Kirk La: My story of loss, learning and living out my dreams
Chevy Chase, Md., May 27, 2020 –Everyone has a different path that ultimately brought them to GEICO. For Kirk La, vice president of GEICO Field Office operations, his road to success was propelled by support of his fellow GEICO associates and having witnessed his mother's strength and perseverance from a young age. See his story, as told by him, below:
In American culture, the ones who get rewarded are often those who are most vocal and attract attention. I struggled with that at GEICO in my earlier years and probably still a little bit today. I was not the most vocal or attention-seeking individual. I was always taught that good things come to those who stay humble and do good work. There is a delicate balance in staying true to your personal upbringing while satisfying your career demands.
My family is Chinese, but I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and am the youngest of seven children. My family owned several businesses in Saigon, and my mother was considered one of the wealthiest women in Vietnam.
I was not even a year old when the communist government of North Vietnam seized Saigon, and South Vietnam fell. In an instant, we lost everything–our home, businesses, clothing, and we were separated from our father when he was sent to a different refugee camp.
Ultimately, my mother, my siblings and I were able to escape to Hong Kong. For the next two-and-a-half years, we lived in a refugee camp, waiting for sponsorship to come to America. My mother always said America would be the place that would give us the best opportunity in the world.
We arrived in Salem, Oregon, with no money and spoke little-to-no English. We eventually located my father in 1985. It took nearly 16 years from when we left Saigon to reunite and bring him to the United States in February of 1993. Salem had very few Asians, or any minorities for that matter, when I grew up there. I knew I was different because we had different cultures and spoke a different language at home, but the community was welcoming, and I was just another kid. I had a great childhood, and I'm glad I grew up where I did.
Getting going at GEICO
Getting started at GEICO happened near the end of my junior year at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. The dean of the business school suggested that I apply for the Leo Goodwin Scholarship, which is named for GEICO's founder. I had no idea who Leo Goodwin was, but my dean told me I would be a great candidate, and he would provide a letter of recommendation. When I came back for my senior year in 1997, I found out that I had won the scholarship. Upon graduation, GEICO offered me an internship in Macon, and that's how I got started.
In 2002, I relocated to Virginia Beach office, where I managed my way through our powersports division, eventually becoming the assistant vice president for regional underwriting and powersports in 2007. By 2011, I ended up in Buffalo, where I headed up underwriting operations before taking on GEICO Insurance Agency, Inc., responsibility in 2013. I remained in that role for two years before taking over at GEICO's BoatUS. Currently, I serve as vice president of GEICO Field Office operations.
Without a doubt, the keys to my success started with my mother. She worked two jobs most of her life in America to feed seven hungry mouths. The list is immensely long after that. There have been so many caring peers, supervisors, managers, directors and officers who have helped me and have given me excellent guidance. The associates of GEICO are amazing, and their willingness to help makes a world of difference. I'm still here 23 years later because of the many great people I have gotten to work with and the people I work with today.
The world is a great place. Go explore and learn, but make sure you do your part to make it an even better place for everyone else! I am proud to be an Asian American living in this great country.
If I have any advice to give, I would say, "do the best you can, be humble, respect your elders and don't be greedy."
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