New Immigrant Goes From Janitor to the Head of a $20b Ford Motors Department

By Global News Digest

ThisDay — Abuja, Nigeria
November 6, 2004

Like most immigrants before him, Gift Ngo came to the United States in search for a better life. Like many of them, he found his path to the American Dream and followed it to realize his goals far beyond anything he could have imagined. He attributes his success to “being obedient, … diligent [and] understanding that hard work yields a lot of good fruits.”

Gift Ngo was born 38 years ago in Nigeria and grew up in the oil city of Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta region, where he and his family lived in a slum in a 10 x 10 shack with roof so low that little Gift could touch it by raising his hand.

When he came to the United States in 1990, it was his first trip outside Nigeria and he did not know where he was going, all he knew was that he wanted to get to America and what motivated him to come here was to “have a better life”… and to take care of his “aged mother and brothers and sisters” back in Nigeria. He came well prepared, in his mind, to forge that better life out of any situation he found himself.

The first obstacle he encountered on arrival in America was a discovery that most of the contact addresses he was given for other Nigerians living in the United States were outdated. He had 25 different contacts but their numbers were either disconnected, changed or they had moved from the addresses given.

Ngo booked into a hotel and continued to try more numbers. Luckily for him, a telephone company operator in California found a name in the system that matched one of the names he was looking for, but with a different address and phone number… in Texas. The operator did not give him the number but promised to get the people at that address to call Ngo.

That was his first break in America. The match was good. The contact, Mr. Chris Ariga, invited Ngo to Houston where he spent some time in the Ariga household. Soon he had to find his own place, but this was difficult without a job or income. He found himself in the situation that he had to make his home in abandoned cars. Ariga helped him find a job as a janitor in Houston and things began to look up for Ngo. He met another Nigerian, Patrick Onyea, who invited him to stay in his apartment. He was there for two months before taking over the house of another Nigerian who was traveling home for two months.

He worked 18-hour days at his cleaning job, sleeping most of the day and working throughout the night. Ngo was making good on his promise to take care of his family. Half of what he made as a janitor, he sent home to Nigeria to his family “so that his mother could survive” and his nine siblings could go to school, he says.

Path to the American Dream:
At the same time he saved some of his earnings toward getting his own apartment. Getting that apartment helped stabilize Ngo’s life in America considerably. Already with a first degree in engineering from a Nigerian university, Ngo was able to enroll in a US school for a masters degree in chemical engineering. He also completed a second masters in engineering from Texas A&M University. It was after Gift Ngo bagged his American degrees that his luck truly turned and he began to realize his American dream.

General Electric hired and enrolled him in their Edoson Engineering Training Program — described as a corporate program for training fast rising stars who might some day run the company. After his Edoson stint, Ngo spent much of his time at GE designing light bulbs for different purposes — global lamps that could work in the Americas, Europe, Asia or Africa, high-beam spot lamps, landing lamps for airplanes, stadium lamps, street lamps Warehouse lamps, fog lamps, and even headlamps for automobiles. “They just kept moving me from one department to another,” he says.

With the money he was making at GE, Ngo began to dabble into real estate and by the time he left the company he owned several rent-earning properties.

Ngo says that one of his “major achievements” at GE was his becoming a currency trader. It is probably from that experience that his interest in finance was sparked and he left GE to enroll in the finance MBA program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He used the income from his real estate properties to finance his education at Case.

After his MBA, Ngo says he received at least 12 job offers from manufacturers, bankers and Wall Street types. He settled on a bank called Fifth Third Bank in Chicago where he was involved in risk management for North America as well as mergers and acquisitions.

He was still with Fifth Third when Ford Motor Company came calling. They invited him for an interview and the people at Ford liked what they saw and hired him. Ngo was started off as manager of a $500 million budget program. Four months later Ford put him in-charge of a larger $4 billion operation. Ngo says that he was in-charge of the section that produces the cars and trucks and other automobiles that Ford manufactures. His next promotion put Ngo in-charge of a $20 billion department charged with the task of developing business processes for Ford.

He was working 20-hour days and dealing with the budgetary demands of vice presidents and heads of departments. It was a highly demanding position that kept Ngo away from his family much of the time; and he blames that schedule for the distance that exists between him and some of his children today.

In 2002, Ngo left Ford Motors to start his own business. “I found out that the American dream is owning your own business,” he says. “The gains that you realize [in owning your own business] are much more than when you are working for somebody.”

Ngo says he is now the owner of “a couple of dental offices” that targets the underserved segment of the population. “I found out while at Ford Motors that there are some of these groups in the population that were not being served by the dentists. What I did was to put the business plan together, do a lot of market surveys and due diligence analysis, and I found out that there was a huge market in the state of Ohio. I put my loan package together because I have very good credit and I had some money in the bank as collateral and I went to pick some loans. The bank financed the project and I was able to do a lot of lease improvement, I thereafter hired some dentists.”

Ngo plans to open three additional offices in Ohio and some more in Michigan. He says that his company has put together a proposal for franchise operations in Nigeria. For that purpose, he traveled with the Africa World Expo team led by congresswoman Carolyn Kilpatrick and they visited Abuja, the Nigerian capital where he impressed Nigerian officials of the importance of establishing dental clinics to take care of the needs of Nigerians. He made presentations to the Lagos State government and spoke to representatives of 26 other State governments at the Africa World Expo conference.

He says his dental clinics in Ohio have, in two years, taken care of over 30,000 patients and completed more than 100,000 procedures.

Ngo is not resting on his laurels yet. Apart from extending his dental business to Nigeria, he has dreams of branching out into the oil business as well. is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.