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Bank CEO’s Immigration Story Has Shaped His Success Here in America

Suku Radia, CEO of Bankers Trust,has made diversity and inclusion integral to the ethos of the company he leads. Nineteen percent of his workforce is non-white, and his team speaks roughly 30 different languages. They are also highly enterprising and have grown Bankers Trust into Iowa’s largest bank.

Radia literally became a man without a country.

In many ways, Radia’s own immigrant roots have helped shape him into the business leader he is today. Four generations ago, his ancestors emmigrated from India to Africa. Radia was born and raised in Uganda and then made his own journey as a young man, when he moved to the United States to attend college at Iowa State University. Just a year after Radia had arrived in Ames, Iowa, Ugandan president Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian minority, forcing Radia’s family to leave. Thus, Radia literally became a man without a country.

Though Radia’s career has elevated him to a position of significant influence, he can still remember his youthful self, arriving as a newcomer to the United States. “I’m never going to forget my roots,” he says.

And yet Radia is fervently devoted to his adopted country. Over the span of his career, he has served on over 20 community boards and has been chair of almost two-dozen community and service-based organizations, including United Way of Central Iowa, the Rotary Club, and the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

Radia’s immigrant experience also informs his views on immigration policy. “We need to deal with immigration in a systemic fashion,” he says, noting that, in addition to streamlining the immigration process, policy should embrace a humane approach to inclusion. “We shouldn’t be selective in saying ‘hey, we should only allow people with a certain education,’” he says. “That troubles me.” Radia adds that the swelling number of undocumented immigrants underscores the urgency of immigration reform. The economic argument is also compelling, Radia noted. “Immigrants contribute a lot to this economy,” he says, adding that, “as a country, we have a worker shortage.”

Radia recognizes that current immigration policy is confusing, and as a result, many immigrants don’t fully understand their immigration status, leading to many living in fear of deportation. “Clearly, this is an issue that is polarizing, but I firmly believe that we need to treat people humanely,” he says. After all, Radia says, “At the end of the day, we’ve all been immigrants at some point.”

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