Q&A with New NAWBO® National Chair Laura Yamanaka
Entrepreneurship runs in Laura Yamanaka’s family. Her great grandmother became a business owner by chance when she immigrated from Japan to the United States with her husband and five young children and her husband passed away. At the time, she was a housewife with no formal training, but she knew how to cook well. Laura’s great grandmother parlayed that skill into a business, first a food cart and then a storefront and later a store that still exists. "She stressed that even if you are female, you need to be able to support yourself in the lifestyle you want to live because you never know what is going to happen," says Laura. "My mother ground that into my head and I ground it into my daughters’ heads. With independence, you have choices and anything is possible."
Laura knows the beauty of that well. She worked hard to rise to the top of her financial field in the corporate world—spending eight years with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young where she managed a diverse portfolio of clients and provided services, including audit, mergers & acquisitions, litigation support, IPO and SEC projects and filings. She also gained extensive private industry experience through tenures with GE Capital, Zenith Insurance, Quaker State Corporation and the Heritage Insurance Group where she served in various financial and operational capacities.
Still, Laura wanted more choices and possibilities. In 2001, she co-founded teamCFO with colleague Carrie Hidding. The company partners with small and midsize businesses to improve company performance and growth by providing quality financial outsourced accounting services.
NAWBO® was one of the first organizations Laura joined when she became a woman business owner. "We had literally just started our business and joined at the same time," Laura says. "Carrie got involved first and then I followed. It was great just to meet other women in our same circumstance—starting a business, learning about running it and having a family at the same time. I had large corporate experience and naively thought, ‘It can’t be that hard to run a small business.’ NAWBO® was a great source to learn all the things they don’t teach you in the corporate world or in books."
Soon, Carrie became treasurer of NAWBO®-Los Angeles and Laura later did, too. Laura served for years as director, treasurer, chair-elect and chair. NAWBO® National then recruited Laura to serve as a director, then treasurer and chair—a position she was proud to be installed in just last month. "I had never really appreciated the value of NAWBO® on a national basis," shares Laura. "My direction was focused in Los Angeles, but as we became more successful and grew our business, NAWBO® was the place where I started to learn that small business owners have a valuable voice and need to be heard from a public policy perspective. It’s our civic responsibility to speak up and let our political leaders know how we are being impacted and what we need, whether it’s education or taxes. That’s why it is so important to be involved at both the local and national level. A national organization can provide one voice—input on a different level."
As chair of the 2012-2013 NAWBO® National Board that’s committed to making sure this voice is heard, Laura recently shared more about her Board accomplishments to date, what members and other stakeholders can expect in the year ahead and what’s important to her in the community.
Q: As a National Board member for years, what accomplishments has NAWBO® made as an organization that you are proud to build on this coming year?
A: NAWBO® National faced some very challenging financial times just like businesses in general and the U.S. during the great recession. The Board has continued to move forward during these times by tightening our financial belt, exploring alternative revenue options and most importantly, refocusing on our membership and chapter needs. One of the biggest things I am proud of is that we’re still here when so many organizations and businesses have fallen by the wayside, and our chapters and members are still here. Because of these challenges, we had to go back, look deeper, get back to some basics and look toward building for the future. In the process, I’ve met fabulous women from across the country who have tremendous businesses and skill sets. We know we’re in the right place to set the stage for the future and that while it will be a lot of hard work, our members and chapters are doing good things that are coming together to make us a more powerful and influential organization on the national front. This allows us to take on areas, like public policy, that chapters aren’t necessarily equipped to do. The Board has set out priorities to really invest in public policy and take a more active role on a national basis. We made the decision to return to Washington, DC as our home base and made sure we had staff on board with that expertise. Bringing Diane Tomb on board this past year was a huge achievement to this end.
Q: As the National Chair during an election year, how will NAWBO® bring to the forefront issues that are most important to women and small business owners?
A: We are a non-partisan organization, therefore, we are focused on providing input to our political leaders from an issues perspective. We’re advocating for anything related to helping women and small businesses continue to do well now as well as laying the groundwork for the future. It’s not a Democratic or Republican perspective we’re taking, but what’s good for business. While there are many women business owners who are very active in the policy arena, many more women business owners, and women in general, have not focused on the public policy arena. Some are intimidated or think others are handling it better or that they have nothing to contribute. We’re in a situation, however, where everyone’s support and perspective is needed. As women, we often do not realize how much we are capable of providing, and as a National Board, we need to help members realize it’s a priority and provide vehicles to support members’ participation in this area. NAWBO® can really set the stage for this through development of our infrastructure to support public policy. We want to put programs and processes in place that allow us to build on our past successes.
Q: What are NAWBO®’s priority objectives for 2012-2013 and how does the Board plan to move these forward?
A: Our focus is on public policy and on membership—we’re getting back to the basics. Our chapters and members are very important to us and we need to get focused on and closer to our members to understand what’s needed and how National can help with some of those needs. We want to continue building a strong membership organization that leverages the talents of all the great women business owners across the country. At the same time, we are building our infrastructure so that we can better serve our multiple stakeholders this year and in years to come.
Q: What community issues are important to you personally and how else have you been involved to make a difference?
A: We support women in business so that they can have opportunities. A big part of this is financial literacy—that’s been something that really resonates with me. I look at so many businesses, especially women-owned businesses, where women build these incredible businesses and really don’t have a financial perspective. If we could level the playing field in this area, how much more successful could they be? They’ve been doing it with one hand tied behind their back. Financial literacy is something we have to do a better job at not only for businesses, but also for the population in general. A financially literate population is good business and a smart business perspective is not just thinking about the present, but also for the future.
Q: When you’re not running and growing a successful business and serving other women business owners through NAWBO®, how do you enjoy spending your time?
A: I think anyone who has a small business finds that it is all consuming and that business and family often intertwine. No one is successful without the support of their family. I have a spouse and two daughters who have been very successful and supportive of what I’ve done. NAWBO® has been very receptive and a great place to bring my daughters. As a result, they have been exposed to so many great role models that they think nothing of women starting their own businesses and juggling it all with things like picking up kids and planning birthday parties. My kids and husband have been a part of it all.