Seeking Political Stability
In 1958, Neil K. Lai left Shanghai by himself at the age of 16. His father was dead, and his mother wanted Neil to flee for security to Hong Kong. Their family had been turned upside down by the Communist Party rule that started in 1949. Mr. Lai's father, a former factory owner, had been branded a capitalist.
Neil Lai worked for two years in his uncle's tailor shop in Hong Kong before attending night school. He learned English, which landed him a series of relatively well- paying jobs through the mid-1970's. But the sight of Vietnamese boat refugees in the waters around Hong Kong made him realize that the Asian political situation was unstable. So at the age of 34, he came to the United States to study at a community college in Arizona.
He transferred to Arizona State University, where he studied accounting ‹ a skill that eventually led to his job at the New York State Office of Taxation and Finance.
Mr. Lai wanted his two teenage children to maintain straight A's in school. "His experience had told him education is a path to success," said his wife, Yvonne.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 13, 2001.