Celebrating Immigrant Business Owners on National Immigrant Day

Roughly 18% of businesses in the United States of America are owned by immigrants. October 28 is National Immigrant Day and we are celebrating the impact of immigrant-owned businesses in the United States.

We interviewed CEPA since 2021 and immigrant business owner, Arkady Milgram, about his experience as both an owner and advisor to immigrant business owners. 

Meet Arkady

Arkady Milgram Headshot

Arkady Milgram started in financial services in 1998 and joined MassMutual Greater Los Angeles in 2005. In 2014, he founded Milgram Financial and Insurance Services. With two decades of experience, Arkady provides his clients with a truly unique perspective — built upon a foundation of life experiences and an immigration journey that brought him from Russia to America at the age of 25. Thirty years later, Arkady challenges conventional wisdom financially, just as he challenged conventional social and political norms during his youth. For Arkady, it’s really the meaning behind his work that matters most to him. He values his lifelong client relationships and the indelible bonds he creates while shepherding their lineage to the point where he is now working with his clients’ adult children. Times may change but his commitment to generational service never will. 

Arkady is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), a global, independent association of leading life insurance and financial professionals, and earned Court of the Table in the last six years since 2017. Arkady has earned the following industry educational designations: Certified Exit Planning Advisor® (CEPA), Charted Financial Consultant® (ChFC), Charted Life Underwriter® (CLU), Chartered Leadership Fellow® (CLF), Charted Special Needs Consultant® (ChSNC) Arkady is active in his community and local politics. He lives with his wife, Elena in Thousand Oaks, California.

Can you tell us about your background and experience in advising and working with business owners from diverse immigrant backgrounds?

Arkady: I have extensive experience working with businesses owned by immigrants from various countries. More than 70% of my clients were born outside of the United States. Personally, I came from Russia in 1989 as a Political Refugee, having only one suitcase and about $100 in my pocket. I didn’t speak much English, nor was I educated on any business-related matters. Yet, three short years later I owned my first business in the US, a travel agency. Obviously, not everything was smooth and easy, I went through multiple significant challenges – financial, personal, and emotional. So, working as an advisor for many foreign-born business owners today, I naturally understand the immigrant business owners’ needs and wants.

In what ways do you tailor your advice and services to meet the specific needs of clients from different immigrant backgrounds and cultures?

Arkady: First and foremost, my approach starts with an emphasis on understanding their unique goals and aspirations. This process often takes longer compared to working with US-born business owners. Once I can align myself with their perspective, I can then assist them in adapting their ideas to the American business environment and regulations.

Moreover, I recognize a key challenge faced by many immigrant business owners: the concept of not knowing what they don't know. Since many of them did not receive their primary or higher education in the US, things that may seem obvious to natural-born Americans are often not as clear to foreign-born individuals. Hence, it becomes crucial for advisors to foresee potential concerns and issues that these business owners may not be aware of before they even arise. By doing so, I can collaboratively work with the immigrant business owner to address these future challenges.

National Immigrant Day celebrates the contributions of immigrants to our society. Can you share some success stories of immigrant entrepreneurs you've worked with and how they've positively impacted their communities? 

Arkady: I have many success stories, including my own. Immigrant business owners remain one of the few bright spots in the modern United States’ resettlement process. The United States was founded as a country of immigrants, and its success is built upon the contributions of immigrants throughout history. Immigrant business owners continue the tradition of hard work, strong motivation, and effective management to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations. They start, build, and grow their own ventures, achieving financial success for themselves and their families. This success, in turn, positively impacts their local communities, cities, states, and eventually the entire country. Many of them are living proof that the 'American Dream' is still alive and well!" 

While I consider myself a very humble person, I am also incredibly proud of what I have been able to achieve in America over the past 35 years. Starting from practically nothing, I have built a successful financial services practice that has allowed me to rank within the top 10% of the sales force for a major financial services and insurance company.

Additionally, my accomplishments have been recognized by Forbes Shook Research, listing me as one of the top 50 Financial Advisors in the state of California. However, what I find even more significant are the countless exceptional stories of other individuals within the business owner community.  Many of these individuals are my clients today. Collectively, we are continuously striving to improve our lives, and in doing so, we are helping to make America an even better place to live!

As an advisor, what do you find most rewarding about helping immigrant business owners succeed, and how do you see your role evolving in the future?

Arkady: Last week, one of my long-standing clients, originally from Ukraine, excitedly informed me that he had successfully entered into a contract to sell his engineering business for approximately $7 million. This accomplishment is particularly meaningful as I have been supporting him since he started his business almost two decades ago, becoming more than just an advisor but also a trusted friend. Over the years, I have assisted him in addressing critical issues, such as protecting his family, offering comprehensive benefits packages to his employees, and managing his financial portfolio.

While the financial rewards of assisting him on this journey have been significant, the true satisfaction lies in recognizing the profound impact our collaboration has had on his life and the lives of his family members. Witnessing how our collective decisions and guidance have positively shaped their future is undeniably the most fulfilling aspect of my career.

Looking ahead, I envision my role evolving into a more consultative position. I aim to dedicate additional time to educating both my clients and my team, empowering them to make informed choices, and celebrating their achievements along the way. By adopting a consultative mindset, I can provide ongoing support, facilitate informed decision-making, and impart specialized knowledge to further enhance the success of immigrant business owners and their enterprises.

