Asian American and Pacific Islander Month: Meet John Nguyen, Co-Owner – Las Vegas Pizza LLC.

We all know that representation matters, and this is especially important in business. In our new series for 2023, Pizza Hut, LLC and its restaurants are showcasing a franchisee for each heritage month (Black History Month, Women’s History Month, etc.) to have a chance to get to know them more personally; learn more about their culture, background, and traditions; and celebrate the diversity represented within Pizza Hut LLC’s franchise group.

For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we sat down with John Nguyen, co-owner – Las Vegas Pizza LLC, to learn more about his background and career journey, hear some of the challenges he’s faced in business and discover what advice he would give aspiring business owners.

Share with us a little about your background, your career journey and how you landed where you are today.
“My family was part of the first wave of Vietnamese refugees that left Vietnam in 1975. We were lucky to be evacuated on a Korean navy ship to Busan, Korea, and eventually was sponsored by a church group in Vancouver, British Columbia, where we settled until my adult years.

I am an entrepreneur at heart so, after I graduated from college, I started a business venture with another partner. The venture ultimately was not successful, but the experience was invaluable for my business career. For several years, I was immersed in all aspects of a startup – from raising capital, to developing business plans and strategies for business. We were able to take the company public on the Vancouver Stock Exchange, an exchange that specialized in smaller and riskier listings. Although the venture initially went well, and the stock price was up substantially, we were not able to deliver on the plan and eventually ran out of funds. However, I learned so many valuable business lessons at a very early stage in my career that I know has helped me in my business career.

After the failed venture, I picked a safer career path and got my CPA certification and moved into the corporate world. The next 15 years, I worked for three different mid-size companies in controller or CFO capacities. My family moved to Seattle, Washington in 2001 and I joined the Emerald City Pizza Group in 2006. My wife and I are approaching our 32nd anniversary and we have two adult daughters who both reside in California.”

As an Asian American business owner, have you experienced any career challenges and, if so, how did you overcome them?
“Overall, I believe America is very accepting of Asian business owners for the most part. I had one experience, early in my career, when I was promoted to the leadership team of a food manufacturing company in Canada. One of the long-standing leaders, on the team, did not take well to me being promoted and made comments about me ‘not having a look of a leader.’ They might have been referring more to my stature than my ethnicity, but we did not have a good working relationship and he was eventually let go. The team and company did go on to perform at an elevated level after that. I believe that barriers to successful businesses are just as likely internal barriers versus external barriers. A minority business owner one time spoke to me at length about a ‘glass ceiling’ and that we should be aware of it. My perspective on this is to be aware but don’t focus on it. Instead, focus on improving your business skills and the results will speak for themselves.”  

What made you choose to be a Pizza Hut franchise owner?
“I joined Emerald City Pizza in 2006, when the principals at the time were looking for a new Controller/Chief Financial Officer. I found this position attractive because it provided me an opportunity to participate in the company from an equity perspective. At the time, I did not know much about the restaurant franchise business, but I found it exciting to have the opportunity to work as an entrepreneur and use the financial/business skills that I had learned.

When I joined, I started as a minor shareholder and increased my holdings to become one of the principal shareholders as we acquired additional markets and consolidated our partnership group. I became the Franchisee of Record for Las Vegas Pizza in 2022. Pizza Hut is a great American brand with so much legacy and it’s been rewarding to be involved with such a brand. What makes the journey better is that we have a great partnership group with supportive operating partners like Terry Hopkins and Eric Hughes.”

How do you support diverse communities in and outside of your business? What can other business leaders do to provide more support and create a more inclusive community??
“In my community, I am known as the Pizza Hut guy because I’m always talking about the great opportunities in the franchise restaurant business. More importantly, we need to encourage those within our communities to follow their passion and explore creative paths – not just seek out the ‘safer’ careers in the medical and technical fields. Push the edge of your perceived boundaries.”

Who, within the Asian community, has been your biggest inspiration – both in life and business?
“My father was my biggest inspiration, not because he was a great businessman or anything like that, but because he lived life with so much hope and passion. What I admired most about him was that he was always curious, extremely adventurous, and was able to see greatness in everyone. He also saw beauty in the simplest things in life.”

When you were an aspiring business owner, what is some advice that would have been helpful to you or that you wish you had?
“Some of the business principles and values that are important to me include:

  • Business success is tied mostly to execution. Execution is key; you can have brilliant strategies but without execution, it’s just ideas.
  • Drive down transactional work and processes while driving up value-added work and processes. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important.
  • Lastly, stand by your convictions. It’s okay to disagree but without convictions, you lend yourself to fall into ‘group thinking,’ which can be detrimental to the long-term health of the business.

Also, I wish I had worked harder on being a better communicator. Effective communication and interpersonal skills help you be a better leader and businessperson. For some immigrants, this is a difficult skill to master.”

If you could tell your child-self some advice, what would it be?
“Work on being comfortable in your own skin; the earlier the better. At times, I grew up feeling a bit like an outsider. This could have stemmed from having an immigrant background but there was always a need to prove something which is a good motivator but can be counterproductive in many ways too.”

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