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Tuesday, Jul 16, 2024

Immigrant Execs Give Back to OC

Charlie Zhang likes to say he moved from his native China to the U.S. in the early 1980s with $20 in his pocket, and was paid $50 million in 2001 for the Chinese fast-food restaurant chain he founded, Pick Up Stix.

Nowadays, Zhang, who runs Laguna Niguel-based investment company Zion Enterprises, is deeply involved in local philanthropy, having donated $5 million to the Orange County Music & Dance, $1 million to California State University, Fullerton and $2 million to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, where he is treasurer of its board of directors.

“America raised me up,” Zhang told the Business Journal in a recent email.

“I am so honored and pleased to make donation to community and nonprofit organizations.”

Zhang is one of several immigrants and their families who have built successful careers and companies in Orange County, and who have given millions of dollars in recent years to local groups to show their appreciation.

Several of those donations are highlighted in the Business Journal’s list of the Largest Charitable Gifts of 2023; see page 16 for more.

Topping the latest list is Peggy and Andrew Cherng, founders of Rosemead’s Panda Express, who made a “transformative” $100 million donation to the City of Hope, which is building a $1.5 billion campus in Irvine.

“As immigrants, we recognize the privilege we’ve been afforded from our communities and want to give back and provide opportunities to those we serve,” said the Cherngs, who are reported to own a secondary home at the oceanfront Strand at Headlands neighborhood in Dana Point.

“Giving reflects our family’s personal values of care, compassion, stewardship and service.”
The following highlight large area donors in 2023 who came to America as immigrants and found success.

Kingston’s Giving Duo

Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian last year broke ground on the Sun Family Campus, a new six-building campus in Irvine, for which David and Diana Sun announced a $50 million donation in 2022.

David Sun, who emigrated from Taiwan, is the co-founder of Fountain Valley’s Kingston Technology, the second-biggest private company in Orange County, generating more than $16 billion in sales in 2022.

“In 1977, David and Diana Sun emigrated from Taiwan to America as a young married couple in pursuit of a new life with greater opportunity,” said the Sun Family Foundation webpage. “Shortly thereafter, they settled in Orange County where they put down roots and raised their two children. For the past 40 years, they have proudly called Orange County their home.”

Kingston Technology has also partnered with Hoag Classic annual golf tournament to fund $70,000 annually to support a Hoag Scholarship for non-nursing employees.

Linksys Founders’ Local Giving

The Tsao Family Foundation donated $2 million last year to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, which is using the funds to open 17 “WellSpaces” at schools in Irvine to promote mental well-being.

The foundation has given a variety of donations over the years to several organizations, including more than $8 million to CHOC.

“Giving back to Orange County makes a lot of sense because you touch and feel when you give,” Janie Tsao told the Business Journal.

After she and her husband, Victor, emigrated from Taiwan, they began Linksys, a home networking computer company that they eventually sold for about $500 million in 2003.

Over the years, she’s been inspired by other donors such as the Sun Family Foundations’ work for Hoag in Irvine and the effort by local medical facilities to combat cancer.

“Even though our roots are different and we’re from a different country, once you are building your career and your business and your family, you think of this as your land,” she said.

“It’s important that we contribute because this land is our land as well.”

Holistic Oncology Program

Peggy and Andrew Cherng, who opened their first Panda Express restaurant in 1973 in Pasadena, have built it to the largest Chinese chain in the U.S. with 2,200 doors, 40,000 employees and more than $3 billion in annual sales.

City of Hope said last year’s $100 million donation from the family will create a first-of-its-kind oncology program that brings together Eastern and Western medicines, using practices like acupuncture.

“Panda’s values and our family’s values are about taking the best of Eastern heritage and Western upbringing to benefit the people around us,” Peggy Cherng said in a statement last year.

Peggy was born in Burma, what is now called Myanmar, while Andrew, the son of a chef, was born in China.

“This gift focuses on what is possible when Western medicine’s ability to cure the disease is combined with Eastern medicine’s role in restoring the body to holistically heal cancer patients.”

Along with the Cherng’s donation, City of Hope Orange County also received a $2 million gift from Roberta Simmons-Wong, a daughter of immigrants and an Orange County resident, whose late husband supported research at its campus in Duarte.

$50M and Counting

The Chao family has been among the larger backers of UCI Health in recent years.

The family emigrated from Taiwan, then founded and built Watson Pharmaceuticals into a $3 billion firm; it was eventually renamed Activis, acquired Irvine’s Allergan and then was bought by Abbvie in 2020.

