By Ador Pereda Yano
Northwest Asian Weekly
For Dr. Lorraine Yu, the best response to the difficulties of growing up in a small Midwest community — more specifically, in a small predominantly white community in Illinois — was to excel. This year, she is being honored by the Northwest Asian Weekly as one of the Visionaries in the Seattle Asian Pacific community.
One of three daughters of an immigrant Chinese American family, Lorraine remembered that “my childhood was challenging. We were made fun of because we were different. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand until later on — why people didn’t like me just because of what I looked like.”
In common with many children of immigrant parents, the three Yu children were pushed very hard with their academics. “We excelled — maybe [the challenges] helped us excel as kids,” she recounted. Not only was she driven in academics, she also was an accomplished flutist and performed well in sports. It was no surprise that Lorraine and her sisters graduated from their Illinois high school as valedictorians in their respective classes.
Lorraine attended the University of Illinois, then went to the University of Michigan where she completed her Masters and Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry. Following a career in the chemical industry working for BASF and Lear in Michigan, Dr. Yu moved to the Pacific Northwest with her husband, where Microsoft beckoned and presented a new challenge for her — to make a career change in another industry. Leveraging her project management skills from her previous scientific career, she started as a project manager and advanced to become a group program manager at Microsoft during her ten-year service at the software company.
Leaving Microsoft in 2009, Dr. Yu then founded and built a multi-million dollar company, Sirius 6 Corporation. Initially providing consulting services, her company has expanded to include training and brand advocacy and now also offers a Learning Management System(LMS) which can reach many learners for relatively low cost.
During her tenure in both the chemical and computer industries, she observed and encountered larger challenges, especially for Asian Pacific Islander employees like her that echoed the difficulties of her childhood in the Midwest. In spite of performing well in her work in both chemistry and IT, she discovered that excelling in a job was not enough.
She remembered that in spite of her doctorate, “working for BASF, which is a German company, I realized that I was not going very far because of what I looked like – not German.” Then later, in an aggressive IT environment at Microsoft, her Asian upbringing kept her from “tooting her own horn” and created misperceptions of inadequate performance. Lorraine recognized that cultural and racial biases were unavoidable social factors.
She took on the mission to address these personal and social challenges. At Microsoft, she promoted the leadership development lessons she learned from the Executive Development Institute (EDI) program.
Yu expanded her mission beyond mentorship and worked with a group of Microsoft Asian colleagues to develop and hold the first Asian Pacific Leadership Development Conference (APLDC) at the software company in November 2006. She obtained the sponsorship of two high-level Asian executives for the conference, which presented panels of Microsoft corporate leaders, various seminars and workshops on leadership skills, and numerous networking opportunities for thousands of Asian Pacific Islander employees.
Now, many years after APLDC and after she left Microsoft, she applauds the appointment of the current CEO, Satya Nadella:”I think it’s important that we have Asian leadership at the table. I’d like to see more Asian women at the table. But at least we now have a voice.”
Of the success of her own company, Dr. Yu said, “What I learned is that I didn’t get here on my own; I got here on the shoulders of others.” This modesty is characteristic of her leadership style. Vanna Novak, a co-founder of EDI, described Dr. Yu as “someone who in spite of her success in business and the impact she has had on the lives of so many of us, continues to be one of the most humble, down to earth people that I know. She is a leader who would never call attention to herself and has no need or interest in having the spotlight on her.”
Like a good mentor, Dr. Yu provides pragmatic advice for entrepreneurs who are thinking of starting their own businesses: “I think it’s an individual choice – it’s not for everybody. If you have a good idea and believe you can make an impact, you should try it. You should also know what your strengths are and if your strengths do not support the full ability to start up and run a business, get some help. That’s one of the things that I wish I had done earlier — ask for help.”
When asked what advice she would give to the young Lorraine, growing up in her small Midwest community, Dr. Yu offered this: ” Make time to enjoy your life.” She said, “From an early age, I have been driven to be successful in the eyes of others which has come with some sacrifice; I sometimes feel that I missed opportunities to do more of what brings joy to my life. Perhaps my advice would be along the lines of what I believe Confucius said “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.”
How does she enjoy life now? “Our Labrador Retrievers keep us very busy but I can’t imagine life without them. My dogs are the best kind of therapy.” Lorraine and her husband Toni are AKC Breeders of Merit and have bred dogs with many titles in show, hunt, obedience, and therapy. They also support the breeding program of Warrior Canine Connection (WCC), a pioneering organization that helps wounded Warriors reconnect with life, their families, their communities, and each other. Lorraine and Toni share their joy of Labradors by publishing their online magazine “Retriever Life” (tag line “It’s more than a game of fetch”) and building a community of like-minded folks who share stories and training tips. (end)