Hard work leads Vietnamese woman to success

July 12, 2006

By JASON BISSELL/For the Lincoln Journal Star
Sunday, May 07, 2006 – 10:11:40 am CDT
“I’ll take a Big Mac with some fries,” says a customer in the McDonald’s drive-through. Inside the restaurant, a 19-year-old Vietnamese employee turns and uses hand gestures to signal to her co-workers.

Her English is improving, but not quite there yet. She can’t pronounce some words, so instead she points to the menu.

That’s how Anne Dinh was introduced to American business.

Today, the 34-year-old Dinh spends her days at the U.S. Bank at 13th and L streets. Nine years ago, she started as a banker and moved to sales before becoming a service manager. In 2001, she became the branch manager.

She manages a staff of 14, which includes tellers, bankers and managers. She emphasizes customer service to her staff and exemplifies it in her daily dealings with those who walk through the bank’s doors. And while she speaks English fluently now, her native language allows her and the bank to reach out to Vietnamese customers.

But for Anne Dinh, professional success represents more than just a job title — it symbolizes an important milestone on a very long journey.

In 1989, a 19-year-old Dinh, her parents, youngest brother and youngest sister left their home in Vietnam and flew to Switzerland where two of her other sisters lived. They stayed for 2 ½ months before the five of them moved to the United States.

The plane ride to America took 24 hours and the food, Dinh recalls, did not taste good.

“I couldn’t eat at all,” she said. “The food was different … but now I can eat anything.”

They came to Omaha to reunite with two older brothers, who left Vietnam shortly before they did.

No one in the family spoke English fluently and none had jobs arranged for their arrival. They found a home in a small Vietnamese neighborhood in Omaha. Her mother took a job at a

Chinese restaurant while her father found a job with a business that produced computer disks.

To learn English, Dinh attended Benson High for a couple of years. Although she was the oldest student in the school, nobody knew, she says, because of her small stature and youthful appearance. She spoke choppy English, which made school and work difficult. Although she learned English grammar at school in Vietnam, the lessons didn’t prepare her to use the language in every day life.

After graduating from high school, she enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she majored in finance and business. She worked hard to overcome cultural and communication challenges because getting the opportunity for a higher education had always been a dream.

“If I lived in Vietnam I didn’t know what I could be,” she said. “If I dreamed to be a banker there, I don’t know if I was capable or allowed to be. In the United States I can do whatever I put my mind to.”

Dinh moved to Lincoln in 1997, to join U.S. Bank. Coi Dinh, her husband of eight years, also works with the bank as a mortgage loan officer.

Family photos surround her desk at work. She has two sons, Dillon, 6, and Derek, almost 2, with whom she spends a lot of time, she said.

It’s a luxury her parents didn’t have.

“In Vietnam, parents don’t have time for kids because they struggle with living,” she said. “They have to be working constantly to bring shelter and food to their kids. It’s totally different here.”

She said the relationship between her and her parents is much closer now, because life in the U.S. affords them more time together.

Her ethnicity has attracted Vietnamese customers and staff to the bank. Along with Dinh, two tellers also speak Vietnamese. The staff also includes Latino and African-American employees.

“U.S. Bank is very committed to other cultures,” said Dinh, who serves on the board of the Asian Community and Cultural Center.

Employee Araceli Castro said she looks up to Dinh because of the way she treats her clients.

“I’m a banker because of the training she has given me,” she said. “The way she treats her employees, as a boss, but also as friends, makes it easier for us to learn about her.”

Dinh’s top job responsibility is to maximize the branch’s profits. But if the job causes her stress, she doesn’t show it. Her smiling face greets customers as they walk into the bank. She walks briskly, with a purpose, but doesn’t forget who she’s helping.

Her optimism and outgoing personality don’t go unnoticed at work. Teller Stephanie Romero said Dinh relates well with her staff.

“I really like how she doesn’t necessarily treat you as a boss,” Romero said. “She works well with you. She doesn’t have that separation between boss and employee. It’s more of a team here. She creates that team spirit.”

Her connections with the Vietnamese community, her sales capability and her customer service skills are why she has succeeded professionally, said Lynn Larson, U.S. Bank’s district sales manager.

“She was promoted because of her integrity and for always doing the right thing for the customer,” Larson said. “She is a self-motivated individual who believes in doing the right thing for the company.”

It’s been 15 years since she came to Nebraska and used hand signals to make it through those early days at McDonalds. Now just a tinge of an accent can be heard in her voice when she speaks English, but her friendliness and appreciation for others translates to any language.

“My parents always made sure we were good people, had a good heart, and cared for others,” Dinh said. “We came from a country where there is little opportunity. When I came to the United States there are so many things I look at and appreciate more.”

Jason Bissell graduated in December from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in journalism and will soon start as sports editor for the Papillion Times. He wrote this story for a feature writing class at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. He can be reached at jasonb_1222@hotmail.com.

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