Phan is the embodiment of hard work and perseverance. Everyone at the office would probably say the same thing, that “Phan, is a great guy.” Having immigrated from Vietnam as part of an ethnic minority group, Phan settled in North Carolina over 30 years ago and has worked at HagerSmith for almost 34 years. “I came here [HagerSmith] in 1986 and Mike, he take care of me,” says Phan. “He’s been here almost since the beginning,” adds Mike Hager, the now retired founder of HagerSmith Design. “We had to figure things out. We learned together and it’s amazing to see how he’s worked through so many things and see him get married and have kids of his own,” says Mike, while Phan smiles and nods in agreement. Having to navigate the waters of a new country whose language and culture is vastly different than one’s own would be a daunting task for anyone but Phan. Through smiles and laughter, Phan talks about how much Mike and HagerSmith Design helped him through much of the challenges. He explains, “I love my job, making the blueprints, putting together CD’s. I like my job.”
His first job after moving to the United States, was at Johnson-Lambe Sporting Goods and Trophies, putting stencils on baseball caps. Phan was hired during the early days of HagerSmith and as Mike puts it, “I’m glad he came here. Although at the time, I didn’t know if we would make it after the first week. I thought it was going to be tough because there was so much going on and I couldn’t spend enough time with him to teach him, but he just seemed to figure it out. You don’t need to give him much instruction because Phan, he’ll just figure it out.” He started out making blueprints, and then eventually the team helped him get his drivers’ license and a car, so he could start delivering blueprints to clients.
Aside from his dedication to his work, Phan has found ways to share a few skills from his home in areas of gardening around the HagerSmith building. Almost in awe, Mike recalls a story about a time Phan helped them with planting shrubbery in the parking lot of HagerSmith. “We were getting ready to plant shrubbery around it and he and some of his buddies were helping digging holes and…they got a garden hose, the dirt was so hard, but they got a garden hose and they made these beautiful tiny puddles, it looked like rice paddies from Vietnam. That’s how he was able to dig the dirt for the plants. It was a gorgeous piece of work. I wish I had a picture, but I didn’t have a camera then.” Phan and his wife’s love of gardening found them growing peppers native to Vietnam and selling them at his church.
There is clearly a strong desire at HagerSmith for everyone to be true to themselves and to their personalities and that could be seen by Phan’s deep appreciation of the opportunities he’s been given by the firm. As a token of gratitude and appreciation of Phan’s work ethic, the HagerSmith team did something incredibly special one year. His old car had stopped working so the company banded together and purchased a car for Phan’s 50th birthday.
There’s something to be said about a company that generates gratefulness and a strong sense of joy among its oldest and newest employees, and Phan is the essence of this, multiplied. As Phan says, “I have fun here,” and at the end of the day, that’s what matters.