Monday, June 28, 2010

John Yeh, Parade Magazine

Jack Anderson wrote a feature article on John Yeh for the Parade magazine back in 1988 -

"Success In A World Of Silence"

John Yeh, a deaf mute, couldn't get a bank loan, but he started his own business anyway by Jack Anderson

Parade Magazine, pp. 10, 12
January 31, 1988

Impairments and impediments have differing effects on different people.

To some they are obstacles to be overcome, to others they are barriers. John Yeh always has traveled the higher but rougher road. His path brought him from obscurity and poverty in Taiwan--by way of Brazil in a cargo ship--to acclaim and fortune in the U.S.

His accomplishment--founding the high-tech company Integrated Microcomputer Systems and turning it into a multimillion-dollar enterprise--would be admirable in itself. But there's another dimension to his story that makes it more than admirable.

More than 12 percent of the 375 employees of IMS are either deaf or hard of hearing, and half of those with normal hearing use sign language--it's the best way for them to communicate with their boss, John Yeh, who is a deaf mute.When he told his story at a Congressional hearing in 1985, "there was a deadly silence in the committee hearing room," former Rep. Parren Mitchell (D., Md.) reported afterward to the House. He added, "The deadly silence was occasioned by Mr. John Yeh."

The indomitable Yeh, moving his hands in the swift, silent gestures of sign language, recounted to the gathered committee members his years of frustration and rejection until a government loan enabled him to go into business. The loan, obtained through a special program of the Small Business Administration (SBA), was the start of his success story--a success that went beyond the most quixotic dreams of his difficult youth.Born deaf from an unknown cause, he grew up in a succession of places in China and Taiwan, seemingly without much hope, shut off from all sound.

His older bother Joseph still recalls the day when the family moved from the Taiwanese countryside to a large city. The neighborhood children decided to test and tease the newcomer, then 10, by setting off a firecracker behind his back. Of course, the small deaf boy never heard the explosion.

The humiliation drew tears. How did John cope with the cruelty? Did he fight back? No, says Joseph, "John made friends with them."John learned patience and tolerance from his devout Christian parents. "Our parents accepted the deafness--it was God's will," says Joseph Yeh. "They believed children are a gift from God and that parents should do the best they can as stewards of this gift."Yu Yeh, a civil engineer, and his wife, Lin Yeh, had fled Mainland China for Taiwan with their children several years before Mao Zedong took over in 1949. Their other children, James, Joseph and Jeffry, have normal hearing; the two youngest, John and his sister, Fanny, are deaf.

Their parents resisted the urge to overprotect and treated all the children the same, except when it came to communication. Mother and son wrote notes back and forth. John's mother now knows sign language but still reverts to writing notes to him in Chinese and English.In search of the best education possible for their two deaf children, John's parents left Taiwan for Brazil in 1960. But their eyes, peering through the mists, were always upon America; like so many of the world's wayfarers, they hoped to reach the land of opportunity.

Joseph vividly remembers John, at 13, on the cargo boat from Hong Kong to Brazil. By the end of the month-long trip, John had not simply made friends with most of the crew--they treated him as an honorary deckhand.After two years of financial sacrifice and bureaucratic paperwork, the family finally settled in the U.S. in 1962. John Yeh arrived in America surrounded by a cocoon of awful silence. To break out of the cocoon and communicate with those around him, he had to learn two new languages: First, he had to learn to read and write English; then he had to learn to translate it into sign language. "I carried a Chinese-English dictionary with me everywhere," he recalls.

His determination paid off: John graduated from the Kendall School and then its affiliate, Gallaudet College. Both are in Washington, D.C., and were founded to educate the hearing-disabled. He earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1971.

Despite his accomplishment, John found that doors were closed to him--the land of opportunity apparently offered opportunities only to those who could hear. "I was interested in becoming a mathematics teacher in high schools," he explained in sign language through an interpreter. "I was turned down. Some said because my English was weak, others said it was both my deafness and my English. If two people's skills are the same, they will choose the hearing person."Undaunted,

John Yeh resolved to slip away from the safe, familiar haunts of the deaf to try a more hazardous course. He enrolled in the master's degree program in computer science at the University of Maryland. "The university was very hard," John recalls. "I worked seven days a week on my studies. In those days, I had to find my own notetakers and interpreters." He got his degree and, soon after, his American citizenship papers.But still he found that prospective employers were unwilling to take a chance on him.

