President and COO, AGI Capital Group, Inc.
Doing Ordinary Things Extraordinarily Well
Alexis was born in Hong Kong and came to the United States at thirteen with her two sisters and their recently divorced father. Her paternal grandmother had immigrated years earlier and she was the primary reason Alexis’ father decided to bring the family to San Francisco. Her grandmother was an important and inspirational person in her life and Alexis describes her as “dynamic, audacious, and fearless” – a woman who raised nine children on her own, bringing them from mainland China to Hong Kong following the revolution. Growing up, Alexis visited her grandmother almost daily and would later live with her at a crucial life juncture as a young adult. During that period, Alexis realized the importance of self-reliance. This guiding value influences how Alexis leads her personal and professional life. Her grandmother died in 2002 and Alexis feels it is her role to carry on her grandmother’s legacy.
In 1990, Welling and Woodward, a management-consulting firm, offered her a temporary position as a junior asset manager when an employee took maternity leave. In this role Alexis learned all aspects of real estate development including how to work with city departments and acquiring building permits. The employee on maternity leave never returned to the job so Alexis ended up staying for four years. The position helped Alexis pay her way through her undergraduate studies but also required that she work full-time while earning her bachelor’s degree in marketing at Golden Gate University.
After graduating, Alexis felt her compensation in her current role was not equivalent to her contribution. When her request for a raise was denied, she decided to pursue a real estate broker’s license. This training provided her with knowledge of the other side of the business including how to secure financing and syndicate investors. Her newly gained knowledge presented new possibilities.
As she contemplated her next step, Alexis took both the LSAT and GMAT and was able to secure scholarships from GGU on both fronts. At that point, Alexis realized she was already on the right career path. She recognized that her personality was a good fit with her work in real estate, and that it was important for her to be entrepreneurial and to engage in work that reflected her vision and values.
In 1992, Alexis decided to return to Golden Gate University to pursue her MBA in International Management with the support of a scholarship. Throughout graduate school Alexis continued to work full-time as a broker and focused primarily on selling investment properties, apartments and mixed-use retail. Alexis learned how to syndicate investments from her clients and took the lead in building an investment group. In the process, she made a tremendous amount of money for her clients, securing retirement for at least half of them.
In 1996 Alexis graduated with her MBA from GGU. By that time she had already put together some good deals in her new investment role. By 1997, her reputation became known in the investment community. Word on the market was: “If Alexis doesn’t put her money in the deal, then it cannot be good.” This situation presented an inherent conflict of interest between Alexis’ broker role and investor role. Her group of investors knew whether or not she was participating in deals, so if Alexis wasn’t interested in the deal it was difficult for her to convince others to buy it. “I soon realized I couldn’t do a good job if I had these conflicting roles.” So in 1998, Alexis left the brokerage industry and formed her own company – AGI Capital – with a few projects already under her management.
With AGI Capital’s success, Alexis became a highly respected local leader. She was appointed by the governor to the California Real Estate Advisory Commission in 2002 and the California World Trade Commission the next year. Currently, Alexis works as commissioner of Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs and advises California’s Commission for Small Business under the Governor’s Office.
AGI Capital is now in its eleventh year and has twenty-eight employees. While AGI Capital has succeeded regionally, Alexis is ready to extend this success globally and is now guiding her company toward that vision by spearheading efforts to expand business opportunities in China.
Alexis shared perspectives on life and insight from her entrepreneurial journey: she continues to see herself as an eternal student, “Everyday I learn a little more that contributes to what I am doing. I never feel that I am smart enough. I have an insatiable amount of curiosity. I have always wanted to learn more, and wanted to know what motivates people to do certain things. I have this interminable desire to try new things and to do things that other people have not done.”
When reflecting on her experience at GGU, Alexis says, “It was important to me that my professors were working practitioners who had experience with both success and failure.” This provided Alexis with realistic perspectives from people with real-world business experience. She appreciated GGU for its willingness to groom others. “Without the scholarship program I would not have gotten the education that I did. My time was limited. I was working forty-to-sixty hours a week, so I appreciated being able to go to a night class in a good program with a flexible schedule.”