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.
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?
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.
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