Voice Magazine / Stories / 2018 Spring / Vintage Leadership
Minh Tran ’95

Vintage Leadership

Napa County is known for its lush vineyards and rolling hills. But when Minh Tran ’95 was appointed as its chief executive officer in October, the county looked quite different. Four major wildfires were raging through Wine Country, requiring the College of Law alumnus to work hard and maintain a calm demeanor to help residents survive.

“Putting out a fire” is a cliché in the business world, a common phrase tossed around in meetings when the need arises to solve an urgent problem. But when Minh Tran ’95 took over in October as the County Executive Officer for Napa County, fighting a fire was quite literally at the top of his to-do list.

Tran, a graduate of the University of La Verne College of Law, stepped into the leadership role just as several of the most destructive wildfires in California history swept across the state, causing widespread damage in Napa County.

While a lesser manager might have panicked during the fires, Tran kept his cool. “He is steady and measured and strategic — all the qualities you want to see in a leader,” Napa County District 5 Supervisor Belia Ramos said.

They were all first responders even though they don’t wear the uniforms. Everyone was there serving the greater need of the community.

He is also decidedly humble when reflecting on his leadership during the fires, which burned 145,000 acres, destroyed 1,200 structures, and killed seven people. Rather than boasting of his role, he points first to the thousands of residents of Napa County as the “real heroes” of the fires.

“They have been through so much — four natural disasters in three years, floods, earthquakes, and repeated fires,” he said. “These are the people helping out at evacuation centers, neighbors taking care of neighbors, looking after farm animals and pets.”

Tran came to Napa County as assistant county counsel in 2009, served as the interim CEO throughout much of 2017, and then was formally appointed to the position in October.

His staff includes the 42 county employees who served at the Emergency Operating Center (EOC) during the fires in addition to their normal full-time duties. He praised them for their selflessness during the ordeal.

“During the fires, much of Napa County was without electricity and phone service,” Tran said. “Yet, everyone reported to the EOC even as their own houses were threatened and their families were evacuated. They were all first responders even though they don’t wear the uniforms. Everyone was there serving the greater need of the community.”

Tran, who immigrated with his family to the U.S. from Vietnam, credits his legal education at the University of La Verne for building the leadership skills that served him well in October.

“It is important to identify all the issues of any given situation,” he said. “In law school, you learn to think on your feet and be analytical, so you have to be thoughtful and calm. Being able to think through and spot the issues — for that I credit my training at La Verne.”

Several of his professors, including current Professor of Law H. Randall Rubin, opened his eyes to how the corporate and government worlds work, he said.

Tran loves sunrise runs through the Napa vineyards. They help with the stress that accompanies his challenging job. He compares his runs to his county’s road to rebuilding.

“We have to start running the marathon,” he said. “But Napa businesses are open and we are well on our long journey to recovery.”