By Theodora Yu The Sacramento Bee
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Sacramento Bee continues its ongoing series featuring Asian businesswomen in Sacramento. This week, Sarah Anwar, owner and operator of Golden Valley Academy shares her story.
The number of Asian business women is on the rise nationwide.
A report by the Asian Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship shows AAPI women-owned business grew by between 76 percent to 108 percent in 2017. As of 2016, about one-quarter of women-owned employer firms were minority-owned, and among them, more than half were Asian-owned, according to a 2018 statement published by the Census Bureau.
This week, we spoke with Sarah Anwar, owner and operator of Golden Valley Academy, a preschool in Elk Grove. Anwar, in late her forties, bought the 35-year-old schooling center from another woman in 2002 and has been running it since.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background.
A: I came with my parents in 1986 after finishing high school in Pakistan. I went to (University of California) Berkeley business school. My father is my mentor. He was an engineer by profession, but he stepped in when my grandfather's business partners took over his company. My father bought those people out, and made franchises all over the city. I am proud of the confidence my father had and his values are ingrained in me. My mom was really supportive as well. They want their daughter to pursue her dream. You do your best and you do it with confidence in the right motives and God will bless you in success. I felt like this is my opportunity now. Every time I looked back at my parents to get my strength and rise up again. I worked in the corporate sector, got married and took a break after having my daughter.
Q: How did you come up with your business idea?
A: After having three kids, my parents very softly reminded me, "What happened to your dreams?" I don't know if my mom meant it sarcastically or not, but she told me, "If you love your kids, maybe you should run a preschool."
I took her words to heart. Within three months, I purchased the two school centers in Elk Grove. It was meant to be. My kids went through these schools, and one is now in college, another graduated and is now in medical school. I was able to live my dream with my kids with me and as a businesswoman, and it has been a blessing with me through and through.
Q: How do you balance running a business and a family?
A: I was in my early 30s when I bought the two centers. It was a big jump from nothing to making a huge purchase with my property. It was a big project and my husband was shocked. I am independent, but I'm blessed with a supportive husband who trusts and have confidence in me. He is also a pillar of mine. He didn't question it and supported me. I ran this place independently. It is fair because i don't interfere with his job and I expect the same respect. Luckily I don't have to fight for it, but if I do, I will. For whatever financial decisions (purchasing the preschool) that could affect my family, I'd always consult family, as a team member, to be discussed and move forward. But for business decisions, I always make my own (decisions).
Q: What are the challenges and opportunities you've faced as an entrepreneur?
A: Student enrollment was low when I first took over the business. It gave me an opportunity to rebuild. I did a lot of door-to-door advertising distributing brochures and I offered free registration for two-week free class trials. I still do that, always let parents try that out. I tried to make it better for the groups of family I had who stayed with us. In no time they found that the change is for the better. My family helped me repaint the school. My biggest advertisement is word-by-mouth: we will serve you the way you wanted, and all we ask for is for you to mention to friends and family to put in a good word for us. We have open communication with parents and staff. We build slowly but surely. That is the most sincere way to bring more people. No Yelp reviews or banners can do that for you. Slowly, you build trust and the brand.
Sometimes people will try to use the system against you, try to accuse you of things, so you have to be vigilant in this business. This is an expensive business: nothing is more precious than a child and people are entrusting them to us. Our rule is: always to do the right thing. Don't try to cut corners. Trying to keep our records straight. This is why people are still here with us. I want to keep my cool and my confidence. I want to be poised. If you panic, everyone will panic. My staffers know Miss Sarah is going to be the calm and cool one. Miss Sarah can handle it. And I tell myself: everything is gonna be OK. And God really made it happen for me.
Q: Do you have a mentor or a person who inspired you to pursue this path?
A: It was definitely my father, growing up, and I learned from his ability to work hard and be generous and humble.
But there is also a lady (who inspired me). I am a Muslim and spiritual well-being is very important to me. When I look at which lady I want to be, it is Khadija, wife of the Prophet Muhammad. She was a successful businesswoman in charge of her own business before she got married more than 1,400 years ago. There is historical data that shows she was a wonderful woman and mother supporting the Prophet, helping him because she was financially secure on the goals he was trying to achieve. Muhammad married Khadija when he got his prophet-hood. He was so nervous about this news, and she reassured him that he is a good man and God has chosen him. She was the first to accept that he was telling the truth, whom he preached to. She believed immediately. She was his supporter through and through, by building his confidence, and with all her money. Everyone will be blessed to have spouses like that. Because of my religion, I run my business based on my values. ... I believe people first, including my staff and parents who need extra help.
Q: Do you have any advice for upcoming entrepreneurs?
A: When you feel helpless, my biggest advice is to go home and feel if you are balanced or not. We are the boss. If you are in that position to be able to manage your time and make those decisions, then don't feel hopeless: empower yourself and balance your life. We are always on the driving seat. Know yourself first. Sometimes we rush into things but we don't sit down with ourselves. If someone feels like they want to be an entrepreneur, just talk to your own self. Analyze yourself: know your own strengths and weakness and shortcomings. No one knows you better than you. You know how much it really applies. Then you will make a decision which you can own up to. Money does not bring you peace and happiness. Life is really short and time is really valuable. Make those calls not just by number-crunching. Sometimes we cannot change the whole society in a day, but we can take ownership in one's life.