From Modest Beginnings to Women Distinction

Each came from a humble start in life, but Karen Chang, Sharon Weiner and M.R.C. Greenwood didn’t let that, or anything else, deter them. One key to success, they agree, is the willingness to take risks.

Christina O'Connor
Wednesday - November 09, 2011
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
E-mail this story | Print this page | Archive | RSS |
M.R.C. Greenwood

camp while her parents went out and looked for work.

Chang knew something had shifted in her life, and recalls that even as a young child, she wanted to do whatever it took to change her circumstances.

“I couldn’t figure out what had happened,” she says. “It was just chaos, and I knew it wasn’t the place I wanted to stay very long ... I think I understood that something had changed, I didn’t like what had happened, and therefore I needed to figure out a way ... to change the surroundings so that ... I could help my parents and my brother find a better life.”

After a couple of years in the refugee camp, Chang and her family were able to move to Taiwan, where she stood out as an excellent student and earned a degree in business management from Chung-Hsing University, Taiwan. After graduating, she taught high school chemistry.

But meanwhile, Chang was always drawn toward the world of business and was endlessly interested in how commerce works. So she jumped at the chance to get involved by selling International Yellow Pages for $10 a line during her summers off from teaching.

But what started as a summertime activity ended up launching the rest of her career. Her Yellow Pages sales record was so successful that she played a key part in launching the product in Taiwan.

Soon, she was earmarked for courses in tourism and hotel management, which brought her to Hawaii in 1973. From there, she worked as the senior vice president of marketing for American Express in New York City.

Chang’s curiosity about commerce then led her to pursue a career in investments, and she joined Charles Schwab in 1993. Ultimately, she rose in the ranks to become the head of individual investors enterprise, putting her in charge of 400 branches, 8,000 employees and more than half of the company’s revenue. Chang was also instrumental in changing the business model of Charles Schwab, which was at the forefront of change for the entire brokerage industry. The company was one of the first that launched online trading, combining traditional service models with the powers of the Internet.

Karen Chang

In 2004, Chang returned to Hawaii to retire. Well, kind of retire. Today, she sits on the board of Hawaii Pacific Health, where she advocates for sustainable healthcare. She is also a board member of Farmers Insurance Hawaii.

M.R.C. Greenwood’s career as a scientist and in higher education has taken her all around the world. But growing up, Greenwood rarely left her hometown. She was raised in Auburn, New York, which is located in the Finger Lakes region of the state an area that Greenwood describes as “a very beautiful part of New York state that almost nobody knows about.

“The only place we ever went on vacation was ... a two-hour drive away,” Greenwood says.

Greenwood was a single mother at a young age. She had always been a hard-working student with a passion for learning, so she decided to go back to school. After finishing undergraduate studies at Vassar College, she pursued a Ph.D. at The Rockefeller University at a time when women were typically expected to receive another three-letter distinction.

“When I was young, we used to say that one of the titles or degrees that women wanted was Mrs.,” Greenwood says. “And the idea was if you were married and you married a successful man, you didn’t need to worry your pretty little head over having to work. That wasn’t an uncommon idea.”

In fact, gender discrimination almost stopped her career before she was even given a chance. When Greenwood graduated from college, there were very few slots for women in medical school and most graduate programs. “I was asked ... ‘Exactly how do you plan to get your graduate education and raise a child? Don’t you think you have a responsibility to stay home?’” Greenwood says of one of her graduate school interviews. “That is an illegal question now, but it wasn’t then, and I had to answer it.”

Sharon Weiner

Not only did Greenwood get into graduate school, but she stood out as an exemplary scientist and returned to Vassar to teach, later becoming the chair of the biology department. From there, Greenwood’s career in higher education catapulted forward and never stopped.

“My interest in complex organisms, which I worked with as a biologist, just sort of evolved into complex organizations,”

Greenwood says. She went on to teach internal medicine and nutrition at University of California, Davis, where she also worked as the dean of graduate studies. In 1993, she took a job at the White House as the associate director for science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. From 19962004, she served as a professor and chancellor at UC Santa Cruz. During her time there, she contributed to increasing research, starting a professional school and creating the country’s first university NASA research center.

Throughout her career, Greenwood had also been a prolific researcher in science and technology policy, higher education policy and nutrition.

In 2009, Greenwood came to Hawaii to serve as president at UH Manoa, where she is currently working to improve graduation rates and to help UH become the first energy-independent university system in the country.

“We have a major overall goal, which is to be one of the best performing systems of higher education in the country,” Greenwood says, before quickly adding, “Actually, I like to say the best performing system.

“I really do believe that we have one of the finest research universities in the country here,” she says. “It’s under-appreciated both locally and probably nationally as well, so we’re trying to increase its visibility.”

On March 1, 1979, a thirty-something Sharon Weiner sat down in the bedroom of her Oahu home with her typewriter perched upon a card table and began writing a business plan on a single piece of paper. On the paper, she typed out a simple plan what she wanted to accomplish, what her revenue would be and how many employees she would have.

The plan on that sheet of paper soon materialized into Stryker Weiner & Yokota Public Relations, which today is one of the largest independent PR firms in the state.

Weiner, who is originally from upstate New York in a town not far from where Greenwood grew up, got her start in PR as a volunteer. After completing her undergraduate studies in English literature at Northwestern University, she moved to Chicago and did volunteer work for a nonprofit. One of her responsibilities was to write press releases and newsletter articles.

“And one day I just woke up and I said, ‘This is it. I want a career in public relations,’” Weiner says. Soon after, Weiner was

Page 2 of 3 pages for this story  <  1 2 3 >

E-mail this story | Print this page | Comments (0) | Archive | RSS

Most Recent Comment(s):

Posting a comment on requires a free registration.



Auto Login

Forgot Password

Sign Up for MidWeek newsletter Times Supermarket



Hawaii Luxury

Tiare Asia and Alex Bing
were spotted at the Sugar Ray's Bar Lounge