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Protea Conversations: Yuko Tsuchida

Protea Conversations: Yuko Tsuchida

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high quality out-sourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the work force after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were overlooked.  Over 80% of both Protea’s leadership and accounting teams are women.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations focuses on successful woman in business and their achievements.  The hope is that these conversations will create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges women face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

Yuko is the founder and Managing Director of Hito, LLC. Hito help companies reduce taxes utilizing different tax codes. During her career, she has helped small to Fortune 500 companies save over $100 million dollars in taxes.

Yuko began her career with KPMG in downtown Los Angeles preparing tax returns for multinational companies. After few years, she decided to start a boutique tax consulting firm with her former business partner, where she had successful exit in 2016.

Yuko enjoys being involved in the Entrepreneur Organization and volunteering for UCI and Cal State Fullerton as a mentor. In her free time, she loves being active from running and skiing to surfing. She loves to cook and spend time with family and friends.

Tell us about your journey and how did it happened that you started Hito, LLC?

I was born and raised in Japan. I was a funny kid, obsessed with my abacus classes and attended 3-5 times a week after school from 1st grade on. Naturally, I really liked math.

I grew up in a family business where my parents had a small construction business. After the housing bubble burst in 90s, I saw my parents and their entrepreneur friends struggle. I thought to myself that I want to help people like my parents when I grew up.

With my passion towards math, I decided I wanted to become accountant at age 14 since I thought this profession will satisfy both of my wants which were using math and helping business owners.

I started my career with Big 4 accounting firm, where I prepared tax returns for multinational corporations. Although I learned a lot about taxes, I didn’t feel that I was helping businesses. While I was in search for different area of taxes where I can help businesses, my mother got diagnosed with cancer, so I needed flexibility to travel back and forth between Japan and the US. The group I was working for wasn’t able to accommodate my requests.

Therefore, I decided to start a CPA firm with my colleague from KPMG. I wanted to create a firm where professionals can excel their career even if they have family and need more flexibility. The first CPA firm is now called “Think, LLP.” We built an amazing team who were passionate about helping businesses. We focused on discovering strategies for companies to save taxes so that they can reinvest their freed up cash into their businesses. As we grew, I discovered my partner and I had different view for the firm and I witnessed our culture shifted drastically. Therefore, I decided to exit out.

After taking 1.5 years off, going back to school for my MBA, working with a nonprofit organization (orphanage) in Soweto, Johannesburg, and searching for my passion and desire, I decided to start HITO. I wanted to create a culture focused-company where I can work with people I love and care for. We look for people who are humble, hungry, and smart in our employees and also clients we work with. Through the alignment of our culture and value which is upstanding, outstanding, and understanding internally and externally, we are making more impact in our clients businesses and the local communities they are located in. All of us are passionate about tax credits and incentives since our clients reinvest that money into their businesses to grow and a provide better life for their employees through providing better workplace, training, providing opportunities which impact their local communities.

I named this company “HITO” meaning people in Japanese. Although we are providing tax consulting services, I wanted everyone to remember people comes first. We want everyone to remember why they came to work at HITO (making impact in others’ life) and always appreciate people around them. In addition to that, I wanted to dedicate this company to people who influenced me and made me who I am today.

Yuko-Tsuchida

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

My own beliefs. Looking back, I’ve put many limitations in my life because of my internal briefs. I’m still learning why I think certain ways, why certain things trigger me, or why I react the way I do… Many internal beliefs I have are built on family dynamics, cultural, society, traumas, etc. from childhood. Understanding myself allows me to challenge and push myself in the different levels. It is never-ending learning processes and I’m enjoying it.

 

What are your short term goals of your career and yourself?

The short term goal for HITO (my career) is to build a solid team who has similar culture and value. HITO was started in October 2017 and is still fairly young. As we grow, we need quality processionals who can expand our service offering so that we can grow with our clients’ growth. Also, having more like-minded people will allow us to work smarter (not harder) so that all of us can have life outside of the work and create a meaningful life. Having said that, all of us don’t believe in “work life balance.” Instead, we believe in “work life together” meaning that our work and life integrate. All of us believe that we are in it together to win in personal and professional life.

As far as myself… Building businesses have been my passion and baby. I haven’t had fortune to find a man who I want to spend my life with and create a family with. Given my age, I decided to start a family by myself. Raising child without a partner and father is scary… Having said that my family and close friends are excited to have a baby as well as decision I made. I’m in the early stage of the process but I hope to become a mother in 2022 or 2023.

