Lezlie Tram Le, founder of LT Commercial Group, practices living in and for the moment.

By Cy White, Photos by Joi Conti, Styled by Asma Parvez (with assistance from Noha Noman), with inspiration from Madewell, Staud, Cinq À Sept and Nordstrom. Hair by Michael Fenner from Deco Blue Salon. Makeup by Adela Touvell from Kiss N’ Makeup. Shot on location at Pecan Flex Space


Vietnamese curry is a wholly unique experience. It’s more of a stew, really, more liquid than the paste-like consistency of a traditional Indian or even Japanese curry. There’s an emphasis on vegetalia, even when eating a classic chicken rendition of the meal. The broth is simple, leaving room for the natural flavors of the solid ingredients, and you can taste every single one: meat, mushrooms, onions, coriander, carrots.

Each flavor stands alone; you can recognize each and every one for its unique taste, texture and depth. However, each flavor works in perfect harmony with the other, all playing gleefully in a warm, creamy broth (doctored ever so slightly with red chili sauce for an added kick). It’s an experience unlike any other. As is speaking with the woman who invites the small {Austin Woman} creative team to lunch after her cover photoshoot. The perfect cap to a rain-soaked Thursday.

Lezlie Tram Le is much like the curry she treats me to: warm, earthy, unique in flavor and texture, with a little sauciness added in for extra kick. Her story, much like the curry, is an amalgamation of various experiences, an interesting balance of tragedy, pain, trauma, triumph and joy. 

Each experience she’s had in her life has its separate story, with different characters and plot points. However, every single one of those experiences makes up who this woman is today, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Le is a product of post-war Vietnam. Her parents met and got married during what’s known as “The Fall of Saigon” in 1975, in which after a two-month offensive from North Vietnam, then president of South Vietnam, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, resigned his position, and the remaining South Vietnam government surrendered. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, and the decades-long battle for control for Vietnam came to an end.

“My parents are the generation that had the direct effect after the war,” she says. “After ’75, they’re right at 24, 25, the beginning of the peak of their career. They did not get a chance because of the war, because of no schooling; you have to be very high up in order for you to get a higher education, or be super gifted. So they didn’t get a chance to finish college. Both of them graduated from a village high school. So the education compared to what we have [in the States]is not as high. They had a small family together, and in ’81 they had me.”

When she and her family did make it out of Vietnam, they were met once more with turmoil. “They tried for so many years until I was 8 years old; then they got a chance to leave,” she recalls. “I remember when we left Vietnam, you would hear gunshots over your head.”

Le was 8 years old when she and her family made their way to Malaysia on a small boat floating on the Mekong River for seven days. It’s a memory that has defined a large part of her life. “I don’t have any desire to go on cruises because what is really traumatizing,” she says, her voice quiet. “When the sun starts to set and you see the horizon, it starts getting dark, all you see is black. You think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but technically, it’s not even light. It’s the stars on the other end of [the horizon].”

Vietnamese Immigration to the U.S.

According to an article published by Migration Policy Institute in 2021, after the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the U.S. sponsored large-scale evacuations of 125,000 Vietnamese refugees. U.S. Census Bureau calculated nearly 1.4 million Vietnamese immigrants entering the United States between 1980 and 2019. Of the 1.4 million Vietnamese people living in the U.S., more than 50% live in California and Texas. The Indochinese Assistance and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975 officially resettled 1.2 million Vietnamese refugees between 1975 and 1988, with Houston, Texas, being a major city for resettlement.


Finally making it to Malaysia, they were told the camp wasn’t accepting any more refugees. When faced with attempting to go back to war-ravaged Vietnam or attempting to survive the harsh conditions of a cramped refugee camp, the Le family chose the latter.

Seven years of living in close confines with other families, of waiting, hoping. Seven years of “no.” Le lived in that camp for most of her adolescent life, watching her family suffer in a post-war environment, which eventually became its own battle zone.

“When they tried to deport us back to Vietnam, they brought forces to the camp and tried to violently escort us out, so they shot into the camp. I’m one of the eight people who got shot, at the age of 14,” she says. “I got shot in the foot. They threw in tear gas and things like that and tried to deport us back because we wouldn’t volunteer [to leave]. That happened for almost a week. On the second day, that’s when I got some help.”

The United Nations eventually stepped in and allowed the injured to leave the camp. When she woke up in the hospital after being taken out of the camp that had been her home for the better part of a decade, she found herself yet again under extreme circumstances.

“At the hospital, I woke up after the surgery,” she recalls. “My foot was swollen. I still have the bullet in my foot. It broke the big toe and the second one. I looked around, and my foot was chained up to the hospital bed because they’re afraid that I’m going to escape. Then after I got discharged from the hospital, they sent me to I think it’s like a jail station. They kept me there to make sure that I’m not escaping. I was in the station for almost two weeks until they called for my case, but I didn’t know anything, [didn’t know] English.”

At that point, Le had been through more in her first 14 years of life than most have ever experienced in the entirety of theirs. Through all of this, one question persisted in her mind, a pebble in her shoe that continued to niggle at her sense of self-worth and identity: Why?

