The First Cohort of Women Start a 10-week Finance and Networking Program
Kristen Nemoto Jay
Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, was the start of many great firsts for June Fernandez. As the founder and owner of employment agency Alliance Personnel Inc., Fernandez was happy to be among WE (Women Entrepreneurs) by Rising Tide’s first cohort, which is comprised of 20 women entrepreneurs curated specifically to represent seven different business sectors within Hawai‘i. Along with its development and close partnership with the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business and Leadership (MCBL), WE by Rising Tide is funded by grants from the Central Pacific Bank Foundation and the aio Foundation.
The 10-week program will provide women entrepreneurs with sharpened financial management, marketing and leadership skills, including advertising opportunities and the ability to network with other business leaders and women executives. Fernandez was grateful to start the program, which began with a “TED Talk” session to reflect on areas both personally and professionally in her life.
“Our first meeting was about knowing yourself … it’s always good to do a self check,” said Fernandez in a Zoom call. “Knowledge is power. Knowing is better than not knowing and we can always learn something new.”
Adaptive and resilient are traits unforeign to Fernandez. After the Vietnam War, when Fernandez was just 10 years old, her family moved to Hawai‘i in search of a better life. Her parents, though stricken with polio, wanted to help themselves and their family thrive rather than survive, especially when the yen to U.S. dollar at that time was not in many Japanese nationalists’ favor.
“We struggled,” said Fernandez reflecting on that time and how it affected herself and her two brothers, mostly for the better. “We had humble beginnings but we adjusted. My family is very positive minded so we were able to pull through.”
Her upbringing in Japan and fluency of the Japanese language equipped Fernandez with the tools to succeed within the travel industry, which she successfully networked prior to starting Alliance Personnel Inc. When the opportunity arrived to buy and create Alliance Personnel Inc., Fernandez’s experience helped her create a niche employment agency that helps many bilingual employers and employees find the perfect work “marriage.” Fernandez’s staff and reputation set her company apart from many locally owned and operated small businesses in Hawai‘i, which many attempt to succeed but unfortunately fail. Challenges post 9/11, the recession, and now a pandemic doesn’t seem to hold her back either, which Fernandez humbly attests to having a positive attitude and a good banker.
“I owe my debt and gratitude to Central Pacific Bank and my banker Linda Virtudes,” said Fernandez. “As a business owner, and especially now with everything being digital, it’s important to keep those connections and actual interactions with people. Because I don’t speak the language of code that goes on at the bank, it was good for me to just ask my bankers what is what. They’ve gone above and beyond what I need for my business and I’m so grateful to them.”
When Fernandez learned about the WE by Rising Tide 10-week program, she immediately applied in hopes of further helping herself and her company grow. At the time of this interview, Fernandez had completed three sessions with her WE by Rising Tide peers and says she’s already gained so much knowledge and insight into her business.
“I’ve met so many beautiful ladies, from all walks of life, on this journey,” said Fernandez. “We each have our own success story and challenges, and bring something to share to our space. It’s been such a great reset button for me every week. I look forward to going.”
Fernandez’s peers chosen to lead the first inaugural cohort for WE by Rising Tide are:
Lauren Araki, Kuhio Grille
Dr. Carmenne Chiasson, Carmenne Chiasson, PhD
Dr. Jamie Furutani, Mililani Mauka Veterinary Clinic
Eri Hashimoto, The UPS Store Kailua and Kaneohe
Jalene Hitzeman, NOHO HOME
Emily Jaime, YIREH
Alice Kim, Hanalei Company
Kaz Masutani, KMS Construction, LLC
Angelina Moore, Hawaiian Drift Inc.
Irene Nakamura, iDepo Hawaii LLC/iDepo Reporters
Shilpa Rathi, Island HOLI
Melissa Rota, Sweat and Soul
Dr. Vivien Tham, Pacific Vision Institute of Hawaii
Miki Tomita, Education Incubator
Wendy Trinh, Paws for a Moment LLC
Pei Wu, Mochi Foods
Shari Yamaguchi, Blessed in Hawaii
Chuen Yee, MCYIA LLC
Shawna Yee, Apex Physical Therapy Specialists
Brandon Kurisu, representative of the aio Foundation said in a recent press release that aio Foundation is grateful to be involved in the WE by Rising Tides initiative and looks forward to seeing the cohort succeed.
“It is our hope that this program provides not only a valuable learning experience, but also a way for participants to build lasting and meaningful relationships,” said Kurisu.
“These 20 outstanding finalists represent seven different business sectors,” said Colleen McAluney, director of the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business and Leadership in the press release. “We hope to build a diverse, supportive community of women entrepreneurs through the WE by Rising Tide program beginning with this cohort, the first of many more to come.”
Catherine Ngo, chairperson of the CPB Foundation added in the press release that she’s excited to welcome the women into the inaugural cohort and believe it’s women who can help transform today’s economy.
“Women entrepreneurs are key to building a strong and resilient economy,” said Ngo. “… We are proud to support them in this way.”
Although this year marks her company’s 18th anniversary since its inception in 2003, Fernandez attests there’s still much more for her to learn. She claims if someone told her two years ago that the entire world would be going through what it’s currently going through today, she would have thought they were crazy. More of the reason, she says, to always keep moving and adapting to the times.
“We can’t keep doing what we are doing, which is our own way all the time,” said Fernandez. “I was really excited when this opportunity came. It is such a great program. I’ve already learned so much.”
When pressed for her advice to those who are looking to start their own business, Fernandez reflects on others who helped her get to where she is today.
“Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you,” continues Fernandez. “That’s the key. Ask for help. Sometimes we don’t like to look at ourselves on what we can do differently because nobody likes change, right? But we have to look internally and see what we can change. In Japanese we call it the zaru. You have to strain (the water) out to get it clean.”