Considering earning an online degree? Wondering how to better market your small business? Looking for a way to make your network more secure? Maybe you’re just looking for ways to be more successful in business. Whatever your burning business queries might be, you’re likely not the only person who lies awake at night contemplating these conundrums. That’s why we’ve sought out local experts and asked them for their sagest advice on issues ranging from business event planning to diversity and inclusion.

By Zoe Branch, Serena Hawkey, Joanna Kresge, Olivia Langen, Todd Matthews, and Shelby Rowe Moyer

Jump to:

leadership | event planning | marketing | finance | cybersecurity | real estate | diversity and inclusion | education


Photo by: Jeff Hobson

In the Real World

Thomas Kuljam has worn many hats throughout his professional career. He has been a student, he has worked in the banking sector, he has done consulting work for Los Angeles County and the City of Tacoma, and he currently teaches entrepreneurship at the University of Washington Tacoma. But Kuljam’s first, and likely most prestigious, hat was the flight cap he wore at his Air Force Basic Military Training graduation ceremony in the late 1980s. What makes Kuljam such a successful teacher — his drill instructor-like penchant for kicking the classroom door open on the first day of class aside — is the real-world experi

ence he has learned throughout his life, which he said he brings to every class. Kuljam sat down with South Sound Business to impart some of his practical wisdom on business, leadership, and failure. — JK

Q: You spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. What was the biggest take-away you have from that experience?

A: The aha moment for me was when I was TDY (temporary duty assignment) at Yokota Air Base in Japan … It was during an exercise at about 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning, when the sun starts coming up, and I start seeing tons of aircraft ready to launch. And all of a sudden, you’re like, “Holy (crap)! This … is real.” That real world sunk in because that aircraft in front of me was my responsibility. Meaning that if it breaks, I have to go up to the flight deck and say it’s not ready to fly, because pilots don’t know anything about that. Imagine, there you are, 19, almost 20 years old, and you have control of this weapons system. 

Q: How do you take that experience and relate it back to your students when you are trying to teach them about the real business world?

A: I sit down, and I give them my real-world experience. And then, I would bring in a subject matter expert. That subject matter expert will come in — I don’t give them a script, but it’s the same message I’ve been telling (the class) only from a different perspective and voice, and they get it. 

Q: You also run the Veterans Incubator for Better Entrepreneurship program at UWT. What is your No. 1 piece of advice to prospective entrepreneurs?

A: You don’t have a business until you have one thing: a customer. Everyone has all these great ideas, but it’s just an idea. To have a real business, you have to have your first paying customer. That’s a business. You also don’t have a business unless the cash flows. Cash is king. 

Q: As someone who helps both veteran entrepreneurs and civilian entrepreneurs, would you say veterans have a little bit of a leg up, or would you say everyone is on a level playing field? 

A: No way. The veterans have a leg up, by far. Based on Small Business Administration statistics, new businesses are more likely to start by veterans than any other demographic. It’s because of their ability to think outside the box, their ability to work long hours, their ability to work both as a team and independently, and their ability to be creative and innovative. And most importantly, it’s about learning how to work under ambiguity. The problem with the academic world is, there’s no ambiguity. 

Q: What would you say to a business owner who is maybe hesitant to hire veterans? 

A: Employers would do themselves a disservice by ignoring the large percentage of veterans out there. You know, veterans are very easy to train. If you just give them a mission and a purpose again, they’ll get the job done. And they don’t need guidance. Tell them you need increased sales by 10 percent, and they’ll go get it. Failure is not an option to them; they will find a way to be successful because if they have a sense of purpose, they will always succeed. 

Q: What would you say to an entrepreneur — veteran or otherwise — that does go out into the real business world, and the business fails?

A: That’s part of the game because entrepreneurship is a full-contact sport. There’s going to be penalties, there’s going to be failures, but ultimately if you continue to (work at) the routines of life … it will happen. If you stop (trying), nothing is going to happen. Momentum creates opportunity. And failing? It’s great; you are going to learn from it. Failing at something is better than any lesson you are going to receive because if you are smart, you learn from your mistakes. Although, if you’re really smart, you’re going to learn from other people’s mistakes.

