Friday, December 19, 2008

Deaf Life to name John Yeh Deaf Person of the Year for 2008

From the intro to a long feature on John Yeh in The Gazette in Maryland:

John Yeh came to the U.S. as a deaf teenager; today, he heads a multimillion-dollar tech firm.

"The quality of life for deaf people depends greatly on the quality of communication," says John T.C. Yeh, president and CEO of Viable Inc. of Rockville, which develops technologies for the hearing-impaired community.

Starting a business in itself is a daunting enough task, with hurdles such as acquiring funds, paying taxes, meeting payroll, finding clients and learning the ropes. In fact, at least one-third of new small businesses fail in their first two years and more than half in their first four years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Add to that being deaf, emigrating from another nation and having to learn English, and you will begin to understand what John T.C. Yeh has overcome in leading the impressive growth of several Rockville businesses.

Yeh said he felt he had little choice but to take the entrepreneurial route, after being turned down for numerous jobs in the 1970s, despite earning a master's in computer sciences from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a bachelor's in mathematics from Gallaudet University.

He was often told that his lack of English skills was the key factor blocking suitable employment, but Yeh also thought being deaf played a role. He finally found a job as a computer programmer back at Gallaudet, the Washington university that specializes in education for deaf people, but yearned for something more.

"Many companies then couldn't deal with someone with a disability in the workplace," said Yeh, 61, speaking through sign language and an interpreter
in his Rockville office that contains a wall full of awards from President Reagan, the SBA and others. "A lot of people with a disability have potential and can contribute. Many businesses didn't understand that [decades ago], but more have become open-minded."

Besides growing businesses, Yeh has been instrumental in starting and furthering organizations that advocate for the deaf community, such as the National Asian Deaf Congress and National Deaf Business Institute.

He was a trustee at Gallaudet for more than a decade and is chairman of its Board of Associates, which builds relationships with business and philanthropic leaders. Deaf Life, a monthly national magazine founded in 1987, plans to honor Yeh as Deaf Person of the Year next month.

The Gazette this year named Yeh one of the "25 CEOs You Need to Know," and his present company, Viable Inc., was named one of the Exceptional 53 businesses and nonprofits by The Gazette of Politics and Business.

Viable is a "shining example of an enterprise that demonstrates every day that a disability is only a disability in the eyes of those that cannot see clearly," James R. Macfadden, a Gallaudet trustee who is deaf and has known Yeh for about three decades, wrote in an e-mail. "Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone needs to find a way to overcome deficiencies. The deaf do so better than many others."

In 1986, Macfadden founded Macfadden & Associates, a Silver Spring information technology contractor that has annual revenues of about $12 million. Last year, he completed the transition to making it an employee-owned company and has essentially retired.

Macfadden, chairman of Gallaudet's Presidential Search Advisory Committee and formerly president of the National Deaf Business Institute, said he did not know of any other for-profit, deaf-owned companies of the magnitude of Viable, "with such a large contingent of deaf and hard-of-hearing employees."