Since escaping South Vietnam in 1980, Daklak Do said he has worked his way up from dishwasher to chief executive of two companies employing more than 160 employees and earning $30 million in annual gross annual revenues.
Do, 61, of Springboro agreed to tell his story after several attempts to turn the focus back toward his businesses, Advanced Interior Solutions (AISI) and Advanced Engineering Solutions (AESI) in Springboro.
“He’s very humble about it,” said Springboro Mayor John Agenbroad, a Vietnam veteran.“It’s heart-warming.”
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Do was born in 1957 in Ogia, South Vietnam. His parents owned small businesses until the country was taken over after the onset of the Vietnam War.
“I was in the 12th grade, the communists took over Vietnam,” Do said last week, seated in a conference room in one of buildings in an industrial park off Ohio 73, Central Avenue in Springboro. “After that, I wasn’t allowed to go back to school.”
The Do family was moved to a “new economy zone” where, despite a lack of experience, they logged a forest into a farm and raised a variety of crops.
“The communists took away everything from my family,” he said, one of 11 children. “You learned by doing it.”
Desperate to escape, Do said he eventually turned to selling goods on the black market to earn enough to be smuggled out the country with his brother, Khang, and a younger nephew, Hanh, on a boat to Indonesia.
“Six nights and six days,” Do said, recalling how he and the others stood for the entire trip to Indonesia for lack of any space to sit or lay down in an area shared with about 160 people.
At one point, the engine died.
“After two days, you weren’t scared anymore. You die, you die,” he said.
In an Indonesian refugee camp, Do, his brother and nephew studied English and waited to be accepted as political refugees by the United States. They were sponsored by a cousin, Quy Do, who lived in Dayton.
In November 1982, Do, his brother and nephew moved into an apartment at Woodman Drive and Wilmington Pike in Kettering. Do worked for five years washing dishes at a the Bob Evans restaurant near Delco Park and a nearby Chinese restaurant, learning American ways and the English language.
In 1990, Do said he sneaked back into South Vietnam and married his girlfriend since 1978, Dakbla, before bringing her back to Ohio.
“She was still waiting for me,” he said.
Do attended Sinclair Community College, where he completed a two-year mechanical engineering degree. Unable to find a job in the Dayton area, Do said he moved to Houston and worked as a spot welder until his brother completed a master’s degree and took a high-paying job in the defense industry.
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Do then moved back to Kettering and completed his degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Dayton in 1989. He went to work for C.H. Masland, a carpeting company in Carlisle, Pa.
Do returned to Ohio to work in Lebanon at Amtex, a joint venture of Masland and Hayashi Telempu of Japan, and lived in an apartment “right next to Kings Island.”
In 1996, Do left Amtex started Advanced Engineering to supply Amtex and other suppliers of Toyota and other automakers.
“I figured out I can do it on my own,” Do said.
Advanced Drive, the road leading to AISI and AESI, is named after the company Do and his late partner, Bill Haws, built from a small space in Monroe.
His businesses are among Springboro’s top 10 employers, according to City Manager Chris Pozzuto. Its interior parts are currently being installed in vehicles built by Chrysler, BMW, Volkswagon and General Motors, Do said.
Still, he isn’t resting on his accomplishments.
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Do plans to expand both buildings in Springboro and build a a public park and new building in Franklin for expansions into aerospace and marine interior markets.
“In my life, I always try to contribute something to society,” said Do, who also funds right-to-life projects in Vietnam.
While touring the plants, this reporter was introduced to Jim Haws, son of Do's late partner, and a 30-year employee. Another long-time employee is Scott Paulson, vice president of sales and a trustee in Washington Twp., Montgomery County.
“He helped me very much to grow the company,” Do said.
Do’s eldest son, Patrick, manages the aerospace division, daughter Patricia is a nurse in Columbus. The youngest Do, Maria, attends Bishop Fenwick High School.
“She want to be veterinarian,” he said.
U.S., Ohio and South Vietnamese flags fly on poles above of the complex.
Do said he is motivated by his life experience and the urge to give back to America.
“I want people to look at me say ‘He didn’t come here to live off the system,’” he said. “This country take me in as a refugee. I feel obligated to pay it back.”