No one lives and defines the American Dream via the promotional products industry quite like Helen Huang. The president of supplier Minya International (UPIC: minya) in Fullerton, California, is a former biology teacher who came to the United States from Taiwan in 1978 with the entrepreneurial spirit and desire to start her own business.
“I came to the States 35 years ago, like many other young people, full of the American Dream, working as hard as I could and trying to be part of it,” says Huang, who founded Minya in 1981. “As I have Asia connections and have an advantage in speaking the same language, I started importing merchandise from Asia and went to gift shows to sell them.
“I met many distributors and some suppliers at the shows; they loved my product selection and taught me how to put logos on the products, and they used me as one of their suppliers.”
Later, Huang says, she found that decorated products sell at a higher price, and noticing the high level of trust and respect among promotional products professionals, she was motivated to enter the business. “Sourcing and designing promotional products has become my everyday work since then,” she says.
How do you like to spend your leisure time?
I love to plant flowers and herbs, and I enjoy cooking whenever I have time.
What’s a little-known fact about you?
I won some awards in competition in high school for watercolor painting. I love painting and playing around with colors; I was known as an artist.
When did you know you wanted to work in this industry?
I started Minya International in the early 1980s; I was going to gift shows and selling products, which I imported from Asia. Lots of customers asked me about imprinting logos on the products and they taught me how to do the decoration from time to time. Later I found this industry is much more interesting than just buying and selling. I decided to join PPAI as a supplier in 1991.
What promotional product do you wish you had invented and why?
As I was involved in gift markets before, I find executive gifts can fit most industries and they’re great as promotional products.
What did you learn in your first job that stuck with you?
I did not have any business-related background when I started my job in this industry, and I thought the principles for business should be ‘Honest, hardworking and keeping promises.’ I told myself to use my common sense and be reasonable. I think it must work—I am still following those rules and find they still work for the business.
If you had a motto, what would it be?
Use your common sense and follow your instinct. Where there is a will, there is a way.
What’s your dream vacation destination and have you been there?
[Somewhere I can] live a simple and peaceful life, and discover the beauty of this world. I think I have been there—as long as I don’t bring the business into my daily life.
Where do you get creative inspiration?
Shopping is where I can get most of my inspiration.
What drives you?
My love and sense for beauty drive me to change colors or modify shapes of a regular product. It’s my biggest pleasure when [my products] can bring some surprise to customers.
If you had to choose a different career, what would it be?
I would love to be a graphic designer; it’s simple and full of fun.
What actor would play you in a movie about the promotional products industry?
If your typical day was a song, what would it be?
The Sound of Music