities that he hopes people are inspired to live in. He also holds frequent seminars where he shares with others how to find success and happiness in life.
But if you had questioned Nguyen when he was a boy living in a small, broken-down home in Southeast Seattle about where he would be in his mid-30s, he probably wouldn't have described his life as it is now: living comfortably and accumulating millions in the real-estate industry, with the financial ability to develop condominiums and donate homes to the community.
But even when he was living under the worst of conditions, Nguyen possessed a drive and determination to be someone and to do something special.
A LONG JOURNEY TO SUCCESS
When Nguyen was only 5 years old, his father gathered up his family to flee Vietnam after a warning that the Communist Party was going to take over.
The Nguyen family traveled to San Diego, where they stayed in a shelter for about a month. Nguyen and his family then moved to Washington state, where they lived with other refugee families at Camp Murray in Tacoma.
Thanks to the generosity of a shelter volunteer who "adopted" the Nguyens to live in his home, the family left Camp Murray for Sumner.
Eventually, Nguyen's father saved enough money through his job as a social worker to purchase a two-bedroom home in Southeast Seattle. Nguyen remembers the home well.
"The bathroom wasn't even really [big enough] to be a bathroom," Nguyen described. "The walls were all moldy, and the windows were broken. The basement had a little 'river' that ran through it, and we had a bunk bed in the living room."
Nguyen, his five siblings and his parents lived in the home for 10 years.
When Nguyen graduated from Franklin High School in 1988, he decided to follow the footsteps of one of his older siblings and learn how to fix airplanes. But after earning an aviation mechanic license from South Seattle Community College, Nguyen decided to do something different.
Nguyen took on many jobs, working seven days a week at Safeway part-time, parking cars for a Thai restaurant and working at a body shop in Bellevue.
But soon he discovered a new passion. Inspired by a friend, Nguyen studied for his real-estate license and passed the exam soon after.
At age 21 and already holding three jobs, Nguyen persuaded Windermere Real Estate to hire him after convincing the company he could gain a lot of clientele in the Asian community.
Although Nguyen did do relatively well for the first two years, selling 15 homes in a year, a run-in with Matthew Ferry completely changed his career.
Ferry taught Nguyen the idea of the "180-degree theory" - in other words, to "do the opposite of what every other real estate agent is doing," Nguyen explained. "He told me that most companies wait around for business to come, and that he wanted me to do [the 180-degree theory] to become successful."
Nguyen followed Ferry's advice and, for 10 years, went out into the community, knocking on 100 doors a day, five days a week asking people for their business. He also made it a goal to make 100 contacts a day over the telephone.
The hard work paid off: Nguyen began selling 10 to 16 homes a month, 80 homes in a year.
By the age of 27, Nguyen was a millionaire.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Currently, Nguyen dedicates most of his time working with his real-estate team and putting his money toward developing apartment buildings and high-rise condominiums. Nguyen has created one of the only condominium complexes in Seattle that, he said, "caters to first-time homeowners," with prices starting at $150,000; Moda Condominiums, the new complex located in Belltown, has a motto that seems to say it all: "Fashionable living, with money left for life."
"I am grateful that I get to build a community for the 'underdog' to have an opportunity where they may not have before," Nguyen explained. "To me, that's exciting. I have a passion to help young adults because someone helped me.
Nguyen has also developed the American Dream program with First Place School, which was established to help homeless children. Through the American Dream program, Nguyen selects a child's family that is ready to leave a shelter and purchases a home for them to rent at an affordable rate.
"I don't check their credit, and I rent them the home for less [than market rate]," Nguyen said.
With a permanent address, children from the families can then attend public school, Nguyen explained. The idea is that a family that is donated a home will eventually learn to become financially stable: They then can rent the home to another family and continue the chain of giving, he said.
SHARING HIS KNOWLEDGE
Nguyen also spends much of his time offering inspirational seminars in partnership with Ferry, one of his earliest mentors.
"It's the type of seminar that helps you figure our what your passion is and how you want to make a difference," said Nguyen's sister-in-law and recent seminar attendee Lisa Milkovich. Milkovich is a fellow John L. Scott real estate agent who, by attending the seminar, said she was inspired to begin following her dream of helping troubled teens.
"[The seminars] help you to self-generate and learn to think big in all areas of your life," Milkovich said. "It's not real estate-specific."
Nguyen's sister-in-law says that Nguyen has not only been a mentor and inspiration to her, but to her entire John L. Scott office.
"He's amazing," she said. "He's the most inspiring person I have ever met. He's always trying to help other people achieve at a high level."
LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
Nguyen says he has learned a lot through his success. "The No. 1 thing [you have to do] to build a foundation," he explained, "is to sometimes slow down and really get clear on what you want and why you want it. If you don't slow down and take the time to figure out what you want and why you want it, when times get tough, you won't get going."
And Nguyen - who, in his door-to-door sales days endured rain, snow and even getting bitten and chased by dogs - would know that more than anyone.
A lot of people, he explained, "think 'when I have money, then I can give back and that will make me feel good.' But a lot of the things I do to help people have nothing to do with money."
For Nguyen, it's about inspiring people through his seminars, he said, to make something of themselves and to "find peace and joy now, even when [you're] not there yet."
For him, what keeps him doing what he does now is "that feeling of giving - you can't buy that."
Robin Erlandson may be reached via email@example.com.