Andy Pham is the American Dream, so you’ll have to forgive him if he seems a little suspicious of the anti-immigrant narrative about criminals, job stealers, and lazy transplants from other countries looking to “take advantage” of the system. “I love this country and I think that immigrants tend to embrace the ideals of this country more than actual Americans sometimes, because we know what it cost to get here.”
For Pham, that meant six failed escape attempts from post-war Vietnam. It meant a seventh successful escape, if “successful” means eleven days and ten nights at sea, having to fend off three pirate attacks and resorting to drinking his and his own family’s urine to stay hydrated. It means months in Filipino and Malaysian refugee camps and enduring the coldest Austin, Minnesota, winter in memory after he and his family moved there, given $200 per family member by the US government and wished luck in their new life.
Pham has started companies, lost companies, paid his way through school, and earned an MBA and a law degree at the same time. The now chief of staff at Talkdesk has repeatedly set goals, achieved them, and recalibrated his own personal American Dream, leveraging a wide skill set based in intellectual property (IP), but ultimately encompassing all the skills that made him the ideal candidate for “right-hand man” of Talkdesk Founder and CEO Tiago Paiva.
In previous roles, Pham had cultivated a reputation for turning IP into revenue generators for companies who either thought of their IP as a cost center or hadn’t been able to properly leverage their own portfolios to their full potentials. At Witness Systems, Pham not only created and built out an extensive IP portfolio but also fended off patent litigation from an industry leading competitor into what Pham calls “unconditional surrender.” He was a one-man wrecking crew of litigation, prosecution, open source, contract, human resources, mergers and acquisitions, and M&A due diligence work.
The now SVP at Talkdesk says from the outset, taking on a chief of staff role may seem a strange diversion for the engineer-turned-entrepreneur-turned-lawyer-turned-IP-pro, but there is a lot more at play. Pham initially thought he was interviewing for an open general counsel position at the company. “The funny thing is, the only person that interviewed me was the CEO, nobody else,” Pham recalls. “When he called me back, he said he didn’t want me to be the GC, he wanted me to be his right-hand man, to help him run the company as his chief of staff.”
An Easier Escape
While Andy Pham’s escape and emigration to the United States sounds like the plot of a movie, these days it is video games that provide the SVP an easier getaway. “I like to pick up a game for a week or two and really get engrossed in a completely different world,” Pham says. “If you spend all your time in the same environment, you’ll get burned out, so I like to escape to a fantasy world from time to time.”
The chief of staff position, Pham says, is no longer regulated to the political arena. “I think every CEO needs a chief of staff,” Pham says. “You can be a sounding board, a buffer between the CEO and the rest of the executive team and do those things that a normal executive assistant just can’t do.” Pham says he understands the pains of building and growing a company, and that his own expertise will, in essence, help amplify and augment Paiva’s best qualities.
“The most important quality you need for this position is trust,” Pham says. “If you can’t win over the CEO’s trust, you’re simply not going to be a chief of staff.” He says it’s his role to lend a listening ear or offer advice at the CEO’s most intimate moments, and that is a responsibility he could not take any more seriously.
Talkdesk is in the middle of intense expansion and is recruiting heavily. In the past eighteen months, the company has tripled in size and as the company grows, the need for an expanded C-suite will become a reality sooner than later. “When that time comes, I think you’ll see the chief of staff role really come into its own,” Pham says. Until then, Pham will be wearing a sort of limitless number of hats to ensure Talkdesk is on the right path at the right time with the right people.
Pham’s ability to reinvent his career over and over again is especially poignant given the way he originally found his way to the United States. His capacity for entrepreneurship and self-motivation are what many in the US would consider almost implicitly “American values.” It’s why he’s so confused about why so many Americans oppose those who are fighting to come to the country for the exact same reasons.
“Are you going to tell me that I haven’t contributed?” Pham asks. “I was a refugee from a situation that we [the United States] largely contributed to, but I still love this country. It may be silly, but whenever I hear the ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ I still get goosebumps.”