Here at DaVinci, we are thrilled to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month with our founding family, the Fongs. To commemorate, we sat down with our founders to discuss how they navigate being a proudly Asian American-owned business, meaningful traditions they celebrate as a company, and how their family-oriented ethos shapes their tight-knit, continuously improving culture.
Overcoming Bias While Starting a New Business
It all started in Los Angeles in 1990 when Daniel and Maryann Fong bought Million Dollar Baby (MDB), a furniture wholesaler. From the very beginning, they followed business strategies that distinguished them from the rest of the industry, such as having warehouses across the country to be closer to customers, importing parts that would be assembled and packaged in Los Angeles, and keeping their customers in the loop with a regular newsletter.
However, forging their own path in the baby furniture space when they occupied the smallest booth at trade shows and when diversity wasn’t as openly celebrated as it is today involved navigating various social pressures. “At that time, you almost needed to act like the rest of the industry, whereas now, I think you can really point out that you’re an Asian-American business,” Maryann said.
“We knew that this was a business we wanted to see flourish because we were in it to help families grow, and it shouldn’t matter what color our skin was.”
Daniel and Maryann Fong in the 1990s.
What It’s Like to Lead an Asian American-owned Business Now
A lot has changed since 1990. Teddy and Tracy, Daniel and Maryann’s children, joined the company after college. Teddy took over as CEO in 2015 and Tracy is the Senior Vice President of Sales. Together, they strive to make the business and culture bolder and more fun than ever, wanting to honor the company’s rich history but channel the dynamic energy and progressiveness of a start-up.
Reflecting on what it’s like to own an Asian American owned business today, Tracy is decidedly optimistic. “I believe that more people want work to be more equitable. Our key retailers make it a point to celebrate our stories, our brands, and our company because we are Asian owned,” she said.
When Teddy and Tracy took up the mantle, they preserved and built upon the deep relationships that Daniel and Maryann had already established with vendors and factory partners in China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Investing in these longstanding connections, Teddy explained, results in constant improvements at every step of the customer journey.
Tracy (left) and Teddy (right) Fong, at Million Dollar Baby's Los Angeles office.
The Importance of Family Values
“Our most important core value as a company is to treat our team like family. Our top, most important vendors have been partners of ours for over 30 years and continue to be the backbone to our business. It’s through our many years, learning and growing together, where we’re able to align on product details and product excellence,” Teddy said.
This commitment stems from MDB’s founding principles: love and loyalty. “When we truly love all our employees, all our suppliers, all our customers, and everyone we come into contact with, goodness and joy are and will be the results which will guarantee the success of any business,” Daniel said.
Sharing Family Traditions
Family traditions are ingrained in MDB’s business operations. Each year for Lunar New Year, MDB celebrates by closing the office for the day so that the team can have the time to spend with family and friends.
One of the most significant and joyous holidays for Asian and Southeast Asian communities around the world, Lunar New Year might be best known in the public imagination as the two-to-four-week period when factories and business across Asia shut down.
“It’s more than that!” Tracy said, always making a point to discuss the personal significance of the holiday to retailers. She reminisced on company-wide Lunar New Year dim sum feasts and red envelope exchanges of the past. “The purpose of having Lunar New Year off is to celebrate our Chinese culture and celebrate alongside our factory and Asia teams that work so hard all year long.”
Uplifting Asian and Asian American Communities
The Fongs believe that the best way Asian communities can continue to support each other is to “enlist, encourage, educate, and empower,” as Maryann said — to be more vocal than ever in supporting Asian-owned and Asian-run businesses and organizations. Tracy echoed that sentiment, reflecting on the disturbing rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic. What we need, Tracy explained, are “BIG VOICES! For too long, we have not been seen in the media as leaders, as funny, as bold, as anything other than support staff.”
Cementing Diversity as a Part of Our Culture
During the pandemic, MDB formed a Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Committee (DIEC) to further our commitment to embrace all cultures and perspectives through hiring, education, community involvement, and marketing. DIEC's mission is to acknowledge and break barriers for disadvantaged people and communities, ensure diversity and inclusion in MDBs people and perspectives, and ensure access to the same opportunities for all. To facilitate conversation on AAPI issues, we've been proud to host speakers covering this space for our community, such as Evan Low, Renee Tajima-Peña, and Don Young. Big voices are always welcome here!