Trevor Moawad – Mental-conditioning coach

Photo courtesy Trevor Moawad

Employ “Neutral” Thinking 

Neutral thinking is behavior-based thinking focused on the truth without judgment and without bias. It respects the good or bad for what it is, but it also recognizes that what happens next hasn’t happened yet.

Positive thinking, for many people, implies something bad didn’t happen, when they know it did. 

Negative thinking, because it’s seven times more powerful than positive thinking, automatically bleeds into your next series of events. 

Fundamentally, if I’m winning or losing, if I’m succeeding or failing, I can always behave a certain way. 

I was raised to focus on behavior. Every night, I’d go to bed thinking, “I take setbacks as temporary and bounce back quickly.” That’s not a positive statement; that’s not a negative statement; that’s a behavior.


Having an understanding of fundamentally what you need to do to succeed is going to be critical.

For (Wilson), it’s playing with elite balance. His physiological balance is important. His fundamentals, going back to the basics, are really important — his arm placement, his leg movement, all those different elements. Being engaged, sitting in the front row. He calls it KTN (Keep Taking Notes). 

All these things are elemental. What time he goes to bed. How often he eats. The meals he eats. The level of proteins. How he stresses. How he recovers. All of those elements are micro-percentages that allow his performance to get to where it needs to be. 

Success is when you do simple savagely well. Success never happens in the complicated. That’s where your talent takes over. Your talent takes over in the complicated moment. But your success is driven by doing simple better. 

(Conversely,) if I work for Amazon and I manage supply chain, then I have a very clear objective every day, and my ability to achieve that objective starts with my awareness of what that objective is. A) Do I have it written down? B) Do I know what good looks like? C) Do I have the skillset to complete it? D) Am I doing the things that are going to give me the best chance to complete it? Basically, I’m understanding my role, executing my role, and simplifying it.


To pretend you don’t fear something is to not give a challenge its due respect, or to give an opponent its due respect. But you have the ability, by facing your fears, to put a plan together to overcome it. 

Everybody gets nervous. The best athletes in the world, as they’re getting ready to go play in a national championship (are nervous). but a great athlete is a combination of great behaviors. Yes, they have some aptitudes. But where they differ from other people is in their willingness to do the things that are going to allow them to succeed. 

(It is our) belief that our behaviors are our No. 1 competitor, and we believe that the No. 1 competitor to our behaviors is the concept of choice. We think that choice fundamentally is an illusion. If you want to be good, you don’t have a lot of choices.”


Have a real good understanding of what the right behaviors are in your job. Be able to measure yourself on a scale of one to five — one being a weakness and five being a strength. If there are five behaviors that are important, you’d like to think that on a scale of one to five, you were somewhere above 16 or 17 out of 25 in those behaviors. A great athlete who’s been great for a long time can tell you exactly what it takes to make them great. They don’t always do it, but they know what it looks like.


Picture Perfect 

Event planning tailored to the needs of each client is necessary. Some work on a tight budget, while others have only the sky as the limit for what their event will look like. Angela Strecker, owner of Blue Wing Events in Tacoma, weighs in on navigating a successful event with money in mind; Kayla Cook, a planner who coordinates events across the state, offers some insight on planning those extravagant events where it’s go big — or go home. — ZB

On a Budget 

Venue and food are going to be the biggest portion of your budget, and also the most flexible in every budget, so focus there first. As a rule, we take the venue and food budget and multiply it by three. That gives you a good base for a budget. 

No matter (what), a planner is going to save you stress, time, and money. We have so many ideas and a network of vendors to pull upon in all budget sizes. Other must-have elements are people to serve food, clean up, and (entertain).

List out all the things you want in an event, including the smallest of details. Prioritize that list, (and cut) the items at the bottom — even if they are small financially, they all add up. Focus on the top items, and get nice quality for those. 

Angela Strecker, Blue Wings Events


If your guests have a memorable experience, your event will shine and stay in their minds long after the event. I have found that attention to detail, ambience, and consistency play a huge role in creating an event your guests will remember. Also, adding unique décor touches such as art installations or experiential food stations will enhance your guests’ experience and will make your event memorable. 

