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Steering the right course: Tu Do finds his niche in automotive career

Tu Do stands by one of his prize possessions, a 2006 Ford Mustang. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Tu Do is preparing to go back to Worthington High School. The purpose of his visit is not to take classes or even to visit his former teachers. He’s returning to the halls of his alma mater because he has a message for the students.

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“I was a little brat,” said Tu, a 2008 WHS graduate, about his own school experience. “I had troubles. I just wanted to get a D in class. I told my dad, ‘I want to drop out,’ not finish high school.”

But Tu’s dad encouraged his son to stick with it, and at some point during his junior year, Tu began to turn things around.

“I started getting good grades,” he said. “I decided I wanted to go to vo-tech to learn to work on cars, because that was something I liked doing.”

The son of Vietnamese immigrants Ha Tran and Truong Huu Do, Tu was born in Sioux City, Iowa. Tu moved to Worthington when he was just an infant. Now, dad Ha and sister Vicky Thy Do own and operate a nail salon, T-Nails, in Worthington.

In school, it was determined that Tu had ADD — attention deficit disorder — and eventually he was given an individual education plan to help him focus on his studies and his future.

“I didn’t want to study,” he admitted. “I didn’t care about school. I just wanted to have fun and goof off. I didn’t see any point in going to school.”

But Tu’s teachers didn’t give up on him and encouraged him to get involved in the school-to-work program.

“They asked me what I wanted to do,” he recalled, “and I said I wanted to go to college. … They asked me a few questions: Where do you see yourself in five years? I knew I wanted to be an auto mechanic.”

With that goal in mind, Tu began to do better in his studies. He also worked at the local McDonald’s, a job he began at age 14 and continued for seven and a half years.

Through the high school, Tu was introduced to a program offered through the local Workforce Center that would allow him to pursue his dream of attending a vocational college.

“They helped me with where I needed to be, with my books, my tuition, my tools,” said Tu. “If I had chosen that different path, I don’t know where I’d be.”

For two years, Tu studied in the auto mechanic program at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Jackson campus, commuting daily from his Worthington home.

“I would get up at 5,” he said. “Class started at 7:30.

“High school was a lot different,” he continued. “In college, your grades will show how hard you work, how well you do. I really tried. I learned a lot, and the teachers were great. I got mostly Bs.”

Finally, with his mechanic

diploma in hand, Tu began to look for a job in that field, but found that securing such a position wasn’t as easy as he’d hoped. He continued to work at McDonald’s, then finally took a job doing detailing at a local auto repair shop. It wasn’t what he’d hoped to be doing, and the pay was less than he was making at the fast-food restaurant, but Tu was just happy being around cars.

“I did a little (mechanic) work on the side, changing brakes, engine work, for people I know. There were just no mechanic jobs open.”

One of his advisers at the Workforce Center suggested to Tu that he might be better suited for a different career. It was not a suggestion to which he was open at first.

“When I was done with school and looking for a mechanic job, she told me I’d be better at customer service. She said, ‘The way you dress, the way you talk, I think you’d be better off in customer service. I felt like she was telling me to go back to McDonald’s.”

But Tu discovered he did have a knack for customer service and sales when he took a job at the Marthaler Ford dealership in Worthington. At first he just did detailing there, too, but eventually got promoted to the sales force.

“In August, I sold 21 cars,” he noted proudly. “I found sales, and I enjoy it. But I also like working on cars. I like getting dirty, being a grease monkey.”

Tu’s knowledge of a vehicle’s inner workings has been helpful with the sales job. But he also credits his inner curiosity for his success in sales.

“I like meeting new people. I want to understand how people work. I like to ask questions, like, “Where do you like to go when you are traveling?” he explained.

Tu recently acquired a 2006 Ford Mustang — his first vehicle ever with air conditioning. In his spare time, he enjoys wakeboarding during the summer, snowboarding in the winter and also plays pool and flag football, goes fishing and Rollerblading. He wants to do more traveling and has been planning some trips with a friend.

Someday, Tu might continue his quest to be a mechanic, but he has even loftier goals now.

“One day, I want to own my own business, my own dealership. It’s go big or go home. You got to risk it to get the biscuit,” he said, quoting a line from a movie.

So what message will Tu deliver when he talks to the students at Worthington High School?

“My main message would be to not be afraid of change,” he said. “What do you have to lose? Change can be a good thing or a bad thing, but you just need to go for it, and you will have family and friends to help you along the way.

“I just want to help people out. I know people are afraid of change — at that age you are a lot afraid of change. I was afraid of change the whole time, afraid of going someplace you are uncomfortable with. But I took the chance. I was certainly afraid of change — every little bit of it. But change was a good thing for me.”

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth

Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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