Yaling Yu Fisher has spent her lifetime accomplishing things others said she couldn't. Who better to start a travel agency just as the events of 9/11 sent the Hawaii visitor industry reeling? Hawaii Aloha Travel is now celebrating a decade in business, due to the same tenacity that brought Yaling from Taiwan to Hawaii by way of Silicon Valley – a journey that combines business and personal success.
Yaling's first trip to Hawaii was to visit Bruce Fisher. She was working as a product manager for a technology company in San Jose, California. After a series of promotions, she was preparing to buy a house; a concrete sign of prosperity and proof of success to her parents and extended family. But Bruce proposed marriage. After thinking about it, Yaling accepted; canceling the contract on the house and giving two-weeks notice to a boss who said she was crazy. Bruce and her boss may have had different ideas about what Yaling should do, but her response was the same one that she always relied upon: “I need to think about the future, not as an excuse but I need to be cautious.” After considering the options, however, Yaling is willing to take risks.
If Yaling had followed the expected path, she might still be living in her parents' home along with her brother and sister. But even as a young girl, she challenged the family custom that prized the first son and grandson over any female children. “What about me?” she asked. “I am the first daughter, the first granddaughter.” Yaling has fond memories of going with her father to see jets at the airport where he worked as a mechanic. Yet, they clashed often as she was growing up. “I hate you because you are tough and stubborn,” she told him once. But she also thanks him for “training me to be someone, to think, to be tough, not to just believe anything.” Yaling followed his model in working full time after high school while attending college at night. “I have your genes,” she told him. And when she wanted to attend college in the United States, her father said “Go for it!”.
Yaling first attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and then earned a Master's Degree at Western Michigan University, places with no substantial Chinese population. Yaling embraced the change, working to master the English language and different university systems along with new cultural expectations (her first argument in English was about the Bible). She found the same challenges in working for technology companies, where she took on product lines with little growth prospects as a marketing challenge. Along the way, she earned another certification from San Jose State University in purchasing management. “I met people who brought me to another level to understand who I am. When you see people at major U.S companies, it is a completely different social circle,” Yaling says. “You see how big you can go.”
She disliked what she sees as a traditional Chinese focus on externals like a house, money or car. “I don't want people to judge based on that, on the clothes they are wearing. I focus on skill and who they are.” When she arrived in Hawaii, Yaling was concerned that she was returning to a culture she had tried so hard to leave behind. Then, she thought “Maybe I need to accept this as human nature and see how I can make a difference.” And, she adds, “To remind myself that I don't want to become that kind of person.”
This focus served her well as she began her new personal and professional lives in Hawaii. The “dot-bomb” internet crash had already impacted Bruce Fisher's internet business. The transition to travel was just beginning when 9/11 hit. “We started to go through everything, step by step,” Yaling says. “I got that from my dad: how to control money.” Starting from the bottom gave Yaling and Bruce the opportunity to begin together. “We talked every day. Where are you coming from, what's important and why?” Although neither had a background in the travel business, they said “OK, let's do this.” Just as the fledgling travel agency took off, they hit a cash-flow wall. What could have ended the partnership made it stronger. Yaling tapped into savings to bridge the gap and the agency prospered.
Now past early growing pains, the business is flourishing and Yaling's sense of adventure is unabated. “I tell the agents all the time: every day should be your first day, a new day. Learn something different, something new everyday.” Yaling's family has visited Hawaii. Her father still tests, asking “Are you sure you are going to make it? Are you coming back home?” Yaling smiles confidently. “Bruce and I will be happy every day. We live here, still have a job, still have each other.”
Success on her own terms.
January 2nd, 2011