“I didn’t know what was going on. I thought to myself, ‘Why at the age of 14, with all the children in the world, why am I the person who feels like it’s the end of the world?’”


When she was finally released back into the custody of her parents, the family remained in the camp for another two weeks before military ships escorted about 400 of the occupants, including the Les, back to Vietnam. 

“People used to call us the bottom of society,” she says. “That really got me to think, what does it mean to be the ‘bottom of society’? How does it feel to have people labeling you as that? From that, I grew in my compassion in life, compassion to myself and compassion to others.”

In 1998, the Le family immigrated to the United States, landing in Houston; the next year, they moved to Austin, where Lezlie graduated from high school.

“My mom and dad didn’t speak any English,” she says. “So you’re at the age 17, 18, what would you do? You’re going to become the breadwinner of the family, right? You go to work, you come home, you try to study and everything else, and then you become the parents of the family. Interpret for them, make decisions for them. You do everything for them because they don’t know any better. I worked, and I also tried to get an education.”

Eventually her mother bought a nail salon, and Le stepped up to help her family. Her mother, knowing very little English, relied heavily on her daughter to help her run the business. 

“Little did I know that I’d read all these leases,” she says. “I tried to negotiate with the landlord. It’s not like I knew [what I was doing]. It’s not like I knew how to do customer service.” Le inevitably acquired a taste for entrepreneurship, opening and closing several of her own businesses until becoming a full U.S. citizen at the age of 24. 

A few business endeavors (including opening her own nail salon), a marriage and two children soon follow. Varied experiences as a young entrepreneur opened her eyes to the fact that much of what she was doing had to do with real estate. Dealing with leases and contracts, closing deals, interacting with landlords. Something finally clicks.

“I decided there’s some pieces of me that I did not try,” she says. “Okay, here you go, entrepreneur. I’m going to take real estate as a challenge.” 

At first, her mother was wary of her daughter’s chosen path. “She was like, ‘No, you can’t do it. You’re not going to be good enough because English is not your thing. This field is very male-dominated, and you’re not going to get there.’” 

Instead of giving in to her mother’s fears, Le saw this as her own opportunity to step up for people like her mother who had the ambition but lacked the know-how and resources. 

“I was like, ‘Well, if I don’t do it for them, I’m doing it for myself and for my own people; if the Americans don’t want to use me, I’m going to work for my community,’” she says. “I saw an opportunity on a second-generation CC’s Pizza down on Riverside, and I took a big ad in the Vietnamese community magazine that said, ‘If you want to open a restaurant, call me. This is a second-generation space. It won’t cost you a lot to fix it up. You can open your business.’ 

[The owner of] one of the pho restaurants called me up. It’s called Kim Phung. She said, ‘Why don’t you just show that space for me?’ I showed her the space, and I got the lease executed for her after four or five months. That was my first deal in commercial real estate. I was so proud of myself. All the time that I had to read these leases paid off. Then from there, of course, you don’t know what you don’t know. You start learning, and then you start building.”

Every morning,  Le greets the day with the rising of the sun. She practices yoga and centers herself, breathing in the energy of a new day, breathing out illusion. This is also how she approaches business and those she helps.

“You can only control so much,” she says. “Within meditation and yoga, what we’re practicing is the permanent and the impermanent. The permanent is only temporary. We have to accept the impermanent. When we accept the impermanent, we don’t get upset with ourselves, and we don’t invite that anger to rise up. When we acknowledge it, we know it’s impermanent. That anger starts to defuse, and you know it’s temporary. It’s not going to be here for long. You’re going to be in a different feeling and different space in your mind.

“Everything changes,” she continues. ”Every minute, every second of the day. I’ve been practicing to accept the impermanent.”

In an industry that’s heavily male dominated, this philosophy has helped guide her. According to a study conducted by the CREW Network in 2020, women make up only 36.7% of the commercial real estate industry, a number that’s remained largely consistent for the last 15 years. The number becomes more glaring when considering the ethnic makeup of respondents. In a 2017 study conducted by the National Association of REALTORS, 74% were white, 13% Hispanic or Latino, 7% Black, 6% AAPI and 2% American Indian. Never mind the gender pay gap, which according to the CREW Network’s study is a staggering 34% (with Asian women making 86 cents, Black women 85 cents and Hispanic/Latinx women 80 cents for every dollar that men make).


Lezlie Tram Le’s Inspirations:

The Oprah Winfrey Show

“Every day, I put on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Girl, I tell you, it’s heart-filling. I learned English from watching her show. That’s how my English got better, through the television and then interacting with the customers.”

No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Nhat Hanh

“From one of my spiritual teachers. He said, ‘Do you know why the lotus is so beautiful? Because of the mud. People call us ugly, yucky, dirty, [but]that’s because it’s soaking up all of the nutrition. The negative things in life taught you to become the beautiful lotus. Because you were born from that mud, it’s going to give you that opportunity to bloom, to blossom.’

“I read through that book, and oh my God, I did not know that I can be validated like that. I had a long time of soul searching. We’re put here in this world and we ask, ‘Why me?’ We ask, ‘What happened to me? What am I going to do next? How can I do this?’ A lot of these [questions]we don’t have any answer. No one’s giving us the answer. Our parents only know so much, and they know enough to survive through life. They didn’t know how to thrive through life.”