Because his three hearing brothers already were established in the computer field and John's grades were good, he had expected to find a job fairly quickly. "I sent out hundreds of applications for jobs," he recalls. "I either didn't get a response or was turned down. Many didn't feel comfortable with me. Many didn't know how to work with the deaf. I tried for a year to get a job."In the end, reluctantly, he retreated to the world he knew--the world of Gallaudet College, where he worked for five years as the school's computer programmer. But he didn't let go of his hope for something more.By the late '70s, John decided that only way a deaf mute could succeed in business was to start his own company. He asked his brothers to help him in setting up a new company to develop computer software--an idea the brothers had kicked around for several years. "We said, 'If you really want to do it, we'll support you,'"

Joseph Yeh recalls. John's struggle, of course, was just beginning. Every bank rejected his loan application, despite his parents' offer to put up their home as collateral. Then he heard about the Small Business Administration Handicapped Assistance Loan Program. To be eligible, he needed three rejection letters from banks: He got all three letters in one day.John applied for the special program and in the meantime taught himself accounting and business management through SBA workshops and books borrowed from the library.

In 1979, the persevering Yeh got a $100,000 loan at 3 percent interest from SBA. Integrated Microcomputer Systems was born.For the first year, John Yeh took no salary from the company. He relied on his wife, Mary, who is also deaf, to support him and their family on her income as a teacher of the deaf. Hard work, long hours and other federal programs have helped John build the company from two paid employees to nearly 400.Today, the company, situated in Rockville, Md., specializes in software development, telecommunications, office automation and systems engineering. John's brothers are company vice presidents, and his sister Fanny, woks as coordinator between the hearing and deaf employees and teaches sign language.

Revenues totaled $21 million last year, and revenues of $28 million to $30 million are projected for 1988. IMS also has captured multimillion-dollar contracts from the Army, the Navy and the Justice Department.What distinguishes IMS from hundreds of other computer companies? It's the small touches: An employee asking a colleague for a cup of coffee in sign language even though both can speak and hear; the 4-inch plaster statue of three hands signing "IMS"; the company's special project to connect deaf people to the hearing world through personal computers that translate telephone voices.

Nine years after his company's inception, John Yeh, at age 41, still puts in a 70-hour work week, keeps his office door open to all employees and reinvests most of the profits in IMS. He also still lives in the same housing development where his parents, brothers and sister have made their home since coming to the U.S.

For relaxation, he spends time with his wife and their three children. they have two daughters--Mei Ling-Hi, 10, and Ming Hui-Chung, 8--the first born deaf, the second with Down's syndrome. Their 4-year-old son, Jason Tai-Wei, is hard of hearing.When Yeh testified before the House Small Business Committee in 1985, he said he was "certain" that he would not have been able to start of to expand his company without SBA's help.Recently, he encountered an officer of a bank who had turned him down for a loan. "I told him about my business," Yeh says. "His expression showed shock. He was surprised we had grown."John Yeh has a demeanor of great gravity. He takes matters seriously and is careful not to offend. But he can't suppress a smile as he remembers the look on the bank officer's face.[End article]

[photo caption:] John Yeh, 41, now heads his own flourishing enterprise.
[Inset headline:] 'I want the business world to understand that any person has capabilities and can work well'[Inset headline:] At IMS, sign language is the best way to communicate with the boss
[Photo caption:] John Yeh with his sister, Fanny, also deaf and an IMS employee.[Inset headline:] John Yeh, with his brothers' help, created IMS--now a thriving multimillion-dollar business
[Photo caption:] The Yeh brothers in conference: (l-r) Jeffry, John, James and Joseph.


Note: Official death records show a person named "Yu Yeh" who passed away in Potomac, Maryland in 1995 at the age of 87.

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