Northwest News

MIA-ART-DO NOT PUBLISH-Author shares Singapore adventures

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

To this day, Hilary Corna takes off her shoes before entering her home in Northwest Columbus.

She bows upon presenting her business card to someone.

Corna hopes to have children one day, and she wants them to understand why she does these things.

So, she wrote a book -- One White Face.

Upon graduating from Elon University in 2007, Corna, a Clintonville native, 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," said Corna, now 27.

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 her she knew that if she ever wrote a book about her bold decision, that would be the title.

Not, however, that she ever planned to write a book.

"I hate writing," Corna said. "I have unbelievably profound respect for people who do."

At the 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. Rather, 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 much of anybody, Corna said.

Certainly not her mother and not her business professors and not even her friends.

No one thought it was a wise move -- except 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. 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.

"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," Corna said. "Even if it fails, they'll let you fail on the basis that you learned."

Corna has been on a nationwide book tour sponsored by Toyota Motor Sales USA and the automaker's newest hybrid model, the Prius C.

Not all was a bed of roses, Corna conceded.

She encountered age and gender barriers during her time with the automaker, which ended in August 2010.

She found herself in complete disagreement with the last of her three managers.

That, coupled with the birth of the first grandchild in her immediate family, fueled her decision to come home.

Coming home, Corna said she realized how much she had missed while in Singapore -- friends getting married and having children, and just the shared experiences there might have been had she stayed in this country.

"I had lived in this world that no one understood," Corna said.

She said she hopes, people who read One White Face will understand just a bit better.

PHOTO:

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Northwest Columbus resident Hilary Corna speaks about her book, One White Face, to Ohio Dominican University students Sept. 12.

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