A2Q2 Tough Mudder Interview – Kim

Q&A between Kim Le, Founder & CEO, and the California Society of CPA in May 2015 when Kim was recognized with the Women to Watch Trailblazer Award.

Escape from Vietnam

In 1978, Saigon Vietnam, in the dead of night, my baby brother, mother and I were sneaking out of town on a rickshaw. Our rendezvous point was a fishing village along the Mekong River. I was six years old and for me, it was just a great adventure.

We slipped onto a tiny fishing boat and sail into the South China Sea. My mother was seasick the entire time and stayed below deck. I would sneak up onto the deck and listen to the rumors about pirate ships that were trolling the seas.They are looking for victims like us to rob and rape. We spent 5 days on the boat. We ran out of water and food and we were only eating rice with salt and pepper to begin with.

On top of that, boat engine died and we were just drifting in this vast sea of blue with nothing in sight. We were hungry, thirsty and desperate to find land. Finally, we spotted land ahead. We are so ecstatic that everyone jumped off the sinking boat.

Malaysia Refugee Camp

We were living under a plastic tarp with dirt floors, walls thatched with tree branches. Mosquitos and head lice are everywhere.The lice was so bad that we shave my 4-year old brother’s head to get rid of them. Mom is depressed. And rightfully so. She had left behind three kids and everything she knew. So it falls on me to wait in lines to draw water from the nearby wells. It is my job to wait in lines for food rations. We were the lucky ones; we were living in a refugee camp in Malaysia, waiting for any country to accept us. After a year, a generous family from a church helped us come to the US.


We started with nothing. We had no money. We had no friends. We didn’t know English. We rented a tiny room in a house from another Vietnamese family. My little brother, mom and I live in one room, sharing one bed. My Mom worked minimum wage jobs as a dishwasher even though in Vietnam she owned a large restaurant.

From my experience of growing up in poverty, I knew that the only way to break out of that cycle was to go to college and find a well-paying job.

And so, with just $500 to my name, I left for college in Phoenix, AZ. I went to school full time and supported myself by working part-time. I shared a 2-bedroom apartment with 4 other girls. I volunteered to sleep on the floor for reduced rent because we didn’t have room for my bed.

My goal was to get straight A’s so that I could get a job when I graduated. The college years were awesome! I was free to explore, free to grow without restraints. And to find out who I really was. By the time I graduated four years later, I had a 4.0 GPA and five job offers from the six major CPA firms.

I’m an accidential entreprenuer.

In May 2002, I was on top of the world working at Arthur Andersen in Silicon Valley. I consistently got promoted 1-2 years ahead of schedule. I wanted to become an audit partner. I had just gotten married the year before. I was eight months pregnant with my daughter.

All that changed…as Arthur Andersen implodes from the Enron scandal and shuts its doors. With no job, my world collapsed and I spiraled into the Dark Abyss of depression.

So, I go work for a consulting company. In July 2003, five months pregnant with my son now, I sit across from my boss telling him that I was quitting my steady paying job to start a company so that I could sponsor work visas for two friends.

My boss looked at me and says “Your pretty face is not going to get you far”. I felt scared because I had never done anything like this before and I didn’t know anyone who had started a business either. I felt hurt because this was someone I looked up to and thought of as a mentor. I felt determined because I was going to prove him wrong.

He was half right. Years later, I’m still a pretty face. And I’m the CEO and founder of a successful, growing team. We call ourselves the Special Ops team for accounting and finance teams.

A2Q2 is the Special Ops team for accounting and finance departments. We are fearless problem solvers. We specialize in accounting systems & processes, data analytics, NetSuite consulting, internal controls and SOX readiness/compliance. We work with the hottest companies in Silicon Valley like Airbnb, Uber, Eventbrite, Square and established companies like VeriFone and Stanford University.

We are also a diverse team. Combined, we are 95% diverse (70% are women and 60% are minorities).

My husband. In the mist of my first mid-life crisis, my husband planted the first seeds of entrepreneurship for me. He told me, “instead of looking for the Perfect Place to work, why don’t you create it”? He supported me financially when I started the business. He was a stay-at-home dad for 10 years so that I could focus on growing it. Today, he is my strategic coach.
#1. Besides your technical skills, develop soft skills early. Technical skills are just the basic foundation (and you do need solid foundation). To advance though, you need emotional intelligence which includes strong communication skills and the ability to connect with people and build loyal teams.

#2. Marry well, not rich. Find a partner who is supportive of your professional and personal goals, someone who is willing to play multiple roles in the family at different times. You want someone who is emotionally strong to let you shine without resenting it.

#3. Take risks; make lots of mistakes but only new ones. This means that you continually stretch yourself to learn new skills and volunteer for new assignments that push your comfort zone. Once you make a mistake, learn from it and don’t repeat it. This doesn’t mean you produce sloppy work though.

Extremely important. I’m here only because of my mentors and sponsors. I learned that lesson (too) late in life. Seek out multiple sponsors and mentors. They will help pull you over obstacles and push you through tough times.
My passion is to build an ecosystem where women and minorities reach power. I give time and resources to organizations whose missions and goals align with mine — leadership development and advancement. How and where you spend your time and money is the best indicator of what is important to you. You can see the organizations that are close to my heart on the Community page.
Why build professional skills unless you plan make an impact outside of the workplace? Life is about making personal connections and significant impact to the whole community.

Q&A between Kim Le, Founder & CEO, and the Silicon Valley Business Journal in April 2013 when Kim was presented with Silicon Valley 100 Most Influential Women 2013 Award

Le came from humble beginnings; she and her family were among the “boat people” from Vietnam who escaped to Malaysia. She spent a year in a refugee camp surviving on United Nation rations and supported herself through college. She has more than 17 years of accounting, auditing and consulting experience. She founded A2Q2, a professional service firm specializing in accounting projects, business process re-engineering, internal audit and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

Residence: San Jose

Education: Arizona State University

Board/volunteer work/other accolades: Board of directors: Silicon Valley Directors’ Exchange, MidPen Housing; Hipower member; 2012 President’s Award by Ascend Leadership; 2010 Asian Business Woman of the Year by National Council of Asian American Business Associations (NCAABA); 2009 Women in Business Excellence Award by California Public Utility Commission (CPUC)

Chocolate chip cookie wrapper
Dumb luck and sheer hunger
I’m chauffeuring my kids around and riding my Ducati Monster (motorcycle)
Not building a strong, extensive network of friends and supporters early in my career
Lived under a plastic tarp in a Malaysian refugee camp for one year before immigrating to the U.S.
Build an ecosystem where women and minorities reach power and financial independence.
My husband. He taught me to embrace risk-taking and entrepreneurship.
Fail often, fail fast.
Sweating it out in hot yoga