Ted Yamamura

An Interview with EDI’s Co-Founders


2013 Q&A with co-founders, Ted Yamamura & Vanna Novak

How did you two meet?

T: I met Vanna at a meeting at which she was speaking on making effective presentations. I thought she would be a good person to collaborate with for EDI. Vanna wanted to give back to the Asian American community so we started discussing collaboration on EDI.

V: If I remember correctly, Ted saw me speak at a conference for the JACL. And actually, back then, I had no connection to our Asian community. It was because of Ted, that I agreed to get involved. I had no idea that it was going to be just the beginning of a long, but fulfilling journey. I owe a lot to Ted.

Why did the two of you want to create EDI?

T: EDI originally started as a special interest group under the Japanese American Chamber of Commerce. It was created to provide leadership training specifically for Japanese Americans, then it evolved to include all Asian Americans and now Hispanic Americans. Vanna agreed to be a co-founder to develop curriculum for leadership training. We wanted to also provide role models, mentors and create a network for career development.

V: Ted recognized that there was a big gap between the numbers of highly qualified, competent, Asians within American corporations vs. Asian Americans in the executive ranks, and felt the need to do something about it. It was really his grasp of the situation and his vision, that launched plans to build a program like EDI. I happened to have the background to design our initial curriculum so when Ted asked me if I’d help to get EDI off the ground, I said yes. And the rest, as they say, is history. But people should know that EDI was Ted’s vision.

What was your vision when it first started?

T: My vision was to elevate Asian Americans into leadership positions at corporations, government, and non-profit organizations. I wanted Asian Americans to have the same opportunities as Caucasians and to level the playing field for leadership positions. I also wanted to have role models, mentors, networks, in place to provide support and encouragement to Asian Americans striving for leadership positions.

V: I would say that that’s still our vision today and we now are working toward that same goal or vision with our Hispanic program. We still have a long, long way to go.

How has its actual progress been compared to that vision?

T: There have been many improvements and an increase in role models as leaders, yet there are still no top Asian American executives at companies like Boeing. The ultimate goal is to have more people of color in executive positions. I want them to have the same opportunities to excel and have a level playing field.

V: I think that my initial vision was very narrow. What I’ve learned through having had the chance to work directly with all of our program participants over the years is that “progress” can be defined in many ways. So while we’re still far behind in seeing a significant number of Asians or Hispanics in executive positions, what I do see is our participants gaining clarity about what it takes to move into the senior ranks and making clear decisions as to whether they’re willing to do what it takes to move up. Or sometimes I see them becoming leaders within the community at large. I think that’s progress. And when their managers begin to gain an awareness and appreciation for programs like EDI and as a result, they begin to send more of their employees to our programs, well, that’s progress too.

What was the biggest obstacle you felt you had to face during your path to establish EDI? How did you overcome it?

T: The main hindrance I would say is just the administrative details of orchestrating EDI as I was doing it on the side as a service while working at Boeing. The first class was in 1994. Eleven participants registered. It was advertised by word of mouth through the JACC. It was originally for Japanese Americans but we are expanding it to all people of color as we all have the same issues.

V: It was and is 2-fold for me. One of our biggest challenges, which continues to some extent, was convincing people that this was not just another leadership program. There are hundreds of different leadership programs offered to business professionals in our area. What makes EDI different, is that our programs are culturally tailored specifically for Asians and Hispanics. The other challenge we continue to face is one that almost every non-profit faces, and that is, finding and keeping volunteers actively and meaningfully engaged and involved. Just like they say, “It takes a village.”

What would you like to see happen with EDI in the future?

T: I would like to see EDI become a preeminent leadership organization in the future. I would like to see it create connections to top leaders, celebrate achievement in the community, and help all people of color reach leadership positions.

V: Ditto! And in my wildest of dreams, I would love to see EDI do the work that it does so well, that we begin to have a global impact. I would also like to see us expanding our offerings. So maybe we’d offer our programs in different formats. More than anything, I would love to see us develop programs for other groups of color who are underrepresented.

