Every day I am thankful that my great-grandfather, Alex Lion, traveled from what is now Armenia to Fresno, California over 100 years ago. He traveled through Europe, dangerous waters, and across the United States for a new opportunity. My family cherishes his ambition, to travel across the world to an unknown land where he knew nobody, just to farm in the Central Valley and to be free from persecution. If he stayed in Armenia, he would have suffered in the genocide that resulted in just a few years after he left his homeland. I, nor my family, may not be here today if it weren’t for his sacrifice.

To quote the great Henry David Thoreau, “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” When I first read this quote in grade school, it stuck with me. I realized that, as my grandfather did, I have the choices in my life. I can create anything with a little ambition.

When I was 12 years old, I was creating customized bicycles. By the age of 14, I was busy buying items from garage sales, fixing them up and selling them at local swap meets. By 15, I was customizing and painting motorcycles, and by 16 I was modifying a future award winning Cadillac. At 17, I created a Video Game Arcade in Pasadena, and at 21, I sold the successful Arcade business. 

Why did I sell my successful business? Because I didn’t want to get too comfortable. I didn’t want to lose my ambition by doing the same thing everyday. I needed to release my creative energy. So, I returned home to my family’s farm in Fresno, California.

I grabbed the soil that my great grandfather would till tirelessly for hours on end and had never felt more connected to his roots. In the 1970’s, with the global shift towards globalization, I saw the opportunity to expand my family farm to become a major, global exporter. Before the age of emails, cell phones, laptops, or even computers — I worked tirelessly collecting information from phone books. From a landline, I connected with fruitful contacts in emerging markets. I found joy growing food from dirt that ended up feeding people. My family business made raisins cheaper for millions of people around the world.

A few years later, those phone calls in a small office led to me traveling the world, meeting potential customers face to face, and expanding our family business to new heights. By the early ‘90s, Lion Raisins (my family farm) had grown to become the largest independent California raisin grower and supplier. I knew our family could do more, so I pushed for a new raisin processing facility. I designed and oversaw the building of this new facility — and it’s thriving to this day. Our raisin processing facility is a work of art, my vision of creation, and ambition. I created a new building, one that I could call my own. The world is my canvas, and it is yours too.