 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?

I think my success comes from teaching from my parents. They often said “You are the pioneer of your life. Dream big, put your head down, and work hard. Then you can achieve anything you put your mind to. When I encounter hurdles, I always remember to believe in myself that I can do anything I can put my mind to it as long as I work hard and don’t give up!

 

What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?

Be yourself….

As an immigrant, and a woman in the male dominant industry, I felt I should act in the certain ways when I was a young professional. I always felt there was something missing. Leaning how to be more authentic, vulnerable, and being myself created closer relationships with my colleagues and even with clients. For me, I want to create meaningful relationships, whether it is personal or professional. Although it was much easier to pretend to be like someone else professionally, being myself brought me great friends, colleagues, and clients who I really enjoy collaborating and spending time with, and learning from.

 

What advice you give to others to help them be better leaders?

Learn and be aware of who you are.

For me, being a better leader is to be a better person and creating spaces for your team members to express themselves. In order to do so, I need to listen to them to understand, not to react. It is difficult… For me, not to react and to surrender to them, I need to be completely open. I’m still learning and will be always learning how to do this perfectly. Having said that, it helped me a lot to be more open from learning about how I process information and react.

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will make a donation to Vital Voices (https://www.vitalvoices.org/). Vital Voices Global Partnership is a global movement that invests in women leaders who are solving the world’s greatest challenges. They are “venture catalysts,” identifying those with a daring vision for change and partnering with them to make that vision a reality. They scale and accelerate impact through long term investments to expand skills, connections, capacity, and visibility. Over the last 22 years, we have built a network of 18,000 change-makers across 182 countries who are collectively daring to reimagine a more equitable world for all.

Find Your Bookkeeper

We provide your organization a true end-to-end solution to all of your bookkeeping needs. Tax season is year-round to Protea – if you aren’t preparing daily, it’s easy to fall behind. We are always working with your organization to streamline your business’s reports and accounting processes.

Protea Conversations: Carolyn Sweeney

Protea Conversations: Carolyn Sweeney

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high quality out-sourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the work force after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were overlooked.  Over 80% of both Protea’s leadership and accounting teams are women.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations focuses on successful woman in business and their achievements.  The hope is that these conversations will create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges women face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

In August 2021 we have a conversation with Carolyn Sweeney. Carolyn is the Managing Director of Century Group‘s Walnut Creek, California office. During the course of her career, she’s filled thousands of direct hire searches and temporary assignments for leading Bay Area companies and is known for her deep network, professionalism and for building award-winning teams.

Prior to joining Century Group, Carolyn spent 17 years with an international NYSE traded staffing firm where she won multiple awards for exceptional performance and leadership.

She has been recognized as Partner of the Year by the FPA of the East Bay for her contributions to the business community and is presently the acting President for the Accounting and Finance Women’s Alliance, where she’s served on the board and has been an active member for more than 10 years.

Carolyn also enjoys being involved with her children’s school and her Saint Mary’s College alumni community. In her free time she loves music, plays Guitar and Ukulele and writes songs.  She loves to cook and spend time with family and friends and her dog a Black Lab named Hank and Cat named Betty Badass.

Protea Financial Conversations carolyn sweeney

How did you get into the recruiting game and what was the journey to your current role as Managing Director at Century Group?

I went to Saint Mary’s College and got a Federal Work Study Job at the Career Development Center helping the students get part time jobs doing babysitting, lawn mowing etc.  I LOVED that job!  My boss, Patty Bishop was the BEST! We had so much fun at work, it felt like I should pay Saint Mary’s to work there- seriously, the students were hilarious and the people in the community who needed help were so precious.  We really enjoyed the delightful process of connecting people together in a mutually beneficial way.  I thought, “I want to do this forever!”

I started actively pursuing a career in recruiting and met with many many firms.  Finally I got a few offers and picked one to work in Downtown Oakland for a large public firm.  I got in to the staffing business at a tough time.  I started about 3 months before the attacks of September 11th, 2001 happened.  It was a bad market and very challenging to find people opportunities.  I learned, however, that even in the most difficult markets, there are still opportunities!  I was able to learn from experienced partners and find people jobs. After some time, got promoted to being a Senior Staffing Manager and Division Director. I led branches and multiple teams and I really loved it and still do.  After more than 17 years with the big firm, I was ready for a change.

