With little knowledge of business, immigrant studies way to success

David Fettig | Managing Editor

Published July 1, 1991  | July 1991 issue

Rajiv Tandon, who teaches courses in entrepreneurship and franchising at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, believes that a large wave of entrepreneurship exists in America as a result of its immigrant population. When new people come to a strange land, he says, they often have great impetus to establish their own niche in the economy.

Be Le, former bomber pilot for the South Vietnamese Air Force who was nearly fatally wounded during the Vietnam War, certainly fits that description.

When Be Le came to the Twin Cities in 1975 he had a dream of becoming a photographer and opening his own studio. The only problem: he knew virtually nothing about photography. "I felt like I wanted to own something, instead of working for somebody else," he says. "Only it was not as easy as I thought."

Indeed, while working in a factory during the day, he studied photography at night. His wife also worked, and over the years they eventually saved enough money for Le to begin realizing his goal.

Today, Le has his own studio in his family's home in Burnsville, complete with a gazebo and bridge in the yard for wedding photos. Le built the gazebo and bridge himself, along with his studio's remote-controlled backdrop. He is always changing visual elements of his business, offering different scenes and new techniques as people's whims evolve. The ability to change, he says, is crucial to the success of a service-based business. "If you keep the old way, I don't think you can stay in business."

Le's success has been a family affair. Along with his wife's support—she now aids in the photography business in addition to her job at a computer company—the Le's three children, ages 17, 16 and 10, also contribute to the business in their own particular way. For example, his 17-year-old daughter, is handy with computers and in the darkroom; his 16-year-old son has taken an interest in video, and has helped tape weddings and other events.

Although a novice to photography when he arrived in the Twin Cities in 1975, he was no novice to visual arts. Le's father was a painter, and even though Le admits that he does not like to paint, he believes that his father's influence has had a positive impact on his career.