Nalie Lee-Wen was born in a world of conflict. The Vietnam War was ending. Her father, Cheng Yang, and many of the Hmong men in her village had helped the CIA navigate the terrain during the war, and they were left without protection.
Her family wasn’t from Laos, where they had mostly lived. They weren’t from Thailand, where they fled to and ended up in a refugee camp after the Viet Cong drove them out of Laos. They weren’t from Vietnam, where U.S. troops had been before exiting after the Fall of Saigon in 1975.
“We didn’t belong to any country,” Lee-Wen says.
Today, Lee-Wen, 41, and her husband, Monte, own a real-estate investment firm, the PPA Group, and several businesses underneath that umbrella, from multifamily construction to an equity firm. Her experience as a refugee has informed her success in business and has influenced the way she parents her children. She came from a childhood of no material goods into a land of plenty. Her kids, and those around them, she says, could stand a lesson in want, which is what she’s tried to give them.
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