Are there any common misconceptions or stereotypes about immigrant business owners that you frequently encounter, and how do you address them in your work?

Arkady: Regrettably, immigrant business owners often face various misconceptions and stereotypes. One common challenge they encounter is when they speak with a foreign accent and find themselves in situations where one person clearly understands their words while another person pretends to have no clue. This can lead to frustration, emotional breakdowns, and increased stress for these individuals.

Additionally, there is a notable lack of trust within various national and/or racial groups, which further perpetuates stereotypes and adds complexity to the work of immigrant business owners.

These are just a few examples of the many stereotypes and misconceptions that immigrant business owners face. I constantly strive to address these issues in my work by promoting understanding, open communication, and collaboration to break down these barriers and create an environment of mutual respect and support.

What are some of the key legal and regulatory considerations that immigrant entrepreneurs should be aware of when starting or expanding a business in their new country?

Arkady: Immigrant entrepreneurs must navigate various legal and regulatory considerations. It is crucial for them to be aware of these key factors to ensure a smooth and successful venture. 

  1. Business Entity: Immigrant entrepreneurs should understand the different types of business entities available in their new country and choose the most suitable one. This decision can impact legal liability, taxation, and personal asset protection.
  2. Banking and Financing: Establishing banking relationships is vital for a business's financial operations. Immigrants should research the local banking system, understand the requirements for opening accounts, and explore funding options available to them.
  3. Employment Laws: As employers, immigrant entrepreneurs need to familiarize themselves with the labor laws, including employment contracts, wage regulations, and workplace safety standards. Complying with these regulations is essential to avoid legal issues and protect their employees' rights.
  4. Intellectual Property: Protecting intellectual property is crucial for any business. Immigrants should be aware of the intellectual property laws in their new country, such as trademark and copyright registration procedures, to safeguard their unique products, services, or brands.
  5. Licensing and Permits: Depending on the nature of the business, specific licenses and permits may be required. Immigrant entrepreneurs must diligently research and obtain the necessary permits to operate legally and avoid potential penalties.
  6. Tax Obligations: Understanding local tax laws and obligations is critical to ensure compliance. Immigrant entrepreneurs should consult with tax professionals to navigate the complexities of tax registration, reporting, and payment requirements.
  7. Immigration Compliance: Immigrant entrepreneurs must also be mindful of maintaining their immigration status while running a business. It is essential to understand the rules and guidelines related to business ownership for immigrants, such as work permits or investor visas.

Cultural competency is essential when working with clients from diverse backgrounds. How do you ensure that you and your team are sensitive to the cultural nuances and preferences of your clients?

Arkady: It is indeed a very sensitive issue. It is crucial to be culturally competent when working with clients from diverse backgrounds. To ensure sensitivity to their cultural nuances and preferences, I prioritize building trust. Without trust, people hesitate to open up about their problems and emotions, making it difficult to provide effective help.

Additionally, I acknowledge the differences in business laws and regulations around the world, which can be restrictive in some countries. This understanding allows me to approach unconventional situations with unconventional solutions.

Having over 20 years of experience working with immigrant business owners, I follow Steven Covey's principle of seeking to understand before attempting to advise. 

Given the rapidly changing immigration policies and regulations, how do you keep your clients informed and prepared for potential legal or immigration-related challenges that may impact their businesses?

Arkady: First and foremost, maintaining close and continuous contact with our clients is of utmost importance. Our team meets with clients regularly, at least annually, and often more frequently, to ensure that we are actively addressing their concerns and providing them with up-to-date information. 

To stay well-informed about the ever-changing immigration policies and regulations, we actively invest time in ongoing professional development. By doing so, we can provide timely and accurate advice to our clients, ensuring they are aware of potential challenges and equipped with the necessary knowledge to navigate them.

Collaboration is also a fundamental aspect of our approach. We maintain close business relationships with other CEPA professionals in related fields, such as legal, accounting, and business management. This allows us to have a holistic perspective when advising our clients, drawing on the expertise of these professionals to better serve our immigrant business owner clients.

Many immigrant entrepreneurs face issues related to documentation and visas. Can you explain how you guide your clients through the visa and immigration processes relevant to their businesses?

Arkady: The challenges faced by immigrant entrepreneurs in relation to documentation and visas are indeed significant, and it is crucial to guide our clients through these processes effectively. In the United States, there are approximately 185 different types of visas, categorized into nonimmigrant visas for temporary stays (such as tourism, business, study, family visits, etc.) and immigrant visas for permanent residence.

Many immigrant business owners are often unsure about the specific steps they need to take to improve their immigration status, given the wide range of visa options available. Understanding the complexity of the immigration process, I prioritize connecting my clients with experienced immigration attorneys who specialize in the specific areas relevant to their needs. Although I am not an immigration lawyer myself, I have developed relationships with attorneys who can provide valuable assistance. By working closely with these professionals, I ensure that my clients receive the expertise they require when navigating the intricacies of visa and immigration matters.

What advice do you have for other professionals and organizations that want to support immigrant business owners, especially on National Immigrant Day?

Arkady: The best advice for professionals and organizations is to maintain close business relationships with various specialists within the EPI and CEPA community. I would enthusiastically support the creation of a business study group (either online or in person), which may focus on specific areas of expertise. Effectively utilizing EPI web resources and becoming active members of the EPI local chapters across the country would be another essential piece of advice. 

Learn more about how you can immerse yourself in the EPI Community in our expansive Chapter Network!