DENVER - For decades, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been under brutal military rule.
In September, President Obama announced plans to lift sanctions against the country because of the country's move toward democracy.
Through the turmoil, large groups of Burmese refugees were shifted to Denver because of religious oppression, and now a local businessman is helping them get on their feet.
Inheriting a family business isn’t easy, and that’s a lesson James Ruder learned the hard way.
“It wasn’t the easiest thing, as a young man, to come in and figure out what I thought was important, and how I thought the business should grow,” said Ruder.
Ruder’s dad started L&R Pallet back in the 1970’s with dreams of being an entrepreneur.
That dream turned into a nightmare for Ruder as massive turnover rates put the business on the brink. At a time when most would panic, he went to Peru and turned to his faith by taking part in this mission trip.
“My revelation was that this business doesn’t belong to me. I consider this a kingdom business, and it actually belongs to God and I have a responsibility to do something with it,” said Ruder.
Ruder made the decision to start hiring refugees from Burma who were looking for work in the U.S. as their family members were being executed at home.
There are around 80 Burmese workers L&R right now.
Hung Ke is one of Ruder’s employees now, but he remembers a darker time in a refugee camp.
“We were hopeless. And my family and children were also hopeless,” said Ke.
Ke says that hopelessness is gone because of educational opportunities in the US.
L&R is working to provide its employees with those opportunities. It offers refugees English classes, free of charge, almost every day.
They arrived in the U.S. with nothing, but the jobs and lessons are changing the future for the refugee’s and their families.
Ah Hki started at L & R on the production floor but has worked his way up to supervisor.
“America is the top number one country. So I think better for my children. So it will be very good for the future of their life,” said Hki.
Hearing that is more important to Ruder than his bottom line--- so he no longer passes out paychecks without knowing his employees on a personal level.
“Now we encourage people to bring in their dirty laundry, spread it out on the table and we’ll sort through it with you and find out where you’re struggling,” said Ruder.
Lerpwe Ju did that and turned his financial situation around.
“They were helping us to find a house, and we got a better house with a better deal, and we’re paying less than what we used to pay,” said Ju.
Ruder says the jobs, classes and mentoring are an investment but has created self-reliant, confident workers striving for their full potential.
It’s also had a huge impact on the business.
“That started with the refugees and it has just become a program that has changed our entire culture, that’s changed our workforce, and has changed our ability to perform,” said Ruder.
Profits have gone up too!
And that massive turnover rate has been slashed by 250%.
Ruder chalks the gains up as a byproduct of doing the right thing, and he is challenging more companies and individuals to think beyond the bottom line by looking at the need around you.