A recruiter found me for Century Group and totally changed my life. By changing firms and going to a smaller privately held firm, I was able to upgrade my employment experience tremendously.  I get to report directly to the CEO and COO of Century Group and I love the collaboration with them.  I also got to launch in a completely new market for Century Group and I love the better compensation and closeness of a smaller privately held firm. 

 

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

Over 10 years ago, a dear colleague passed away suddenly after we had worked together for a decade.  Our whole office was in mourning.  I had never experienced such visceral grief with so many daily reminders.  Natalie Dennis was a treasure of a person and beloved by her clients and the greater community.  She helped so many people find great jobs. She was extremely successful, smart, enthusiastic and funny (and beautiful!) Seeing her empty desk, and her name everywhere in our computer database… it was so sad.  Learning to function as an individual and as a leader with a grieving team was something I had never experienced before.  It’s one thing to grieve personally, but to be on an entire team affected by loss and grief was a whole new challenge.  The biggest thing I learned from that was the power of candor and how bonding it could be to say honestly… “this all feels meaningless right now”. I also learned how to create safe space for other people to get thru tough stuff and I got a lot better at accepting support and help myself because I really needed it during that time.  I’m still grateful for my team and my boss who helped me thru that time.

Additionally, navigating coming back to work after having my first child was a doozey.  The market had fallen apart while I was on leave, and when I returned, my business was a shadow of its former self. None of my professional clothes fit. I was sleep deprived and had to shut myself in a phone closet to pump breastmilk twice a day.  There were so many times during those days when I thought: “Is this what ALL returning to work Moms’ experience??  Tell me it isn’t so!” Some things have gotten better in many places, but that adjustment from person to parent is not to be underestimated. 

 

What are your short term goals of your career and yourself?

 My short term goal is to hire 2 more partners to help continue our growth and ensure that everyone has all the tools and resources they need to succeed.  Long term, I want to have built a lasting brand in the Bay Area for Century Group, see both my kids graduate college as confident, contributing tax paying citizens.  At the end of it all, I want to look back and see that I have built a well-lived life filled with friends, adventure, positive impact and meaning.

 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?

Best piece of advice… tough one!  I’ve benefitted from so much great advice.  One piece of advice I got early in my career from Susan Afan was, “Dream really big and go after it as hard as you can.  Don’t go after a small goal, because when you get it you might be left to wonder what else you might have been able to do, or if you miss and get less, you are in such a low spot.  Shoot for the moon and if you miss at least you can land amongst the stars.”

 

What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?

You are never as bad as you feared or as great as you fantasized.  Don’t be so dramatic about yourself… Just do your best and keep going.

 

What advice you give to others to help them be better leaders?

Check in regularly.  So many leaders avoid this until there is urgency or a problem that needs to be addressed, but I truly believe that regular check ins help keep good performers on track, helps weed out poor performers or mis hires sooner and helps increase the feeling of connection and purpose thereby increasing employee morale and retention.  This means checking in sometimes even without a big agenda… like “How are you doing?  Need anything from me?  Good plans this weekend?”  It can feel frivolous, but I promise you it’s worth the investment and showing you care.

 

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will make a donation to Vital Voices. Vital Voices Global Partnership is a global movement that invests in women leaders who are solving the world’s greatest challenges. They are “venture catalysts,” identifying those with a daring vision for change and partnering with them to make that vision a reality. They scale and accelerate impact through long-term investments to expand skills, connections, capacity, and visibility. Over the last 22 years, we have built a network of 18,000 change-makers across 182 countries who are collectively daring to reimagine a more equitable world for all.

Find Your Bookkeeper

We provide your organization a true end-to-end solution to all of your bookkeeping needs. Tax season is year-round to Protea – if you aren’t preparing daily, it’s too easy to get behind. We are always working with your organization to streamline your business’s reports and accounting processes.

Protea Conversations: Tracey Welch

Protea Conversations: Tracey Welch

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high quality out-sourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the work force after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were overlooked.  Over 80% of both Protea’s leadership and accounting teams are women.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations focuses on successful woman in business and their achievements.  The hope is that these conversations will create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges women face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

Tracey Welch is an accounting and finance professional (CPA) with hands on experience in multiple industries, most recently in wine, agriculture, and winery management software. After obtaining a BS in Accounting at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and passing the CPA exam, she progressed through the ranks from staff consultant to senior manager at Price Waterhouse in financial systems consulting. She has worked in businesses ranging from family-owned to multinational corporations and has also had the opportunity to run her own business. She has strong project management and exceptional communication and presentation skills.

