Think Like an Immigrant

All business owners can benefit from embracing immigrant values, which provide a strong groundwork for entrepreneurial hustle.

Nely Galán By Nely Galán

Hi Rez Book Cover 021816You’re not born self-made. It takes hard work and hustle — a story I know all too well from my early days as a young immigrant to this country, who, by necessity, had to figure out how to chase after my goals, by any means necessary.

After decades of facing my fears and failures, rising up after setbacks, choosing myself, being willing to pivot, and creatively finding ways to turn my problems into profit, today I can proudly say that I am self-made.

As a freshman in high school, I sold Avon products so I could (without my parents knowledge) pay for school, which planted the seed in my soul for a lifetime of entrepreneurship. I went on to work as a reporter, producer and even a television network president, only to realize that it was real estate that would ultimately lead me to true wealth.

I made money buying buildings, which allowed me to focus on my true mission: to help women flex their own entrepreneurial muscles by empowering, training and connecting them to one another and to the myriad of resources available to them.

But believe me when I say that none of this happened overnight.

My family came to the United States from Cuba when I was five years old and my brother was three. My parents, who were in their thirties when we arrived, had to learn a new language and forge new identities for themselves. They had no choice — they had to rebuild their lives. They worked humbly at anything and everything, and struggled to make ends meet.

My dad, who had owned supermarkets and car dealerships back in Cuba, painted cars on the assembly line at Ford Motors. My mom had a college degree but took work as a seamstress in a factory. To earn extra money, she would make wedding dresses at home and babysit all the kids in the neighborhood. My parents, by example, imparted a strong work ethic, discipline, humility and gratitude, and never once complained about what had happened to them. They loved their new country, and they taught my brother and me to not only love it, but to also be grateful for being here every single day.

Related: Full coverage of women immigrant entrepreneurs

Immigrants not only impact the cultural diversity of this country — they also very much color its economic landscape. Can you believe most entrepreneurs in America are immigrants or first generation? As I explain in my book, SELF MADE: Becoming Empowered, Self-Reliant and Rich in Every Way, in 2010, more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or by the children of immigrants. Although they make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, immigrants are responsible for a quarter of all new businesses. Research conducted by EthniFacts shows that immigrants in the United States consistently exceed the rest of the population in optimism and in aspiration to reinvent themselves through hard work and entrepreneurship.

Why? Because immigrants, by necessity, have always had to be adaptable to change. They have had to uproot, resettle and find a way to survive, which gives them the fuel to be natural-born entrepreneurs. They understand the SELF MADE mindset because they have to; it’s their way of coping with the inevitable ups and downs of life. Immigrants don’t subscribe to magical thinking, and instead tend to be more resilient. They are quicker to bounce back from setbacks, and manage to do a lot with a little because they understand that uncertainty is a part of life.

When you harness this mentality and adopt immigrant values on your own self-made journey, you essentially bootstrap your way to success. Here are a few of my favorite tips on how you can start thinking like an immigrant, more of which are outlined in my book:

  • Relinquish your sense of entitlement, which doesn’t serve you in any way.
  • Remember that you and your family are a team, so stick together. There is strength in numbers!
  • Learn to be humble, ready, willing and able to work and make money. Realize that every road you take has some kind of business lesson to teach you.
  • Make passion and stamina your new best friends. As you learn to flex your entrepreneurial muscles, remember that in every job you are really training to be an owner.
  • Your own community is your best starting point. Look for people like you who are underserved and make it your objective to sell to them first.
  • Make it a priority to get out of survival mode by working toward the goal of a secure future. This will help you face life’s many curveballs.

About the author: Nely Galán is a Latina media mogul, entrepreneur, teacher, speaker, Emmy Award winning producer, and an advocate for gender parity. She was the first female president of a U.S. television network (Telemundo Entertainment) and the first Latina to appear on “Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump” on NBC. After becoming self-made, Galán made it her mission to teach women how they too can become entrepreneurs and control their economic futures. In 2012, she founded the nonprofit The Adelante Movement (“Move it forward!” in Spanish) to train and empower Latinas to become entrepreneurs. Her book, SELF MADE: Becoming Empowered, Self-Reliant, and Rich in Every Way, was published by Spiegel & Grau/Random House in May 2016.

Posted: June 2, 2016

Nely GalánThink Like an Immigrant