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Young Fil-Ams share secrets to business success


Young Fil-Am business leaders sharing their secrets.

COSTA MESA–Belief in God, hard work, passion, listening to mentors and taking risks are qualities that four young Fil-Am entrepreneurs shared, as keys to their success.

Jay Baldemor, president and founder of Gruvgear; Mary Grace Lagasca, owner/ executive director of Injoy Life Resources, Inc.; Mia McLeod, CEO and president of McLeod and Associates Real Estate Brokers; and Mendrick Leelin, founder and CEO of Yojie Japanese Shabu-Shabu Fondue & Sake Bar, spoke to a packed room at the 4th annual Filipino American Chamber of Commerce of Orange County’s (FACCOC) “Secrets to Success” event at the Westin Hotel South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa held on April 24.

“If you were to pay for any event to listen to these speakers, you’d be paying a lot,” said author Emma Tiebens, the moderator.

The young Fil-Am entrepreneurs shared their success stories and motivation with about 90 people, and provided tidbits on how they overcame obstacles to get to where they are now.

A sense of purpose

Mendrick Leelin, son of Menard and Yojie Leelin of Goldilocks, said the key that turned him around was when he discovered his purpose.

Though he came from Filipino restaurant royalty, Mendrick didn’t realize how hard operating a restaurant would be, until he opened up Yojie (named after his mother).

He often asked himself if all the hard work was worth it. At times it was difficult, the hours were unbearable.

He recalled that there was even a time he almost gave up. He prepared his resumé and started to look for an “’8-5’ job.”

Then, his mentor asked him what he wanted to do. That’s when he “discovered his passion”–to be a restaurateur.

“There are too many people in this world who are unhappy, unfulfilled and lack a purpose,” he said. “When you’re unhappy, you don’t give 100 percent. You have to discover your purpose, that’s the only way of reaching greatness.”

Mia McLeod was only 22 when she opened her own brokerage/real estate firm in West Covina. While her friends were partying, going to clubs or taking trips to Las Vegas, she was at the office “until midnight busting [her] butt.”

“There would be times [when] I would be crying because there was so much work,” she said. ”But I learned that the most successful people make it look easy and with a smile on their face. Hard work doesn’t faze them.”

During the real estate crisis, while other agencies folded and closed around her, she was determined to keep her business afloat.

“Just by sheer passion, I wasn’t going to let my business close,” she said. “I was determined to make it through because I love what I do.”

Her advice: “Work on your mindset. Reinforce and maintain a positive mindset.”

President and founder of Gruvgear Jay Baldemor said speaking to God and asking Him for advice was what helped him succeed.

Gruvgear, a company that specializes in products for musicians, has only been in the business for three years. Yet, it already has distribution deals worldwide.

He said daily prayers and seeking advice from God was what helped him the most in his business.

During his talk, he teared up while recounting the time when his business almost went bankrupt.

At the time, he couldn’t keep up with the demand for his products–manufacturing was too slow and he didn’t have the money to pay the manufacturer.

His prayers were answered. Later that week, Baldemor’s friend loaned him $30,000 to meet his business needs.

“Be encouraged. Have faith. Be bold and if you have passion go for it,” said Baldemor.

Mary Grace Lagasca rediscovered her passion, when she decided to open up a center that helps adults with disabilities.

She said her parents operated a home health care while she was growing up, and even though she initially liked working for them, she wanted to create her own path.

After graduating from college and bouncing around exploring different job avenues, she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do. She just wanted to help people.

“It’s my passion to serve people,” she said.

So she decided to take a risk. Through a state grant, she opened InJoy Life Resources in Bellflower. The center helps adults with disabilities gain life and social skills.

Working with adults with disabilities (many of whom have autism or other behavioral issues) has allowed her to find passion and her true calling.

“We value people and when you walk in you feel that,” she said.

“I know a lot of people who are driven by money but really, there’s no secret to success. Money is just a byproduct of your hard work,” she said.

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Tags: Entrepreneurship , Small business , young entrepreneurs

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