Currently, Tracey is the centerpoint of the long-term goal of making DaVero Farms & Winery sustainable economically, as well as agriculturally and environmentally. In addition to the normal juggling of the books and internal administration, she coordinates all of the certifications, including Biodynamic®, organic, and Fish Friendly Farming, as well as production. Tracey is also the President of CompleteDTC, a comprehensive DTC management system, where her passion for great customer service and support is driven this system to exceed expectations of its users.

Tracey is married to Carter, a business coach, and they have 3 almost-adult sons.  Since their nest is semi-empty, they spend a lot of free time playing golf together.  She’s also very active in her church, working with both youth and women’s groups.  Now, that life is almost back to normal, Tracey is excited about doing more travelling to see family around the country and (hopefully soon) going abroad again.

 

How did you get into the wine industry and what was the journey to your current role at DaVero Farms & Winery? 

I didn’t set out to get into the wine industry but it’s proved to be a really rewarding and interesting industry.  I love working with people who are so passionate about the entire life cycle of the product from the agricultural side to harvest/crush, making wine, selling wine and building and maintaining customer relationships. My background was as a CPA and financial systems consultant at Price Waterhouse Coopers from the time I graduated from college to the time I had my first child.  I stayed at home raising my boys for about ten years which was about the same time my husband took a new job in Northern California.  When we moved here, I was looking for a position where I could start part-time and move into full-time as the boys got older.  The first job that I applied for that fit that description was at DaVero and it just happened to be in the wine industry.  It really felt like I was meant to be there.

 

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)? 

Both leaving and reentering the work force to be at home with my kids was challenging.  While I think it was the right choice for my family to stay home, I missed the intellectual challenge of being in the working world.  I definitely went through a mini-identity crisis those first few months.  And then coming back into the work world, there was the challenge of balancing work life and personal life and playing catch-up to some degree in what I had missed while being at home for ten years. The balance got easier and easier the older my boys were and the catch-up was much quicker and easier than I had imagined it would be.  And the great thing is that I don’t regret my decisions at all.

 

What are your short term goals of your career and yourself? 

In addition to my role at DaVero, the owner and I are involved in an exciting launch of a winery management software system for small direct-to-consumer wineries called CompleteDTC.  Our goal is to increase our market share dramatically over the next few years.  I’m looking forward to introducing CompleteDTC to wineries all over the country and helping them grow their businesses.

 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success? 

There are two things my dad advised me to do that have served me well.  First, in middle school he made me take a typing class which I didn’t want to do because I told him that didn’t want to be a secretary.  But now that I’m on a computer all the time, I’m so thankful I’ve got that skill.  Second, he really encouraged me to major in accounting.  It has opened so many doors for me including my first job and helping me to reenter the workforce after I had my family.  It’s a skill that’s always in demand but also in terms of education, I think it really helped me to understand business from a higher and more wholistic level.

 

What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?

To look at a career as more of a journey that doesn’t have to be a straight path of just climbing the corporate ladder.  It’s been fine to take detours along the way including trying new industries, new positions,  moving to new places, working for myself, being in a start-up and even jumping off the ladder entirely for a time.

 

What advice you give to others to help them be better leaders?

To not be afraid to be themselves and to stick to their values and principles.  At the same time, not to ignore where they have weaknesses and see out advice, help or training that they need to fill those gaps.

 

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will make a donation to Vital Voices (https://www.vitalvoices.org/). Vital Voices Global Partnership is a global movement that invests in women leaders who are solving the world’s greatest challenges. They are “venture catalysts,” identifying those with a daring vision for change and partnering with them to make that vision a reality. They scale and accelerate impact through long term investments to expand skills, connections, capacity, and visibility. Over the last 22 years, we have built a network of 18,000 change-makers across 182 countries who are collectively daring to reimagine a more equitable world for all.

