University of California, Riverside

UCR Business

Alumni Profile: Chris Lam (B.S. 1991)

I chose to double major because I wanted to learn as much as I could. In order to be an effective business person, I needed to understand the economic conditions which affect the business environment.

As the president and CEO of Pucci Foods in Hayward, California, Chris Lam has made many big business decisions. But the biggest decision of his life came at the age of 12.

Faced with the controlled life of the communist government in his native Vietnam, Lam instead boarded a small fishing boat to seek out a better future. Joined by his brother and over 50 other refugees, the 27 x 5 foot vessel evaded authorities and made its way to Thailand. By 1980, the siblings were residing in San Diego with a brother who had previously entered the United States.

Lam worked hard to learn English, driven by the desire to succeed in his new life in the U.S. He knew that the first step towards success was through education. When it was time to pick a college, he chose to attend UC Riverside’s undergraduate business program because of its small class sizes and the sense of community that it offered.

“With my parents and siblings back in Vietnam, I always believed that I was the fortunate one,” he said. “I had to do something with my life. The first step was through education, which is the building block of one’s foundation.”

Just four years later, in 1991, Lam was walking across a dais at commencement, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and a Bachelor of Arts in economics.

“I chose to double major because I wanted to learn as much as I could,” he recalled. “In order to be an effective business person, I needed to understand the economic conditions which affect the business environment.”

“The education allowed me to expand my understanding of various ideas, thoughts, and experiences, he added. “The courses taught me the technical and analytical skills which are critical for my job today.”

While working on a master’s in business administration from Cal State San Bernardino, he was working full-time for Eli Lilly. But his goal was to work for a small company where he could be involved in all aspects of the business. His career was jumpstarted when he went to work for another immigrant at H&N Fish in San Francisco. Instead of starting in upper management, Lam instead asked to take a lower level job with the aim of furthering his career.

“When I started, I proposed that I would take a lower salary and work for him for six months. If I did a good job, he could raise my salary accordingly,” he said. “As a young project manager, I ran many reports for the senior managers. This allowed me to learn all aspects of the business and gain knowledge about the company. I worked countless hours to learn about the company’s logistics — processing, receiving, and shipping.”

Lam said that it was this willingness to learn the ins and outs of the business that helped his career.

“A wise man once said, ‘If you want to be a master, be a slave.’ I have been trying to follow this and preaching it to my employees as well.”

In 2001, Lam purchased Joe Pucci and Sons’ Seafood. In 2004 the company, renamed Pucci Foods, moved into a newly built 53,000 square foot distribution center from where they supply fresh and frozen seafood and other meats to about 1,000 customers in Northern California. They have about 100 employees, and Lam has respect for each of them.

“We are only as strong as our weakest link. In my company, every employee is important to me,” he said. “I strongly believe that people work because they have various obligations. Therefore, every employee needs to be treated with dignity especially those who are at the bottom of the totem pole. I am not a perfect manager, but I am constantly striving to ensure that our managers treat our employees with respect.”

In addition to making his business prosper, Lam continues to give back to his community by serving on several boards, including the California Fisheries and Seafood Institute, the City of Hayward’s Economic Development Committee, and the Advisory Boards of the California State University-East Bay. He has also served on the boards for Eden Hospital Foundation, and the Hayward Chamber of Commerce, and Advisory Boards for California State University-San Francisco.

Lam returned to UCR in June 2010 to deliver the keynote address at the School of Business Administration commencement ceremony. (Watch the video on YouTube.)

“Giving is receiving,” he said. “It is satisfying to contribute my time and share my knowledge. In addition, it is also rewarding to meet with people of different backgrounds who are doing the same thing.”

Lam cautioned today’s business students to not have unrealistic expectations for their first jobs out of college and presented a couple pieces of advice to help them reach those high-paying jobs.

“Take every opportunity to build your foundation,” he said. “Play hard, but work harder. It may seem hard in college, but work life is much harder.”

“Also, be a positive and an optimistic person,” he said. “I have yet to see a successful pessimist.”

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