What do you feel is the biggest change in our participants after they leave the program?

T: I see that graduates have more confidence. They are generally more strategic in developing their careers. They give back more to the community and have stronger networking skills.

V: Honestly, I have witnessed profound changes in participants’ sense of themselves. For many, there is a huge leap in their level of confidence and a greater appreciation for their own potential and self-worth. I get to do the class at the front end of their EDI experience that deals with public speaking skills which can be so revealing in terms of one’s self esteem. So I get a pretty good sense of each participant’s confidence level coming into the program. Then I get to see them at graduation, and for some, the transformation in them can bring me to tears. They find the power within themselves that they’ve had all along and just wasn’t aware of. It becomes the tipping point at which they begin to take more risks and more responsibility to build stronger organizations and healthier, happier communities. It’s not magic. It’s a process that they work hard at throughout their EDI experience.

Alumni on the Move - April 2017

Hang Chen   Asian Discovery, Class of 2008

Hang Chen

Asian Discovery, Class of 2008

Hang Chen recently became a logistics engineer in product support of commercial derivative aircraft programs at The Boeing Company. The career transition presents an excellent opportunity for Hang to bring his technical and leadership skills in a diverse talented team in a growing business. Hang is currently leading a process development effort in his new team and looks forward to working with his new manager and team.  Hang previously was a structural analysis engineer at Boeing, where he supported and led projects and teams in aircraft development, testing, production, and sustainment.

Throughout his career, Hang credits his managers, mentors, peers, EDI, NAAAP-Seattle, Boeing's Emerging Leaders Development Program, BAAPA, and Boeing's 6 Step Group Mentoring Program in providing him the training, networks, and experiences to grow his career and to help others. Hang thanks the late Ted Yamamura, BAAPA Puget Sound past-President Michael Vu, and other mentors and role models who provided him encouragement, opportunities, and mentorship.

For career development advice, Hang recommends the following three items: Be a continuous learner, try new things, and help others grow. A great vehicle to facilitate all three is to take on and to lead side projects. Side projects can lead to Nobel Prizes (like James Watson and Francis Crick's DNA double helix model); improve ways of doing things (like Gmail thanks to Google's 20 Percent Time); revolutionize new business (like Bill Boeing's passion for aviation that led to The Boeing Company); or can open new career opportunities. As a side project, Hang led a team/project to improve first time quality in aircraft production, and the side project helped his getting the new job. So take a risk and create a future for yourself and others!

Cynthia Tuan   Asian Discovery, Class of 2014

Cynthia Tuan

Asian Discovery, Class of 2014

I was part of the EDI 2014 Portland class. Since graduating, I’m still working at the same design agency as before, Tether. What I enjoyed most about EDI was how each class gave insight and practical tools that you could incorporate into everyday life. About a year and half ago, I earned a promotion and am now Associate Creative Director for their Portland studio. Often and at random moments, learnings from EDI comes up. But the most valuable thing I learned, is the importance of speaking up. Especially in today’s political and social climate, it’s become ever more important to stand for who you are, be able and willing to talk about race and stand for equality.

PechaKucha was founded in 2003 by a multi-lingual architecture company in Tokyo. They wanted to create a fun but succinct format for presenting. A PechaKucha is a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. You talk along with the images, but the trick is that the images advance automatically (whether you’re ready for it or not!)

PechaKucha Nights brings people together and allows them to informally share stories. Since its origin, it has grown to over 900 cities around the world. Last fall, I was invited to share my story at PechaKucha Night in Portland. I hadn’t spoken in front of an audience since representing my EDI classmates at graduation so I jumped at the chance.

Each PechaKucha Night has its own theme. That night, ours was around “Voyages.” I shared what it was like growing up bi-cultural, my journey, and what that looked like for me. It took about a week to put the presentation together, it entailed multiple text messages asking my dad for this photo or that. Leading up to the night, I practiced several days before. It was crucial to time the content well and be concise because the slides advance automatically!