You will attract the right audience when your event has a strong message and clear concept. Then, make room in the budget. Most keynote speakers or big-name entertainment comes with a price tag, so building that into your budget early on is a critical piece of the planning process. 

Pre-planning is key. The more prepared you can be before the event starts, the better you can troubleshoot or correct hiccups onsite. Also, effectively communicating expectations, timelines, and responsibilities to vendors is critical. But don’t forget to communicate necessary information to your attendees as well.

Kayla Cook, Kayla Cook Events


Advertising in a Pinch

Evan Ernst, founder of Ernst Media in Tacoma, knows how to navigate online advertising. While Facebook and Google business platforms might baffle the rest of us, Ernst has a fool-proof method that will help even the most inexperienced business owners get their story out. — SH

Know your product
Begin by identifying if your product is a physical object that people might search for by name or if it is a service or an answer to a problem your audience might have.

Pick your platform
If your product is a physical object, like a sweater, try starting with a Google Ad. If it is more of an idea or a service best displayed with graphics, try Facebook.

Set up a business page
Both Facebook and Google offer business platforms that allow owners to track and measure the successes of their posts. This is an important step in deciding which type of ads and which platforms work best for your product.

Start small
Experiment with boosted posts first. This will give you a good idea of what works without spending a lot of money. Beginning with a big budget can actually hurt a business owner if they invest a lot of money in a platform that doesn’t end up generating more engagement.

Focus on the differences
When generating content for your ads, focus on what makes your company stand out from the rest. Focusing on difference will ensure that your company doesn’t become white noise to the customer and will help them understand what they are going to get when they purchase your product.

Include a call to action
Always end an ad with a clear direction of what the viewer should do next. Whether it’s calling a number, making a purchase, or visiting a website, always include a call to action, otherwise your post will just become informative.

Measure everything
Be sure to always check back in with your analytics after an ad goes out. Tracking your progress should be the biggest determinate of your next ad strategy.

Ready, Set, Launch

Paul Boyer manages copywriting and strategy for Hemisphere Design & Marketing, a Tacoma-based design and marketing firm. Its specialty? Fusing form and function to make businesses pop while driving customer engagement. Before you launch, read Boyer’s three-step plan for website creation — you’ll thank us later. — SH

Know yourself
Great websites start with great brands. We view branding as a process of knowing your company well — its personality, its products or services, its promise, and its value to customers. Hopefully, you’ve already gone through the important work of making this identity visual through a custom logo and tagline. But if you haven’t, the time to do it is now. A full-service creative agency like Hemisphere Design & Marketing should be able to break your project into two phases, helping you first create a brand, then designing your website.

Know your audience
You have goals for your new website, as you should. But your users also will have their own goals when they arrive at your website. Quality websites are built to serve the goals of your audience. What does your audience want? Take the time to figure it out — the more you understand what your audience really wants and needs, the better your website will serve it.  

Know your options
When it comes to website development, you’ve got two options: template websites or custom web design. The strategists at Hemisphere agree: Custom web design is the right answer for most companies. From the suits we order online to the coffee we buy at our favorite cafes, more things than ever seem to be personalized to the customer … We’ll be the first to admit that a template website may work just fine for some businesses (and some very web-savvy business owners), but for most established businesses trying to stand out in a crowded competitive field, a custom website should be high on the priority list.


Photo Courtesy Holly D’Annunzio

Lessons Imparted and Lessons Learned 

Holly D’Annunzio’s experience offering finance expertise to South Sound investors dates back to her work at Shearson Lehman Brothers in the early 1980s, Frank Russell Company a decade later, and now as the founder of D’Annunzio Consulting in downtown Tacoma, where she and her team offer investment advice to a select group of clients. She discussed some of the mentors she has met, and how their advice helped to shape her career and serve her clients. — TM

Advice from Mentors:

The late Chuck D’Ambrosio, a former professor of finance at the University of Washington, advised me to stay away from investment jobs that were unethical, which I have followed. Also, don’t turn away family members who have disappointed (you) in some big way, but who need you. I have used this advice with family groups whom I advise and have helped them maintain relationships. 

