“I always wanted to play an important role in the community,” says John Thao of Kasia Insurance Services. “I wanted to be someone who could uplift the Hmong, who could serve as a kind of resource, like a doctor or teacher.” Early on, he had decided to pursue a career in education. But by the time he had completed his undergraduate studies in liberal studies at Sacramento State, John had a change of heart. “At the time I had been impacted by my experience working for Equinox International, a multi-level marketing organization. I was able to learn what it meant to be self-employed, so I went on to obtain my master’s degree in business from Columbia State. I wasn’t going to be working in education after all.”
In 1995 John founded the Asian Advancement Association, inc. a 501(c)(3) that ran for eight years, providing assistance and knowledge on self-sufficiency to Southeast Asians through the organization’s social services. In 2002, John would venture into the real estate business and launch Elite Real Estate Associates. With offices in Stockton and Fresno, Elite Real Estate Associates at its peak had a staggering number of 187 working agents. After the collapse of the housing market, John expanded his business and started Kasia Insurance Services, inc. while still maintaining affiliation with his Elite Real Estate Associates. Kasia Insurance Services is currently his main operation where he specializes in auto, home, life, workers compensation, health, business, commercial, and renters insurance. He reveals with a smile that, aside from a two-week stint at McDonald’s, he has always been self-employed.
“My father was uneducated but he still had a huge impact on my success,” John says. “Having arrived in this country late in life, he held high expectations for his children. That was my source of encouragement. I felt that if I failed in life, my father would share my failure. But if I succeeded, my father would also succeed through my accomplishments. That made me work as hard as I could.” Reflecting back on the community, John feels that many who have found success in America have grown individually through their personal achievements, but not as a whole community. “In order for us as a people to move and grow as one, we must work together. This is something we can still work on.”
Photography: Tudor Stanley
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