There were ten people lined up to speak that night. A week or so before the event, the PechaKucha organizers sent out an email regarding presentation order; if anyone had preferences on when they’d like to go up. I immediately volunteered to be one of the first, I wanted to get it out of the way! I knew with my nerves, going later would mean it’d be nearly impossible to enjoy anyone else’s presentations. That morning, I got an email saying due to a scheduling mishap I was slated to go second-to-last. Just before panic set in completely, they wrote back, all was righted and I ended up being the first to go!

My advice to others is to always test the A/V beforehand. An inopportune time to find out the microphone you’re speaking from needs to be held really, really close is when you’re already live, in front of audience, giving an auto-advancing presentation, there’s no pause button!

Alumni on the Move - April 2016

Gargitt Au   Asian Discovery, Class of 2014

Gargitt Au

Asian Discovery, Class of 2014

Hello, my name is Gar Au, and I graduated from an amazing EDI class in 2014. I currently work at Boeing as one of the lead design engineers for the 787-10 Flight Test 1 and 2 Linings Commodity. 

My friends and I have worked on developing a board game titled Betabotz for the better part of the past two years. We are finally ready to launch our Kickstarter campaign on May 10th, 2016. 

My current entrepreneurial interest and ambition largely stemmed from a very special panel during one of my EDI classes. I was highly inspired and motivated by many of the speakers, including Chee Chew, who at the time held the position of Vice President of Engineering for Google. I stayed in contact and sought career advice from Mr. Chew subsequent to the panels, and one quote in particular deeply impacted and stuck with me: “follow the intersection of what you are great at and what you love”. Following Mr. Chew’s advice, after some self-reflection and long discussions with those who know me best, I decided to pursue tabletop game development. 

We started the game development process by interviewing the gaming community and identifying what others look for in a tabletop game. We anchored the gameplay to the most consistent answer we received: easy to learn, hard to master. Through countless play testing, social events, and development sessions, I led a team of nine friends through the entirety of the gameplay development phase. In addition to the mechanical gameplay aspect, we found an amazing artist at a gaming convention in Columbus last June, and have collaborated with her on the card illustrations since. 

Developing a game and owning my first company (Zagar Games LLC) certainly presents many challenges and bumps in the road. Capital constraint is one of the toughest hurdles to overcome, as we have no prior published games to support our current development. We chose crowdfunding, specifically Kickstarter, both as an avenue to raise the capital and as a way to showcase our game to the public. Similar to capital constraints, as first time developers, product marketing also presented inherent difficulties. From our research within the gaming community, we realized that word of mouth is often the most time consuming, but most effective way to market new products. As such, in collaboration with our friends in different geographic regions, we hosted numerous Betabotz events in gaming stores and conventions across the country to put our product on the map. Though we have received amazing feedback from nearly everyone who played our game, we still need to reach additional potential backers and supporters to ensure that we reach our Kickstarter goal and ultimately use the funds to complete gaming production.

If you could, it would be of great help to spread the word about the game on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Our Kickstarter will launch on May 10th and run through June 22nd. Please help introduce our game to your friends and family who love board games, or just want to try something new and interactive.  Crowd funding is still a bit unfamiliar and even a bit uncomfortable to me, but every backer is valued and needed to help us achieve our dream of owning and developing our own game. If you would like and are interested to learn more, I would gladly come and demonstrate the game for you as well.  The following link directs to a preview of our current Kickstarter page!

Finally, I would like to thank EDI for such an amazing experience and for helping me find my passion.  Regardless of whether our venture succeeds, I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had and appreciate all the support I’ve received from EDI. 

