During Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month this May, we want to take the time to reflect on the significant contributions and achievements AAPI Americans have made — and continue to make — to our country, our communities and Best Buy.
This observance comes at a time that has been significantly difficult for the AAPI community, with anti-Asian hate crimes on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Now, it’s more important than ever to share and celebrate the voices of the AAPI community.
We’re proud to highlight four AAPI leaders who shared how their family, culture and experiences have shaped who they are today. Here are their stories.
Ray Teng, District Manager (Houston)
In a company of 100,000 employees, District Manager Ray Teng is dedicated to ensuring no one feels like they’re just a number.
In his role, Ray oversees 11 stores and a Best Buy Outlet in the Houston area and streamlines communication for corporate and store teams to work better together. He sees himself as a relational bridge – a connector – within the Best Buy brand.
“I love this role. I feel like I have direct impact on stores, employees and customers,” Ray said.
Ray grew up in southern California with his older brother, David, and mother, Suzan. Ray’s mother is Chinese and moved to the U.S. when she was 27 years old. Suzan worked as a waitress until she purchased two Mexican fast-food restaurants and ran the business herself.
“My mom didn’t take any shortcuts. She worked hard and understood the value of a hard day’s work,” Ray said. “I try to incorporate that work ethic every single day when I’m at work. That’s very important to me.”
Fueled by his desire to work hard, Ray has spent 21 years with Best Buy, working his way through many operational positions in the business. He’s learned to use his relationship-building skills not just in an operational sense, but also to help people feel like they belong.
“One thing I was taught growing up was to respect and accept others,” he said. “When people look at me, I’ve always wanted to be accepted by them and eliminate any lines or barriers to communication.”
One way he does this is by proactively bringing up holidays and traditions that others may forget but that are important to people of color on his team, such as Chinese New Year.
Ray says it’s important to him that others feel part of the Best Buy family just as he always has. He makes a point to actively listen to his teams and colleagues so he can understand their experience and learn from it.
“The best way I have learned to create strong work relationships is making a huge point to actively listen,” Ray said. “I want to connect with others and make sure they feel heard.”
Sasha Thomson, Delivery Distribution Center Director (Compton, California)
What started as a part-time job in high school for Sasha Thomson quickly snowballed into a career.
Sasha began her Best Buy journey when she was 17 as a part-time sales associate. Now, she runs Best Buy’s distribution center in Los Angeles, where she and her team fulfill orders for 42 surrounding stores and customer home deliveries.
While Sasha didn’t plan to build her career at Best Buy when she joined as a teenager, she says it’s turned out to be a good fit due to the values Best Buy shows and how they align with her own.
“I wouldn’t work for a company unless it has great values,” Sasha said. “It’s super important to me, and I see it show up in our guiding behavior, Be Human, and how welcoming we are to diversity.”
Sasha has spent most of her life in L.A., a huge melting pot of diversity. Her father is native Hawaiian and still lives on the Big Island. Sasha said he is very connected with his culture and has instilled values in her such as respect for the land and respect for Indigenous cultures.
Thanks to the influences of her Hawaiian heritage as well as her experience growing up in the L.A. area, Sasha has passed on her values and helped Best Buy do the same in her own way.
She serves on an inclusion and diversity committee for the company’s distribution centers and enjoys the opportunity to help educate others on all the different cultures and communities that exist.
“I love being able to share stories about other cultures with the rest of the network,” Sasha said. “It’s something I hope to continue being a part of here at Best Buy.”
Bryan Utu, General Manager (Las Vegas)
Every day as Bryan Utu puts on his blue shirt, he brings the compassion and welcoming spirit into his Las Vegas store.
He credits his Samoan side of the family for his friendly nature and for giving him an incredible example of true support.
“The family feeling at home is something I try to bring to work every single day,” Bryan said. “Our togetherness is phenomenal. We love to spend time together.”
Bryan started at Best Buy 19 years ago in a part-time role while he was in college studying to be a teacher. After graduating, he decided he could use his passion for teaching in the store and worked his way up from sales to a general manager, where he now manages 90 employees. Along the way, he even met his wife, Seam, at Best Buy, who still works for the company as a manager for home services operations.
As the leader in his store, Bryan promotes an inclusive mindset within his team starting from Day One. While tattoos and piercings haven’t always been accepted in the workplace, Bryan shares his own tattoos in new hire orientation sessions, including for employees who may have piercings or tattoos, which haven’t always been welcomed in the workplace.
“I have tattoos, and they are part of my culture, so I know how important that expression can be to someone,” Bryan said. “I’m all about making my employees feel comfortable and asking them about their tattoos and what they mean.”
People are important to Bryan, and he hopes to pass along the same values to his children that make him the compassionate leader he is today.
“Something I teach my kids is, if you truly care about people, they’re going to like you and they’re going to want to get behind you,” Bryan said. “If you really focus on people and listen to what they want, that’s what makes you a successful leader.”
Kannan Swaminathan, Vice President of Digital & Technology (Richfield, Minnesota)
Kannan Swaminathan is no stranger to change.
He was born in Bangalore, India, and moved often throughout as a young boy, including boarding school in Chennai before returning to Bangalore for his university studies. He seriously considered a career as a professional table tennis player before ultimately deciding to pursue a career in information technology, which led him to the U.S. in 2001.
Building a life and career in the U.S. has required significant patience, Kannan said. The journey to become a U.S. citizen can last decades, and he considers himself lucky that he was able to secure citizenship in eight years.
“As an immigrant, you are subject to another layer of scrutiny,” Kannan said. “Those are things I had to learn and embrace and be resilient. I have great deal of empathy for those on work visas and navigating the changing policies.”
Kannan joined Best Buy during the peak of the 2011 holiday season and soon became fascinated by the collaboration and the company’s speed of change.
“The level of cross functional relationships that happen and the way we come together under one common goal is special at Best Buy,” Kannan said.
Kannan notes that after a decade with Best Buy, change and resiliency are inherent in the way the company functions. He values the transparency the company embodies and practices the same honesty and accountability in his own day-to-day work.
“Resilience isn’t just about how you bounce from challenging situation, it’s about how you move forward,” he said. “I try to bring a vision to move forward, and if we bounce from those challenges and move forward, it will help the community as a whole.”
Click here to visit our Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month landing page on BestBuy.com.
Photo at top (L to R): Ray Teng, Sasha Thompson, Bryan Utu and Kannan Swaminathan.