The American melting pot sets this country apart from almost every other nation, says Jie “Jay” Zheng, a Chinese-American chemist and restaurant owner in Denver. “That is something that’s unique to us that China and other countries cannot do,” Zheng says. But, he adds, to make the most of our diverse society we need to cultivate leaders who can understand and appreciate what the melting pot offers us.
Zheng has long tried to cultivate and celebrate diversity in both his professional and personal lives. After moving to Colorado to work for the digital storage company Storage Tech in 2002, he started participating in Employee Resource Groups (ERG), diversity initiatives that help minority and immigrant professionals develop leadership skills. “Being an immigrant and having a diverse background actually has significant potential to help businesses connect in the global economy,” Zheng says. To further help others like him advance, he established the Colorado branch of the National Association of Asian American Professionals.
Being an immigrant and having a diverse background actually has significant potential to help businesses connect in the global economy.
Zheng came to the United States from China in 1992 to attend graduate school. He received a master’s degree in polymer chemistry from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and was recruited to work at Xerox, where he helped develop coated paper for color printing. “I was very much involved in the initial stage of the digital color printing revolution,” Zheng says. While working at Xerox, Zheng also earned an MBA from the University of Rochester.
Because of his specialized knowledge, Zheng was able to obtain a visa for high-skilled workers. Xerox later sponsored him for a green card as a Category 1 applicant, a classification reserved for outstanding researchers and people with extraordinary talent. He had almost given up and moved to Canada, where he found the immigration system easier to navigate. Moreover, he says, “the Canadian government found ways to incentivize certain skill sets,” in ways the United States did not. Still, he chose to stay because he was already building a career in America. He now has more than 19 years of management experience in the technology industry, where he has transformed ERG practices and become a nationally recognized leader in the field. He and his family also own Volcano Asian Cuisine, a Japanese-Chinese restaurant that’s a weekly staple of the Denver Bronco’s players during the NFL season.
Zheng believes the United States should ease restrictions on visas for high-skilled workers and do more to attract immigrants like him. He worries that America’s need for skilled immigrants has gotten lost in the heated debate over the status of undocumented immigrants. Embracing our immigrant employee pool, he says, is critical in maintaining our leadership role around the world. Immigrant business leaders, in particular, bring that global perspective. “Diversity and inclusion and how unique we are should always be in consideration when we talk about reform,” he says.