Elaine Kitamura   Discovery, Class of 1996

Elaine Kitamura

Discovery, Class of 1996

I was fortunate to select positions throughout my career that highlighted my communications degree from the University of Washington. I started working at KOMO TV/Radio immediately after college. Then I continued my media career at KJR Radio and lastly, I worked at Clear Channel Outdoor.  In each role, I gained strength in techniques and developed my self-esteem every level. I was extremely shy so I had to find ways where I could comfortably find myself breaking down this negative barrier.  I knew that this was not a great leadership skill. So, I decided to work on networking. I loved being with people and found strength in networking where I was confident in interacting with others.

After my extensive years in the media/communications field, I have decided to move into the healthcare field.  I am currently the Regional Director for Multicultural Initiatives at the American Heart Association. I work with organizations with a goal to improve cardiovascular health of all Americans and decrease deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20% by 2020. 

My duties will include working with high risk communities by focusing in the areas of hypertension, nutrition, obesity and physical activity. In addition, I will work on health equity strategies that focus on development, advocacy and marketing/communications opportunities. My role will include serving as internal consultant to the region/territory on all diversity-related initiatives. The emphasis will be on diverse communities.  

Throughout my career, I had high expectations in my performance, which led to the development of strong ethics and leadership skills that came along the way. However, I had failures along the way and they helped me realize how I can make or do things better. 

In my earlier years, I was fortunate to meet a wonderful mentor that portrayed the charisma in great leadership.  He knew how to communicate and network with people.  I would watch him meet people in a room, and he was great in displaying leadership skills that I wanted to adapt to my personality.  He allowed people to show or work on their leadership skills. That person was EDI’s founder – Ted Yamamura.  I joined the former NAAAP (previously known as Asian Management Business Association). Ted helped me to grow and develop my leadership skills, and always made me feel like I could be a leader in anything I did.  When he started the EDI program in 1994, I volunteered my time with him in developing the program that has cultivated so many emerging diverse leaders since then.

Ted always surrounded himself with wonderful leaders on his team. In this respect, I also made sure that I surrounded myself with people who I appreciated and admired. Ted taught me to not hesitate to ask for help or ask for referral.  

When I went through the EDI program in 1996, I was very fortunate to have many people who helped/mentored/inspired me along the way.  Even now,  I am always inspired by my alum family.  I looked up to my EDI alums that includes many friends:  Char Grinolds, Vanna Novak, Mae Numata, Marci Nakano, Tommy Leong, Marie Chow, Darryl Hue, Dom Amor and Ador Yano. In addition, I had my wonderful family and boyfriend who always supported me in both my professional and personal life.

The most inspiring person to me is my young mentee, Julie Pham, who I decided to mentor many years ago.  She has since become a graduate of EDI in 2010. Julie wanted advice on how to succeed and network with community leaders.  I helped, guided, and inspired her along the way, but I think I was inspired by her.  I watched as she worked hard on whatever she wanted to accomplish.  However, I was the lucky one since as the mentee, she really helped her mentor.  When I needed help to start a LinkedIn profile, she did not hesitate to help me. When I sought assistance on finding my next career path, she was sending me referrals and providing inspiration to me.  As a mentor, this is the proudest moment because I am thankful that I was able to inspire and help her to succeed in whatever ways I could.  Julie was there when I needed guidance and social media assistance.  To this date, we are still both helping each other professionally and personally.

My advice for others is to ALWAYS think positive and surround yourself with good friends who can help inspire, mentor or help you when times are difficult.  Remember that it is a two way street – you need to return the favor. 

Also, network, network… and work on networking early than later.  When I made my career switch to the non-profit sector, my networking techniques really helped me to find my position. I asked for help among my colleges so I could discover my next passion, which is now at the American Heart Association.

It's also important to find or discover a non-profit organization where you can be passionate about.  The EDI program gives you an opportunity to work with a non-profit organization for your team project.  I find that volunteering at non-profits will often strengthen your potential leadership skills.

I am always motivated when I can mentor inspiring fellow Asian Pacific Islanders.  I want to share what I've learned with people who need help developing their leadership skills!