Author shares adventures as Singapore exec
To this day, Hilary Corna takes off her shoes before entering her home and bows upon presenting her business card to someone.
She hopes to have children one day, and she wants them to understand why she does these things.
So Hilary Corna wrote a book. It's titled One White Face.
Upon graduating from Elon University in 2007, the Clintonville native and current northwest Columbus resident turned down several job offers, broke off a relationship and bought a one-way ticket to Singapore.
She took along $2,000 and gave herself two months -- or until her money ran out, whichever came first -- to find a job or come back to the United States.
Call it a leap of shinpou, which is Japanese for faith. An enduring attraction to that country was behind the Whetstone High School graduate's decision.
"I was always fascinated with Japanese language and culture," Corna, now 27, said last week.
The result of taking that chance was a period spent as a senior executive with Japanese automaker Toyota in Singapore, some experiences both good and bad that Corna will never forget, and the 296-page book, which was published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
"The title creates a ton of controversy, especially among multicultural people in general," Corna said.
But she said it's a direct quote from an executive vice president with Toyota who, when Corna was introduced to him two months into her career in the Singapore operation, said, "I hope you realize that you're the one white face in the company."
The moment she heard that, Corna said she knew if she ever wrote a book about her bold decision, that would be the title.
Not that she ever planned to actually write one.
"I hate writing," Corna said. "I have unbelievably profound respect for people who (write)."
At Elon, a private liberal arts university in North Carolina, Corna had a double major in international business and Asian-Pacific studies, with a minor in Japanese.
Corna studied in Osaka, Japan, her junior year, and that cemented her desire to work abroad upon graduation -- but not teaching English. She wanted a corporate career.
The decision to forgo offers in this country upon graduation from Elon and instead move to Singapore, without having been able to line up a job, didn't sit well with too many people, Corna said -- certainly not her mother, not her business professors, not even her friends.
No one thought it was a wise move -- except for Corna.
"I knew I wanted to work in Asia," she said.
"I didn't know what country. And then it was just putting in the work, defining what parameters I was willing to put into it and then following through.
"Deep down there was no other option," she said. "This was what I wanted to do."
Things went well at first.
Corna made contacts through the American Association of Singapore and attended various business gatherings, but the job offers were somewhat anemic until she landed the position with Toyota.
"I loved my job with Toyota, absolutely adored it," she said. "As I started to write, my perspective was I didn't really want to forget.
"Looking back, Singapore and Toyota gave me such an experience, it would be almost an insult to forget them," Corna said.
"I was able to maximize my skills as a young, female American."
Her bosses at Toyota, Corna said, "taught me some of the most incredible, deep-rooted management styles that you don't see here in the States often."
"They never give you the answer directly," she said. "Even if it fails, they'll let you fail on the basis that you learned."
Not all was a bed of roses, Corna said.
She encountered age and gender barriers during her time with the automaker, which ended in August 2010.
Corna said she found herself in complete disagreement with the last of three managers she worked for. That, coupled with the birth of the first grandchild in her immediate family, fueled her decision to come home.
Returning to Ohio, Corna said she realized how much she had missed while in Singapore: friends getting married and having children, and the shared experiences that might have been had she stayed in this country.
"I had lived in this world that no one understood," Corna said.
Perhaps people who read One White Face will understand just a bit better, she said.