Protea Conversations: Alicia Cronbach

Protea Conversations: Alicia Cronbach

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high-quality outsourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were overlooked.  Over 80% of both Protea’s leadership and accounting teams are women.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations focuses on a successful woman in business and their achievements.  The hope is that these conversations will create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges women face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

In May 2021 we spend time with Alicia Cronbach. Working in the wine industry for over 15 years, Alicia has held general counsel positions at Treasury Wine Estates and Duckhorn Wine Company, guiding the regulatory integration of Treasury’s acquisition of the Diageo wine portfolio and Duckhorn’s integrations of Calera and Kosta Browne. While supporting those transactions, Alicia and Sarah Spiller, the firm’s Director of Compliance and Integration, saw an opportunity for a law firm focused on project-based compliance work, M&A due diligence, and integration planning. Alicia founded Cronbach Law Group PC in May 2019 to focus on steering wineries, law firms, and brokers through the complex maze of winery transactions. 

A native Northern Californian who settled down in Napa, Alicia can often be found hiking in Tahoe, camping on the Albion River, or cooking meals with her husband Eli and son Will.  As a former military and public safety spouse (Eli is a USCG veteran and retired Fire Captain), Alicia is passionate about causes that support military and first responder families. She also thinks that every lawyer has a secret superpower that helps them relax and stay grounded – hers is gardening and teaching the canning project for her son’s 4-H club.

How did you get into the food industry and specifically your current role at Alcohol Beverage Law, Napa, CA, Cronbach Law Group, Wine Deal Law?

Several years ago I was on a transaction team that doubled the size of the business in a single transaction.  When I went to the external transactional firms on the deal with what I needed from an alcohol regulatory due diligence and integration planning perspective, I learned that it wasn’t an area of focus for them.  During the debrief after the deal, I learned that there was this ‘gray space’ between compliance firms and alcohol beverage law firms that wasn’t occupied – my team and I nicknamed that gray space the ‘Industry Solution’. 

The solution was a firm that would play in that space and help bridge the gap between the due diligence needs and the post-close integration planning.  50 states and 51 sets of rules (you can’t forget the TTB) makes for some complex playbooks and the need to constantly check the impact of deal decisions against business priorities and integration planning.  While these conversations were going on, I moved from a publicly traded global company to a privately held luxury wine company and supported two more acquisitions as their first in-house attorney. The more I defined what this gray space looked like, the more I realized that the part of the deal I liked the most was making deals go more smoothly while keeping everyone’s priorities in mind.

A little over two years ago I called one of my former teammates and said ‘I think it’s time to build what we always talked about. I’m ready to jump – want to jump with me?’ Cronbach Law Group PC opened for business in May 2019 with just the two of us.  As the firm turns two years old this month, we celebrated the firm’s growth by hiring three more employees in the first half of this year.

 

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

Personally, making the time to recharge my batteries and remember why I love what I do. Professionally, trusting my instincts while we were vetting the niche that we’d identified. 

 

What are your short term goals of your career/business and yourself?

Short term to me means one to two years.  In that time, I would like to re establish a workplace that is a mix of in-person and virtual work, respecting that while the original face time isn’t a requirement to good work, it is where a lot of our magic happens.  I miss my team.

 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?

‘What are you waiting for?’

 

What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?

Understand your strengths as well as your weaknesses – both contribute to who you are and can help or hurt you on your journey.  And don’t be afraid to invest in yourself by hiring a coach.

 

What advice you give to others to help them be better leaders?

Show up as who YOU are, not as who you think others want you to be. Learn from good bosses as well as bad ones – keep the traits that resonate with you.  Learn to listen with the intent of hearing what the other person has to say, not just for the sake of responding with your opinion.

One of the best compliments I have ever received was that I taught someone the value of choosing their fight wisely.  They expected their lawyer to be aggressive in all things, all the time and were surprised and ultimately happy that I showed them how to pause and take a breath before choosing a path forward. 

 

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will make a donation to Vital Voices. Vital Voices Global Partnership is a global movement that invests in women leaders who are solving the world’s greatest challenges. They are “venture catalysts,” identifying those with a daring vision for change and partnering with them to make that vision a reality. They scale and accelerate impact through long term investments to expand skills, connections, capacity, and visibility. Over the last 22 years, we have built a network of 18,000 change-makers across 182 countries who are collectively daring to reimagine a more equitable world for all.