Jack Bogle of Vanguard showed me the benefit of mutual funds being owned by their shareholders rather than banks and investment banks. All the benefits of economy of scale go to the shareholders in the form of reduced fees instead of to the corporate owner. While he was a little disappointed that this approach reduced his personal earnings and wealth over time, it was the right wealth building structure for clients of the firm. 

All the big lessons on portfolio diversification and risk I have learned through many sources — and mistakes — over my career, including former colleagues at Frank Russell Company and George Russell himself. For example, a common misconception is that high risk equals high return. Not true. High risk often means higher losses. You must carefully craft risk levels, including through diversification, to keep from destroying your wealth. 

Finally, my own advice for someone who is trying to save for the future. Due to sickness, age discrimination, layoffs, and automation of jobs, it is harder to keep income as we age. You will most certainly need a quantity of savings to provide for your later years. What spending can you give up now to help that older version of you?

Just Getting Started 

Everyone knows that finances are a vital piece of every company, large or small. So in order to get some tips on this important facet of business (and everyday life!), we got together with Michael Hiller, a senior vice president and regional manager for Columbia Bank. Here’s some advice from his world. — Staff

Q: What tips would you give an entrepreneur looking to start a small business in the South Sound? 

A: The local economy is thriving, and small-business opportunities abound. But, as in any market, so do risks. It is important for anyone starting a new business to assess demand for their proposed products or services, the various costs to meet that demand — from staffing and equipment, to utilities and transportation, to security and insurance — and necessary steps to budget for all identified risks. Risks, of course, vary by business, market and economic cycle. As such, research in concert with a financial services professional who has local expertise is also important. 

Q: So, is that essentially all at the starting point for a new business owner?

A: In reality, business and economic conditions evolve, as do local communities, and so it stands to reason that opportunities and risks continuously evolve as well. Knowing that, it is wise for business owners to regularly assess their growth opportunities, potential setbacks and how their budgets match up with both. Most businesses update their budgets annually, if not more often. 

Q: Most new businesses need loans or lines of credit to get established. What are important criteria to consider when seeking business credit?

A: We recommend forging a close business relationship with your bank. This does not mean that the bank will be your sole source of credit or financial services. But your banker can help build a foundation on fundamental products that every business owner needs as well as increasingly common services such as digital banking. Working off that foundation, your banker can connect you with credit products — and other experts to research and identify the best type of loan and loan structures for you. Often, your bank will have what you need. But if it does not, a good banker will help you identify strong options elsewhere in the financial services arena. 

Q: As the South Sound continues to grow, what trends are you seeing in the area? 

A: One ongoing development that we think is important — and notably positive — for the South Sound is the steady diversification of its economy. Traditional industries such as tourism, healthcare, government services, wood products, and aerospace are fixtures of local activity. But the engines that drive the economy are myriad, and increasingly so, ranging from new forms of agriculture and manufacturing, to nonprofits, to sports and entertainment. The population is growing and diversifying as well, as the sizable and tech-savvy millennial generation accounts for an increasing share of the workforce. Opportunities for small businesses to service these sectors and populations, or capitalize on growth around them, are multiplying, and growth in small business ownership in the region reflects this. 


Intelligence Info from Infoblox 

When Infoblox was looking for the right location to open a new branch, Tacoma was a natural choice, and the company has been growing rapidly over the last year, becoming an integral part of the city’s tech industry. South Sound Business sat down with Director of Cyber Intelligence Sean Tierney to learn more about all things cybersecurity. — OL

On Making a Career Move to Cybersecurity

Cyber Security, at heart, is risk management and auditing. If those two words scare you, cybersecurity probably isn’t as appealing as you think. It’s not a bunch of hackers battling it out in some terminal type-off. It’s about due diligence and preparation for disasters, so that if or when they hit, you have a plan of action.

