Christopher Che knew no one when he arrived in the Cincinnati area in 1980, and he was one of fewer than 10 immigrants here at the time from his native Cameroon, in West Africa.
Christopher Che knew no one when he arrived in the Cincinnati area in 1980, and he was one of fewer than 10 immigrants here at the time from his native Cameroon, in West Africa. Today the local population of Cameroonians has grown to roughly 500 people, and Che is known throughout the region for both his business accomplishments and his efforts to give back to his adopted home.
"I found the Cincinnati area to be very economically stable and very diverse in industry. It gave me a stable environment, consistency and the ability to focus on my life," says Che, who is president and CEO of the Che International Group, a multinational holding company. "I made Cincinnati my home very early on. I've never even applied for a job anywhere else."
After graduating from Wilmington College in 1985, Che earned a master's degree in accounting from Miami University in Oxford. He then settled into a career of more than 25 years as a financial executive while he and his wife Rose raised their three children. He launched the Che Group in 2005 to acquire and run companies that concentrate on supply-chain excellence. Che was its only employee when he founded the company in his basement; Che Group and its subsidiary companies now employ 115 people.
Che's years in the Cincinnati business community convinced him that the region's major corporations were truly committed to doing business with immigrants and minorities. Executives at companies like Macy's, Procter & Gamble, Kroger and others returned his calls and understood the business case for promoting supplier diversity.
"I formed my company because these companies had created the infrastructure so that if I had a good, high-quality product, access was not a problem," says Che. "The hardest thing for immigrants and minorities is access, and corporations in this area understand that involving minorities and immigrants in the workforce for innovation and talent is becoming more and more critical as the country becomes majority minority."
Che was recognized in 2012 as an Outstanding American by Choice by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an award that spotlights the accomplishments of naturalized citizens. He also served on President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in 2011-2012, alongside business leaders such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. His lengthy list of additional business accomplishments and civic awards focuses on promoting economic opportunities for less-advantaged groups.
When he returns to Cameroon, Che finds it easy to encourage people to send their children to Cincinnati and nearby cities to study. He's not solely responsible for the jump in the number of Cameroonians in the region, but he concedes he's done his part.
"The Midwestern culture is very conducive to our group. When we move to big cities like New York or Washington, the Cameroonian population is so high that you don't have a chance to learn new things," he says. "Those of us in the Midwest have a chance to learn great things about America such as the American work ethic and discipline, and to be able to bring the great things about our culture here."