Protea Conversations: April Gargiulo

Protea Conversations: April Gargiulo

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high-quality outsourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were overlooked.  Over 80% of both Protea’s leadership and accounting teams are women.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations focuses on successful woman in business and their achievements.  The hope is that these conversations will create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges women face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

In April 2021 we spend time with April Gargiulo the Founder and CEO of Vintner’s Daughter, a luxury skincare company committed to performance-driven quality-focused, non-toxic skincare. She launched her first product, Active Botanical Serum in February 2012 bucking industry standards by using whole organic plants and methodical formulation methods versus low-quality fillers and formulation short cuts. Vintner’s Daughter quickly became a benchmark for quality and performance in the beauty world and is coveted by top beauty connoisseurs and industry professionals around the world. Before starting Vintner’s Daughter, April spent 8 years at the helm of her family’s Napa Valley winery, Gargiulo Vineyards. There, she helped build the winery’s reputation for terroir-driven, “first growth” Cabernet Sauvignon. Before Napa, April spent 6 years in Manhattan where she worked for design leader Vitra. Through Vintner’s Daughter, April commits 2% of every bottle sold to charities benefiting women, children and the environment. She is married to a fellow entrepreneur, Mitch Lowe (also her Executive Chairman) and has two young daughters. 

It is a story that has been told many times, but please share with us how Vintner’s Daughter came to be?

I was someone who had struggled with my skin for my entire life. I had acne, discoloration and all the fun things that come along with getting older. I was using what I thought were the very best “luxury” products. They were the most expensive and were written about often in glossy magazines. One day I started looking at the ingredients. I was shocked to realize that they were .01% active ingredients, the rest was low quality filler that was also in many cases toxic. Coming from where I was coming from, none of that sat right with me. I come from Napa Valley, a community dedicated to making the finest wines in the world through attention to detail and craftsmanship. Short cuts are not allowed and practically every grain of dirt is considered for its quality. That to me is the true definition of luxury; beginning with the finest raw materials and honoring them through the most thoughtful formulation practices to achieve something even greater than the parts. These products I was using were anything but. 

This was the genesis of Vintner’s Daughter. I wanted to build a true luxury skincare company that made products from the finest ingredients in the world, using time-honored techniques in order to bring about profound and lasting balance and health in the skin. It sounds lofty, but I wanted to build a skincare company on the very same philosophical foundations and principles as fine winemaking. There have been many bumps along the way from labs shutting their doors in my face when they find out about our weeks-long formulation process, or retailers who didn’t want to work with me because I had too few products. Overcoming these challenges has made me believe in our purpose to create fewer, higher-quality products fueled by whole plant nutrition even more. 

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

We are a brand that is going against the grain of traditional beauty in so many ways from our whole plant sourcing, to our unheard of formulation timelines to our snails-pace product introduction schedules. This has proven to be a challenge when finding manufacturing partners, retail partners and even garnering press who need “new” to sell their stories. Instead we have taken a slow approach in our weeks-long whole plant formulations that go against the 6 hour industry average formulation time and we have only introduced 2 products in 7 years versus the standard every 4-month product introduction schedule. We do this not to be contrarians, but because we believe that fewer, but better made products not only improve your skin, but improve your life and our planet. It is a kind of quiet activism that we pursue joyfully. 

 

What are your short-term goals of your career/business and yourself?

My short term and long term goals for the company are the same, to create skincare that has a dramatically positive effect on our customers’ skin and lives. 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Find your north star and follow it relentlessly. 

What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?

I’m not sure I would have taken it, but I certainly wish I would have more fully understood the classic line “team eats strategy for breakfast.” No matter how great your plan is, if you don’t have a highly functioning team of A or aspiring A players, it’s going to be nearly impossible to achieve. 

What advice you give to others to help them be better leaders?

Don’t rush yourself. Gain experience and knowledge with every step. It might not feel like a straight line and that is okay.  In the end, you have to decide what makes the most sense for you and follow that journey truthfully, with a full heart and a lot of hustle.

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will make a donation to Vital Voices. Vital Voices Global Partnership is a global movement that invests in women leaders who are solving the world’s greatest challenges. They are “venture catalysts,” identifying those with a daring vision for change and partnering with them to make that vision a reality. They scale and accelerate impact through long-term investments to expand skills, connections, capacity, and visibility. Over the last 22 years, we have built a network of 18,000 change-makers across 182 countries who are collectively daring to reimagine a more equitable world for all.

