We first met Mr. Sidrit “Sid” Cukali at the Global Cleveland Sister Cities Conference on May 2nd at the Louis Stokes Wing of the downtown Cleveland Public Library where he helped to organize Albania’s participation in the event. Mr. Cukali is devoted to the Albanian community and the Global Cleveland Organization. Sid planned a break-out session in which Cleveland City Councilperson Dona Brady (and others) communicated with Ms. Dorella Dollakaj in Fier, Albania (a sister city of Cleveland) for about an hour via skype. In the course of the conversation, Councilperson Brady, Sid and Ms. Dollakaj (a very prominent person in Fier) discussed current social and economic trends in their respective locales and how the relations between the two cities could be further enhanced. Later that day, Sid and Dorela invited a team of high school students from Fier where they exchanged ideas with friends from all other sister cities of Cleveland.
It was appropriate that Sid assist in helping this transaction take place because he, himself, immigrated to the United States from Albania first arriving in New York City in 2002 and is currently a very successful business owner running a financial services practice in collaboration with New York Life. Sid’s team helps individuals and other business owners overcome the “Fear of Missing Out” when it comes to their financial strategies. Passionately, he explains that their primary expertise lies in providing clients with a written financial plan designed to help them determine their current financial situation and how it aligns with their goals and needs in accordance with their risk tolerance. He explains his mission as, “We then assist you with establishing a retirement strategy, with careful attention paid to all financial life cycles; Protection, Wealth Accumulation, Retirement/Distribution and Legacy. Simply put, our goal is to help you retire successfully and to begin living life on purpose”.
We thus decided to request an interview with him for “I, Foreign Born” and he was more than amicable in granting us some time. He now works in Independence and lives in Westlake with his wife, Desara (also from Albania) and their two-and-a-half year old daughter, Emmabelle, so we agreed to meet him about a third of the way on his way to work at the Lake Erie Coffee Company on Detroit Avenue in Rocky River (Sid frequents and loves to promote local businesses). Our own employer, Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC, was amenable to reimbursing us for the coffee and, since the day was not too hot or not too cold, we decided to converse on the patio.
In response to our inquiries, Sid told us that he was born in 1979 in Shkoder which is a city in northern Albania. His mother was a teacher of history and geography and his father was a much-admired local soccer player so Sid and his elder brother enjoyed a very comfortable childhood. As for being the children of a professional soccer player, Sid said that his brother was more soccer-oriented than he was although he still enjoys participating in games with his friends in Westlake. Instead, in his early years, Sid’s focus was more on academia and, proud to say, he now speaks four languages which are Albanian, Italian, Turkish, and English although he did not master the latter until he had lived in the United States for a while.
When Sid came of age he earned a full scholarship and attended the Military Academy for four years. His studies were concentrated in the art of war and ground engineering. Upon graduating his duties would include properly connecting pontoons to form temporary bridges across bodies of water.
Sid finally graduated in 2001 and decided that he follow his brother’s path by journeying to the United States in order to study financing and investment in preparation for career in finance. So, in 2002 in he arrived in New York City where he attended Baruch College from that time until 2007 although most of his first year was spent mastering the English language.
Sid went on to describe his subsequent work experiences which started with managing finances for an advertising agency; he then worked for Lehman-Brothers for a year as a financial analyst and from there, after the company went bankrupt during the financial crisis of 2008, he worked at Barclays for two years before moving over to Neuberger Berman where he remained for seven years being afforded the opportunity to serve as a Vice President.
During this time period he returned to Shkoder quite a bit and his mother and father made frequent visits to the United States (i.e. visas were obtainable at that time with little or no problems) in order to spend time with their two sons. On one of these visits to Shkoder, Sid connected with Desara who had been a neighbor of his parents. Those visits turned more frequent as Desara and Sid started building a stronger relationship. Sid is still emotional and passionate about the relationship they have built. Upon getting engaged Desara decided to join him in New York City and they tied the knot during the summer of 2013 at a traditional yet beautiful wedding in Albania. Sid, explains that, having the wedding was wonderful because he got the opportunity to meet relatives that he hadn’t seen in years. As Albania struggled both economically and politically most of the relatives now live in various European countries. The couple was blessed with the arrival of their little angel Emmabelle in 2016. As a bigger family now, they started to think of moving to the suburbs in New York to provide Emmabelle with more opportunities and better schooling.
Not wanting to commit to long commutes in New York, the young couple and their daughter made the move to Northeast Ohio in 2017. As we wrote previously, they settled in Westlake. Although Sid’s business requires him to travel across the county or various States, most of the time he commutes back and forth to his business in Independence and Desara is a prominent internal auditor for First Federal of Lakewood located just a couple of miles down Detroit Avenue from where we were having coffee.
Backtracking a bit, Sid recalled that when he initially came to the United States he was sponsored by his brother (now the manager of a hotel which is part of a prosperous chain) and from there he obtained his green card and finally his United States citizenship in 2007. Sid couldn’t remember the exact date that he took the naturalization oath but did remember that when he did it was “amazing.” He hadn’t previously missed out on opportunities by simply being a resident of the Unites States, but now he was excited that he would be able to vote and serve for the country as a citizen.
When we asked him about opportunities here in the United States as opposed to those in Albania, he replied very thoughtfully that the problem with how things go in Albania is that the society is very politically polarized (much more so than here) so one’s success is quite cyclical; when those one is aligned with are power, one does quite well but when those one is not aligned with are in power, a slump is inevitable.
As for his own success, Sid then explained to us that three strong traits of the Albanian tradition are “hard work” along with “loyalty” and “virtue” which he makes use of each day when dealing with his clients. Accordingly, Sid offers them the best services that he can provide while being contentious about their long-term interests. Sid doesn’t take his success and blessings lightly. He is always willing and promising to give back to his community and country. From time to time you can find him volunteering for organizations such as Global Cleveland, running book drives for Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, mentoring local students through Greater Cleveland College Now programs, Catholic Charities and Corner Stone of Hope. Although he just recently got introduced to the Albanian community in Cleveland he can’t wait to participate in their local events.
Thus, just as many immigrants/refugees have done, Sid has shared with us his cultural heritage by putting it to good use for all concerned.