Le made it a point to create LT Commercial Group with all women. She also made it a point to teach any woman who had the drive to learn the business. 

“The field I’m in, women are a minority, let alone women of color, right? Because of that reason, all of my team that I took in are female. I told them, ‘If you have what it takes, I’m going to take you in and teach you. But if you don’t have what it takes, you think you’re just going to dance around, this is not for you. You have to work 10 times harder than these guys. You’re going to have to work; you’re going to have to be more creative. You will not come in and demand [respect]because you don’t have it. They know you’re a female; they already look and laugh at you. When they work five, you have to work 10; you have to double your work.’

“For the past seven years, most of my teams are female. I just want to stick with them. Some of them I trained, and now they’ve opened their own businesses. That’s a very heartfelt feeling. They feel like they find themselves; they find a career. The funny thing is, none of them has a real estate background.” She leads by example. Le has never allowed someone’s “no” to deter her from getting the result she wants.

“One instance, I sent an email,” she recalls. “Because you’re a small fish, they don’t even know who you are. Now your email, your name is out there, but they didn’t respond. So I got creative. One of my team [members] said, ‘I need to get to this guy, but he’s not responding. Can you get to him?’ I said, ‘I’m going to try.’ He didn’t get back to me. This is after almost three weeks of calling and emailing and whatnot. So that Friday afternoon, I said, ‘You know what, Friday at a commercial broker, none of them want to work, but I bet you the owner is still there.’

“I went to Tiff’s Treats, I bought a box of cookies and I brought it down to their office. I’m knocking on the door; then somebody opened the door, and he was like, ‘[The owner] is not here. What do you need?’ I said, ‘We’ve been trying to get a hold of him. We need him to answer; our client’s waiting for this deal, and we would like to hear from him.’ I taped my business card on the Tiff’s Treats box, and I handed it to the guy. He shook my hand and said to me, ‘My name is [so and so]. I’m the vice president. I’m actually one of the principals here. Very nice to meet you.’ On Monday morning, we got an email back, and we closed the deal. 

“Consistency, right?” she says. ”You have to be consistent, persistent, and you have to push through that door and get creative. You can’t just scream in your head and start cussing. You’ve got to get creative. You’ve got to show people who you are with dignity, and they’ll respond to you.”

That being said, she has never allowed any man to get the upper hand on her. “There’s cases of sexual harassment as well,” she reveals. “There was this guy [who said], ‘Okay, you want to do a deal with me? You want to go hang out with my girlfriend?’ I know where that is going to lead to. I told him straight, ‘You know what? I do want to do a deal, but not with you.’ At the time, I didn’t say it that strongly, but now I can,” she says with a chuckle. “You have to put your foot down and let them know, ‘Either we do a deal or we don’t. I’m not going to lose anything if I don’t do a deal with you. I’ll do a deal with somebody else.’”

She makes sure every woman who works with her learns that lesson and sticks to it with everything they have. “That’s the toughest thing that I tell a lot of females,” she says. “Especially if they have the fear in their head: ‘I’m not sure if I can get into this field. How am I going to make it? How am I going to get there?’ Persistence, consistency and thinking it’s always a win for both [sides]. Never do a deal where it’s going to be all one side wins and the other side loses. Sometimes when you don’t make that deal happen or you don’t [take]that deal, it’s the best thing. That’s the right winning result.”

Permanent impermanence. The one constant is that things must and inevitably do change. If one person says no, or wants to coerce more out of you than you’re willing to give, there’s always someone who will say yes to what you have to offer. “The good side is if you ask people to open the door for you, if you’re consistent enough to knock on their door until they open the door, they will open the door.”

This is the whole of Lezlie Tram Le. A simple woman whose ingredients are complex, varied and rich. Even her name is a culmination of her varied experiences. “I’ve been living in hope all my life, since I got to the U.S.,” she says. “It’s not so much I just want another name for myself. It’s more like, what would make me come into this next chapter of my life?

“So I searched around. One of the ladies [I found], she’s successful, her name is Leslie. But it started with L-E-S. So I was like, ‘One day, if I need to make this name as my branding, what would it be?’ This is the entrepreneur thing,” she chuckles. “I googled it as Lezlie. [The search showed] you can use this name for female and male; it’s strong enough, not too feminine. Tram is my Vietnamese first name, and Le is my dad’s last name. I took two of my middle names out, so now it’s Lezlie Tram Le.”


When the sun sets on each day, she’s a woman who simply says yes to life. Embraces its peaks, valleys and plateaus in order to gift those behind her a path to follow for their own definition of success.

“I think what’s really insightful is when you start practicing looking inward every day, slowly. One thing at a time; process [it]all the way through. Then you start getting it. It’s funny, I’m 40 something now, and I was like, ‘Oh my God. It took me this long to realize it!’ If you keep going every day like yesterday, you don’t have the time to process what’s inward. Most of the time we process what’s outward. So, take an hour, two hours of your day out, honey. The richest we’re going to get is when we change our perception.”



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