 

Protea Conversations: Destiny Burns

Protea Conversations: Destiny Burns

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high quality out-sourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the work force after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were overlooked.  Over 80% of both Protea’s leadership and accounting teams are women.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations focuses on a successful woman in business and their achievements.  The hope is that these conversations will create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges women face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

Destiny Burns is a native Clevelander (born and raised in Euclid), and she recently moved back home after more than 30 years to be near family and to live my dream of opening an urban winery here in her beloved hometown. Destiny is a retired U.S. Navy officer (served for 20 years on active duty (thank you!), and then spent more than 13 years as a business development executive in the defense industry in the Washington DC area. Destiny is also a former volunteer firefighter/EMT and has a great love and respect for first responders and for all those who serve our country and communities in uniform.

Wine has always been a great passion of hers having lived and traveled all around the world throughout her adult life, studying and enjoying wine and food. Destiny has advanced degrees in Business and professional experience in all aspects of business development, marketing and management, and also pursued formal and informal training and professional development opportunities in the wine industry. All of her experience and education, combined with a passion for wine and for her wonderful hometown, has culminated in her decision to open and run her own winery in the metropolitan Cleveland area and provide the “wine companion” to all the great craft beer and spirits made here! As they say, let’s have fun, celebrate, connect, support charitable causes and drink some great wine together at CLE Urban Winery! 

How did you get into the wine industry and how did you come up with the concept of CLE URBAN WINERY?

I always wanted a food- or wine-related business of my own as a “someday” dream. When I turned 50, newly divorced after a long marriage with an adult child fully launched, I decided to get serious about achieving this dream. I left my high-pressure career in the Washington DC area and returned to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio to open my own business.

After performing a market analysis, I decided that opening a restaurant was too risky (too much competition), but I discovered that I absolutely loved the craft brewery culture of Cleveland. I decided to build my business based on my love of wine and my hometown, so I created a craft brewery-style urban winery and Tasting Room in a 100 year old former auto repair garage in my suburban Cleveland neighborhood. I call it Good Wine Made Fun that Celebrates Cleveland and Creates Community, and I will celebrate my 5 year anniversary this July!

 

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

I would say the biggest challenge that I have faced as an entrepreneur (aside from COVID-19, which has presented a number of significant challenges for all of us) is really understanding the costs, key performance indicators and other financial measures of my business. The unique business model I created is a bit of a hybrid, and I struggled with generating the financial reporting I needed to truly understand how to profitably manage and grow the business. I finally found my financial bookkeeping partner in Protea Financial – I can’t say enough good things about how they have helped me truly understand the unique financial aspects of my urban winery business model and to effectively manage my books. The resulting financial confidence has been a godsend as I have worked to successfully navigate my business through the COVID-19 crisis.

 

What are your short term goals of your career/business and yourself?

I think I have the same short-term goal as many other small business owners… to survive the pandemic, both personally and professionally. Both aspects are challenging in this stressful and unpredictable environment, and that is doubly so as an entrepreneur. I have had to continually hustle and pivot throughout this crisis – no staying home and making a sourdough starter for me!
The other short term goal that I have been working on in 2021 is to launch the Urban Wine School™ – a comprehensive wine appreciation and education learning community that is affordable, accessible and fun! I plan to bring the first courses online this spring.

 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?

The best piece of advice I ever received was from a former boss who once told me that “Hope is not a strategy.” The only way you will be successful is through hard work and by developing a strategy and executing a plan to get you where you want to go… just hoping everything will work out is not going to get you very far.

  

What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?

I knew this when I started out as a small business owner, but I didn’t fully understand how important this advice was until I was neck-deep in it… CASH IS KING.

  

What advice you give to others to help them be better leaders?

Don’t be afraid – and the best way to mitigate that fear is through knowledge. Do your homework, leverage resources, work hard and stay focused. Don’t take no for an answer. Set clear expectations and goals, and then hold yourself and your team accountable for achieving them. Surround yourself with great people and do everything you can to make them successful and productive, both personally and professionally – they, in turn, will then take care of you and your customers.

 

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will make a donation to Vital Voices. Vital Voices Global Partnership is a global movement that invests in women leaders who are solving the world’s greatest challenges. They are “venture catalysts,” identifying those with a daring vision for change and partnering with them to make that vision a reality. They scale and accelerate impact through long term investments to expand skills, connections, capacity, and visibility. Over the last 22 years, we have built a network of 18,000 change-makers across 182 countries who are collectively daring to reimagine a more equitable world for all.

Tax Preparation Enablement

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