On Making Security a Priority 

Cybersecurity is overwhelming, scary, and contains a bunch of confusing terms and acronyms. But what’s scarier is your personal information being unknowingly accumulated and used to another’s advantage. Prioritize your security as much as you prioritize your new devices. 

On Putting Personal Data Out There

Get comfortable knowing what information you are sharing, knowingly and unknowingly. And prepare to pay the price, whether that’s for data security, from data loss, or by an AI device that knows you just a little too well. Once your fridge calculates how often you open your freezer, don’t be surprised when your advertisements or shopping recommendations shift toward ice cream or other frozen indulgences. Proactive prevention, preparation, and prioritization are your best tools when it comes to cybersecurity.


Photo Courtesy Anne Jones

A lifelong South Sound resident, Anne Jones has been a trusted real estate agent with her finger on the pulse since 2008. She is the owner of Windermere Abode, a boutique real estate office in Old Town Tacoma. We sat down with her to pick her brain about the state of the local housing market. — ZB

Q: What does 2019 look like for the housing market in the South Sound?

A:  As always, the exact dynamics vary widely by community and even by neighborhood. (As of) late February, we’re seeing inverted supply-and-demand ratios throughout Tacoma (north and south neighborhoods) and incredibly high demand in Spanaway and Parkland. This likely reflects local and out-of-area buyers continuing to move farther out in search of affordable options.

Q: What’s your biggest piece of advice for a first-time homebuyer here?

A: First-time buyers need to be sure they are prepared to make a commitment of five years or more. The appreciation we saw in the last few years has started to slow, so if you purchase with a low down-payment program and then want to turn around and sell in a year or two, you may find yourself unable to break even. Real estate is a cyclical business, so if you can stay put, eventually you’ll see price growth.

Q: Do you have any predictions about the housing market in this area five years from now?

A: It’s an exciting time of growth in Tacoma, but that’s not without challenges. To me, the biggest one is figuring out how to provide affordable housing for our current residents while accommodating the thousands of people moving to Pierce County. This is imperative because I don’t see the influx of buyers slowing.


A Champion for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity 

Shareka Fortier
Photo by Jeff Hobson

The MultiCare Health System has more than 10 hospitals, clinics spanning the entire Puget Sound region, and a staff of more than 20,000 individuals. As the diversity and inclusion program manager for MultiCare, Shareka Fortier is resonsible for making sure those staff members are accepted and supported for their unique differences and patients receive the highest level of culturally competent care. — JK 

Q: The words diversity and inclusion are such broad terms, but what do they mean to you? 

A: When I hear diversity, I think of differences. And a lot of times when we say the word diversity, automatically in our brains we think of racial or ethnic groups. But diversity reaches beyond that. There’s culture, influence, education, sexual orientation, gender, all those things are diversity. Inclusion to me means that everybody matters … (Asking ourselves) how can we let everyone know that we value who they are, their experiences, their beliefs, and that everyone feels comfortable being their authentic self whether they are an employee or a patient? 

Q: MultiCare offers interpreter services, forms in several languages, and provides employees with extensive training in culturally competent care. Were things always this inclusive?

A: Right when I was hired, we had just completed a culturally competent organizational assessment. There was a third-party organization, and they came in to do a thorough assessment of where we are at in regard to cultural competency, diversity, and inclusion. We pulled in focus groups in the community and leaders internally and we found some very interesting things — areas of improvement. 

Q: If another organization came to you and asked how it might mirror MultiCare’s inclusion practices, do you think an assessment such as that would be the first step?

A: Yes. I will say that any organization that is staring up with diversity, inclusion, and equity work, they really need to figure out where they are at before they start building because you want to build appropriately. I was really grateful that when I came on, I had that as a reference. 

Q: What would be the next step in the process?

A: After that, it’s really about your organization having the buy-in from your leaders, your c-suite your human resources department, as well as a lot of other departments. The starting point is really at the top. And making sure you really embed equity and diversity principles into your policies.

Q: How do you engage your leadership in diversity?

