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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) José Jimenez, an immigrant who started out with Overstock.com as a janitor in 2003, has worked his way up to oversee the company’s shipping operations.
Journey to a better life: From janitor to IT worker at Overstock.com

Immigration » Overstock employee’s story highlights sacrifice, hard work

First Published Mar 01 2013 09:09 am • Last Updated Mar 04 2013 09:40 am

José Jimenez came to Utah in 2003 with a green card granting him permanent residence in the U.S., an engineering degree from the Universidad Guadalajara Lamar in Mexico and dreams of a successful career working in the field of information technology.

But unlike many thousands of immigrants who came before him, his hopes weren’t frustrated along the way in some dead-end job at a company with no use for his talents and skills.

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An estimated 13.1 million immigrants with legal permanent resident status were living in the United States as of Jan. 1, 2011, with an estimated 8.5 million eligible to become citizens. There were also 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants within U.S. borders.

Congress and the White House are debating reforming the U.S. immigration system that will impact millions of legal and illegal immigrants.

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Jimenez had to prove himself, to be sure, but his desire to work hard and get ahead, along with the willingness of others to listen to him instead of tuning him out, made the difference.

Fast-forward to today, and Jimenez is a respected member of the IT team at one of the Salt Lake Valley’s biggest companies.

It could have turned out differently.

Although almost all immigrants dream of building a prosperous life in the United States, many after arriving find themselves working in jobs far below their abilities, and with time their dreams shift to their children, who they hope will find success in the new homeland.

Jimenez remembers the journey from a deeply personal perspective.

Speaking little English upon his arrival, the then-23-year old Jimenez found a job as a janitor, cleaning a warehouse and offices at online discount retailer Overstock.com in Salt Lake City.

"It was a humble and honest job, and I was happy to have it at the time," Jimenez said. "But ever since I was little, I wanted to have a professional career. No one ever took that idea from me. I told myself that I could do better. I told myself that I would do all I could to get a better job."

Jimenez came to this country seeking elements of the American dream: becoming a citizen, buying a home, raising a family and finding a job where he would be judged on his merits and the contributions he made to his employer’s business.

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The job he took as a janitor set him upon that path, one that blended hard work, sacrifice and success with disappointment and pain.

"When I began work at Overstock I knew the biggest challenge was that I needed to learn English,’’ he said. ``I had to be able to communicate. Fortunately, those who I worked with were willing to help me. They corrected me once they knew what I wanted to say, and over the next year I gradually taught myself English, and with their help became more comfortable with the language."

Several months after he started as a janitor, Overstock.com began gearing up for its holiday season and needed help in its shipping department. Jimenez applied for a job as a "packer" and soon found himself putting merchandise into cardboard boxes.

He learned on the job, and one busy season was made a team leader. "My supervisors saw me growing in my job little by little,’’Jimenez said, ``and they began to trust my work."

That trust led his supervisors to take seriously a suggestion he made about Overstock’s warehouse packing stations. Drawing upon his engineering background, he saw a way to make the packing process more efficient by changing how packing materials were arranged in individual stations.

Jimenez made a prototype of his idea using PVC pipe, and once the company made it operational, the shipping department’s productivity increased 30 percent. "Fortunately for us, there was someone around at the time who listened to him," said Steve Tryon, Overstock’s senior vice president of human resources.

"José was one of those guys who came here as an immigrant and did everything above board and by the book," Tryon said. "He worked hard and was willing to make sacrifices for the company."

It’s a common pattern at Overstock, which has benefited repeatedly from its hiring of immigrants in all areas of the company. "Our experience,’’ said Mark Griffin, general counsel at Overstock.com, ``is that they are hard workers with a very good work ethic."

Griffin said Overstock.com has committed "a lot of resources" to helping employees develop skills and knowledge necessary to move up within the organization. "People who come to work here aren’t freeze framed in their entry position," he said — and those educational programs are especially popular among immigrant workers.

Tryon also remembers Jimenez volunteering to move to the night shift. "Some people considered the night shift a hardship — it was where all the stress was,’’ he said. ``José saw it as an opportunity, and he ended up leading the whole shift."

In 2006, after going through Overstock.com’s leadership training program Jimenez became manager for all of the company’s packing operations. It was also the year that Jimenez gained U.S. citizenship.

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