By Reno Fontana
Laura Whittier, 53, of Osaka, Japan, and Palm Springs, CA, is an accomplished business woman, mother, sister and daughter. Whittier, an active freelance professional working in a variety of corporate areas today, is a tremendously gifted individual.
Whittier’s route to success was not your typical “graduate from college, get a company job, and spend the next 25 years climbing the corporate ladder to reach an executive position” kind of pathway. Whittier took the entrepreneurial business track and created employment for herself.
I met her mother, Marlene Whittier, who told me that even when her daughter was a young girl she had a flare for business.
“I remember on one occasion Laura had made some drawings of flowers when she was only seven or eight years old. She went door to door throughout the neighborhood selling them. When she was finished and after convincing almost every home owner to buy, she set up a little table on a busy street corner to sell even more of her artwork and made a sign that said, ‘one for a nickel, two for a dime.’ She sold them all at the dime price. I knew then I would never have to worry about her making her way in life.”
Whittier told me of her daughter’s Barbie doll money meetings. “Laura would take her doll and her Barbie phone and pretend she was transferring millions of dollars to a Swiss bank account. Laura was always playing business tycoon. Having that doll serve tea wasn’t even a passing thought for her.”
Getting her first job as a hostess at Marie Calendars at age 16 was an eye-opening experience for Whittier. “I discovered if I was helpful to the clientele in any way possible, I could earn a lot in tips.” Those early lessons learned about customer service would prove invaluable later in her career in Asia.
Just after turning 20 years old in 1979, Whittier caught her family and friends off guard one Saturday when she announced at a birthday party she was moving to Japan. Not only adept in business, Whittier had the physical beauty to be a runway model. “At 5’4” tall, the Hollywood modeling agencies told me I wasn’t tall enough. So instead of letting that be a setback, I decided to turn my height into a plus. I set my sights on Japan where nobody was much taller than me,” she said.
Without speaking a word of Japanese or having a single contact there, Whittier boarded a plane with her Marie Calendar money and made a 14-hour flight into the unknown. Seventeen years later in 1996, Whittier moved back to America full time after accomplishing more in Japan than she had ever dreamed possible.
After arriving in Japan and finding an apartment, Whittier went to a language school. She met some Japanese who spoke a little English and one got her a job at a gym welcoming guests. Whittier then introduced aerobics to the Japanese and soon she was teaching at nine different studios. From that exercise choreography, sports companies such as Mizuno and Addidas would ask her to gather some models, teach them a routine and perform for their shows/conventions.
Soon Whittier started her first company in Japan called “Attractions.” This was a modeling production company that provided non-Asian talent to the Japanese film, TV and photo industry. As a result, she became the first foreign woman ever in Osaka to receive a business license and the first woman to be invited to speak to a group of 400 Japanese dignitaries at the American Consulate. Whittier was the first American to be presented a JCB. Japan’s main credit card in the United States.
After earning the trust of other Japanese business professionals, “Attractions” expanded into the beauty industry. Shiseido, the cosmetic company, had been impressed with Whittier’s work ethic during production shoots and hired her as a sales/make-up artist. Her skill and expertise as a beauty consultant led to her hiring as a training sales/coach/artist for Elsereine cosmetics. She started traveling 20 days a month visiting and working in parts of Japan that most Japanese hadn’t visited, all the while leading fashion and glamour seminars to groups of a thousand women at a time and speaking in the Japanese language.
Today, Whittier, when not teaching Sunday school at her church, gives her support as a consultant to those in the cosmetic, fashion, party planning, and customer service industries. In addition, she continues to work and travel with the Japanese who require a personal concierge while they are in America, and offers an executive assistant service to American businessmen traveling to Japan and other parts of Asia.
To reach Laura Whittier please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reno Fontana is the Founder of Presley Investments, Inc., and host of the new weekly ‘Money, Business, and Finance’ show on Money Radio 1200. Fontana may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.