Thoughts on Leadership: Celebrating an AREAA President

By: Gino Bleafri

This week my travels find me starting Monday at home, where I conducted back-to-back WIG calls then hopped on a flight to Orange County, California. On Tuesday, I had the weekly Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by the Gala Installation of the incoming 2022 Ventura County Chapter President of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), Theresa Nguyen, in Camarilla, California. I was honored to introduce Theresa at the event, but more about that soon. On Wednesday I presented my life plan to four offices of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties and caught a few hours of Tom Ferry’s amazing Blueprint event. Nobody does it better than Tom! And today, I attended and participated in the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties Leadership Meeting in Irvine, California.

Now, let’s return to Theresa and talk a bit more about her extraordinary leadership. Actually, I’d like to share a portion of my introductory speech with you because it sums up her inspiration, innovation and impact on the Asian American & Pacific Islander community and our real estate industry. This speech is especially pertinent now as we celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month this May.

As a fun side note, just a minute before I went on stage to introduce Theresa, I got a text from our HomeServices of America Chief of Staff Dietra Catalano wishing me and Theresa well, as Deitra always knows my schedule. It couldn’t have been better timing because when I got up on stage, I looked at Theresa and said, “We just received a text from Deitra,” which reminded me about a great story to share with the group. Here’s that story: About four or five years ago, Deitra flew to Orange County to take her son, Joseph, to look at colleges in Southern California, including University of California Irvine (UCI). After they landed safely, they went to rent a car and Deitra discovered that her license had expired. Her son was too young to sign for the rental instead, so they were stuck. She called me asking, “What can we do?” And I said: “Call Theresa.” Within 20 minutes, Theresa delivered her brand-new Lexus to Deitra and Joseph, and said, “Use it for as long as you need it.” That’s just the type of person she is.

Allan Dalton, Senior Vice President of Research and Development at HomeServices of America and former CEO of had this to say about Theresa: “Theresa Nguyen’s leadership is extraordinary. Her high level of professionalism and business insight is matched by the positive energy she brings to AREAA and the real estate industry at large.”

Theresa Palacios Smith, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at HomeServices of America, described the new AREAA Ventura County President like this: “Theresa has already proven to be a great leader. Her actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. Congratulations, as I know her legacy as president will definitely leave a mark!”

Julie Tran of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties added: “She’s one of the rare people who has one of the biggest hearts and never expects anything in return. Truly selfless and always there to help out when needed. It’s great to see her take her turn in the spotlight as a leader and president, which is long overdue. She is fully capable of leading and taking the chapter and organization to great heights.”

Joe Lam said: “Teresa is the kindest person I know. She puts others before herself.”

Michelle Nguyen said: “Theresa is not only beautiful outside but also beautiful inside and has a big heart.”

Peter Au, president of the AREAA Orange County Chapter said: “She has a magnetic personality with the drive to take the reins and take the chapter to the next level.”

John Yen Wong, founding chairman of AREAA said: “Theresa Nguyen’s journey from refugee to powerhouse businessperson is the story of America. It’s never easy, but it’s always worth it.”

From these quotes, we understand the qualities that make Theresa an extraordinary leader. They are qualities every great leader should embrace: humility, empathy, kindness, focus, passion, professionalism and selflessness. She’s just willing to do whatever it takes to help.

Theresa’s altruistic spirit is legendary. Her charity journey began in 2013 with a trip to Vietnam. Walking the streets of Saigon, she saw poor and homeless people practically everywhere she turned, and it broke her heart. That’s when she knew she had to do something to give back. First, she started by using her own money to help out, but that wasn’t enough. She rallied her friends and family, encouraging them to donate, too. Over the years she has: visited disabled seniors, adults, children and orphans to give them gifts; distributed medicine during a mission in Haiti; provided necessities for poor families in the Highlands; handed out school supplies and snacks to children in Vietnam; visited kids in hospitals who are suffering from cancer and gave them gifts; donated money to families that needed help with their children’s cancer treatments; cooked, fed and packed care packages for thousands of people suffering from homelessness in Vietnam and the U.S.; visited Skid Row to feed the homeless; and visited American foster care children to give them gifts and created activities for them to play. During the pandemic, Theresa stepped up with her characteristic selflessness by delivering food, buying groceries and delivering medication to seniors, as well asl mailing more than 20,000 masks to locations all around the U.S.

So, what’s the message? Before I had the distinct honor of bringing Theresa up on the stage to assume her rightful spot as AREAA Ventura County Chapter President, I ended with this eternal quote from Abraham Lincoln, which also serves as a fitting ending for this post: “No person stands as tall as when they bend down to help a child in need.” Because whenever I hear that quote, I think of Theresa Nguyen and the many times she has bent down to help a child in need. Especially this week, with unimaginable tragedy in our country, let’s celebrate love. Let’s shine a light on leaders who devote themselves in selfless service to our youth, and in doing so, to a brighter future ahead.

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