A: I can only speak for what we have here, but we’ve been really privileged of having Bill Robertson as our president and CEO. He was once the president and CEO of Adventist Healthcare (in Gaithburg, Maryland), where they have a very robust equity department, and he came on board with the vision. In that situation, we had someone who was passionate about the work. He was our leader, so it all kind of fell into place. But I would say for organizations that don’t have that, they really need it, because I believe that equity should be at the forefront in everything. 

Q: How should an organization engage the community?

A: We have a health equity community advisory board that we just launched in December. And what that consists of is our stakeholders and community members that we partner with on a frequent basis. They come in and they look at the work we are doing, how we are disseminating culturally competent care, and then give us their feedback on what they think is valuable. And if they believe that anything we are doing isn’t appropriate or if we should be going a different direction, they come to the table and they say that. Also, they provide different ways that we can partner and be a better face to the community. We also partner with grassroots organizations … Native American tribes, African American groups, Native and Pacific Islanders, there’s a lot of different organizations that we partner with, and LGBTQ and the Rainbow center.


 Back to School: Is Online Learning Right for You? 

Tonya Drake
Photo Courtesy WGU

Last year, Tonya Drake stepped into the position of chancellor for the online higher education institution that is Western Governors University (WGU) Washington. Since then, she has been doing all she can to get out the good word about earning an online education, whether that word is accessibility, affordability, or flexibility. — OL 

Q: What advice would you give people who are considering furthering their education through an online university?

A: I want to encourage individuals to be bold and to disrupt themselves. The best way to do that is to further their education, wherever that may be. Of course, I’m an advocate for WGU, but a higher education degree really opens up the doors for opportunities to those who pursue it. Be bold, disrupt yourself, and consider higher learning.

Q: Some professionals don’t have time to take classes in person — how does online learning allow for that work and study flexibility?

A: Our model fits the lifestyle of a working adult. Competency-based models keep learning at the center, where learning is the constant, and time is the variable. As soon as a student can demonstrate competency, she can move on to the next courses. If you are an individual who has worked in the accounting field, but didn’t have your credentials as a degree, you are likely to move quickly through the accounting courses because you already have competency based on your experience and what you’ve learned on the job.

Q: Who is best suited for learning in an online environment? 

A: Our students are diverse; we have about 38 percent who are first-generation students; about 66 percent are underserved populations; 12 percent are from rural areas in Washington; and 10 percent of our students are military affiliates, which includes active duty, veterans, and their families. Our average age in Washington is 36.

Q: How accessible is an education at an online school such as WGU Washington?

A: We have six-month terms. Individuals can start any month of the year, and through that six-month term, they can take as many courses as they can demonstrate competency through, and just pay one tuition rate, which is about $3,500. So, within a year, for about $7,000, an individual can get through a large number of courses in that time period. It’s very affordable, and there are very low debt rates for schools like WGU. 

From the Classroom to the Real World 

Rachel Endo would have never even considered entering the world of higher education, had she never been on the receiving end of great advice that is applicable in the classroom, but also in life and business. The best advice she has received? “Keep showing up.” — OL

On Leadership:

The reason I made it this far in leadership is because of how many people reminded me that you can be a leader not out of your own self-interest, but out of a sense of social responsibility. A good leader should always be asking themselves how they can use their position and knowledge to support and advance other people.

On Teaching:

A really good teacher knows who they are. They know and are aware that they are cultural beings that are also learners. Even though they might have an official role as educator or teacher, they recognize that they are also lifelong learners. A good teacher has to know what their values are, and to align their practices and actions with those values even if it’s risky, or even if it’s not very popular. They have to be value-centered, no matter what their values are, and be open to different ways of seeing the world. It’s a balancing act of being very other-focused, but also being very self-aware and critically reflective on one’s own practices.

On Learning:

If you are a student in the world of academia, it’s all about finding mentors who can give you candid advice about some of the challenges people often experience in your field. Try to get as many mentors as possible. In any organization, there’s that culture that can be hard to figure out. Just like society, academia is segregated, and it can be very elitist and exclusionary, so if you’re a student who wants to go into it, they should know about the challenges they might face. Self-advocacy is also very important. You have to keep seeking out your own course, keep showing up, and keep persisting.