Since their first gifts in 1995, three generations of Chaos have given more than $50 million to UCI Health to improve cancer research and treatment in Orange County.

The most recent donation resulted in the naming of the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Ambulatory Care building, which is scheduled to open this year as a five-story tower with 225,000 square feet at UCI Health’s new medical campus off Jamboree Road.

“Doing good in our community has always been very important to our family,” Allen Chao, the founder of Watson Pharmaceuticals, said in 2021. “It’s a value passed down to us from our matriarch and patriarch, Hsu Hwa Chao and Hsi Hsiung Chao.”

UCI Health successfully treated Allen Chao in 1999 for stomach cancer.

Striking Gold in Granite

Indian immigrants Manu and Rika Shah in 1975 started a granite import business in the basement of their home in Fort Wayne, Ind.

While still operating out of their basement, in 1981 they secured the contract to supply the black granite for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They moved to Southern California in 1984 to be closer to the West Coast ports.

Their Orange-based MS International, which supplies flooring and countertops, is the 10th largest privately owned firm in Orange County with an estimated $2.7 billion in sales in 2022.

The family began the Shah Happiness Foundation, which supports causes such as early childhood education, healthcare and well-being, and employment generation. It partners with organizations to make a fundamental shift in the quality of life of individuals with leapfrogging ideas.

Last year, it gave $3 million to Chapman University to endow a chair to highlight local and national leaders who have successfully applied high-tech thinking to low-tech industries. The university recently named a room, the Shah Happiness Room for Innovativeness, located in Beckman Hall.

It also gave another $1.5 million to the Illumination Foundation to provide two emergency shelters for families. Each shelter will provide a home for up to eight families, including up to 20 children, at a time and aim to serve approximately 30-40 families each year.

“Here are the short reasons why we are doing this; God and America have given us a lot beyond our needs; positive feelings generated by giving helps us even more; and every time we give, we realize how fortunate we are,” Manu Shah told the Business Journal.

“The impact that two individuals can make in their community and beyond, is driven by gratitude, a sense of responsibility, and a deep commitment to improving the lives of others.

“Our philanthropy serves as an inspiration to others. By leading by example, we motivate our community, peers, and future generations to also engage in acts of kindness and generosity,” he said.

Manu Shah nowadays calls himself the “Chief Giving Officer” at MS International. Last year, he handed the CEO title to share between his two sons, Rupesh and Raj.

UCI’s Draw

The University of California, Irvine has in recent years received several multimillion-dollar gifts from immigrants, or their children, who have done well in the U.S.

Among them are Lester and Vani Ng, who donated $5 million to establish and endowed chair in biological sciences at UCI. The award, No. 13 on this week’s list (see page 16), was in honor of Lester’s parents, Dr. Lionel and Fay Ng.

“I’m thrilled this gift honors my parents who taught me the value of education and research,” said Lester Ng, a 1994 graduate of UCI.

In 2021, the Falling Leaves Foundation donated $30 million for a planned state-of-the-art, 215,000-square foot medical research facility that’s well under way; see page 1 for more.

The foundation is headed in part by Adeline Yen Mah, a doctor who practiced in Orange County, and who is the author of “Falling Leaves,” a best-selling autobiography about growing up in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Grateful for Parents

The Joe C. Wen & Family UCI Health Center for Advanced Care, now under construction along Jamboree Road, will feature 168,000 square feet in a five-story medical facility.

It will offer adult and pediatric specialty care, with a Center for Children’s Health, including Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders. It’s scheduled for completion this spring, also at the school’s new medical campus.

Wen emigrated from Taiwan as a teenager with his parents. The family’s early years in America were difficult and Wen’s parents worked blue-collar jobs to support the family.
“Wen is grateful to his parents, who sacrificed everything they had in Taiwan in order to move to the United States to provide a better life for their children,” according to a UCI statement.

Wen went on to found Sakura Paper, now a division of Formosa Ltd. He’s been an active investor in local commercial real estate of late, buying several office towers.

He donated $20 million in 2022 to UCI Health.

“UCI Health transforms lives everyday thanks to its leading-edge academic research, advanced medical facilities, and—most importantly—passionate and top-notch medical professionals,” Wen said at the time.

“There’s no doubt that the new medical center in Irvine will have a tremendously positive impact on the community. My family members and I are honored and humbled to be able to help.”

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