Donna Fujimoto Cole:
Business, and Philanthropy
DONNA FUJIMOTO COLE is President and CEO of Cole Chemical & Distributing, Inc, which she founded in 1980. At this time, she was divorced with a four year old daughter and only $5000 in savings. Cole Chemical now has revenues over $85 million. The company provides chemical sales and chemical supply chain management solutions to many different companies, including Bayer Material Scientific, BP America, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Lockheed Martin, Proctor & Gamble, Shell, Spectra Energy, and Toyota.
Donna currently serves on several advisory boards, including the Board of US Japan Council, the Advisory Board of Women Energy Network, and the Center for Asian Pacific American Women Board. She serves on two university advisory boards, the University of St. Thomas’ Advisory Board and Rice University’s Chao Center for Asian Studies. She is also on the advisory board for The Women’s Home and the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council Board and Executive Advisory Board.
When Donna is not running her business or serving on the many boards she is a part of, she is devoting much of her time to giving back to the community. She has worked on many projects, including Building a Pipeline for the Sciences, The All Earth Ecobot Challenge, Dismantling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline, and Building a Leadership Pipeline for Asian Women. She is also the co-founder of Pantheon of Women. This production company’s mission is to use the stories of strong women in television and film to combat negative perceptions and stereotypes of women, change the way men treat women, and provide good role models to empower women and young girls to make positive change.
In recent years, Donna has received several awards and commendations. In 2009, she was inducted into the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame and recognized as a Junior Achievement Laureate. She was also named one of Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women by Houston Woman Magazine. In 2013, she was mentioned in the Top 10 Minority Owned Businesses in Houston by the Houston Business Journal and was selected as a Who’s Who of Asian Americans. In 2014, she received recognition from The Japanese Ministries of Foreign Affairs for her work bridging relations between the US and Japan.
CKW: What was it like in the early days of founding Cole Chemical & Distributing?
Donna Cole: It was difficult being a young divorced mother and managing travel. Thank goodness for my parents and friends who helped me take care of Tami. I had customers who understood that I could not visit them until summer time, when Tami could stay with my parents. I was so fortunate to have customers that provided me with opportunities to do business with them, and they even provided early payment terms to help me with cash flow.
CKW: What kept you motivated?
DC: Knowing that I had to put a roof over our heads and food on the table since I was not receiving child support, and I had to learn, do more, and be better than others at responding to quiries, making deliveries on time, keeping people informed, and finding product when it was in short supply.
CKW: What would you say contributed to your success?
DC: I would not be where I am today if it were not for great mentors and sponsors in the last 35 years. From the beginning, they told me to go a head and start my own business, provided me with engineers on chemical trans-loading projects, taught me what they knew about quoting, selling, and shipping barges and tank cars, and even produced letters of credit.
CKW: How is Cole Chemical & Distributing, Inc. different from other chemical distribution services?
DC: With our staff, supply chain management optimization tools, and technology, we practice and stress two-way communication, process improvements, and efficiency with savings, in regards to total cost of ownership of chemicals and related products, in order to deliver real value to our customers.
CKW: What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?
DC: This is a great time to start your own business. There are so many opportunities with technology: building new apps, seeing where there is a need for services, etc. Interest rates are low, social media can propel your ideas quickly, and raising money on social media and even working from home is acceptable. Areas of growth include beauty care, health care, recreation, and aging. Even for independent film makers, this is a time of change in the distribution and theatrical release of movies, because of the increasing use of video on demand.
CKW: What would you say makes a good leader and role model?
DC: My employees will tell you that a great boss is honest, fair, good humored, a good listener, leads by example, and helps others succeed. I agree with them, and I think a good leader leads at life’s boundaries, because it takes vision to be in the right place at the right time. A role model is someone that is consistently held in high regard for being ethical, caring, and compassionate.
CKW: How do you find a balance between business and philanthropy?
DC: In terms of my time, of course family and business are a priority, followed closely by philanthropy, community service, and “me” time. I do use up all of the hours in the day on these areas, with some time for sleep, 6 hours, and 1 to 2 hours of TV, movie, or book entertainment. It really is about scheduling what you want to do and then handling the priorities as they pop up, rather than balancing them all.
CKW: What social concerns are you most passionate about?
DC: I am passionate about business, education, health care, and growing great leaders to raise the quality of life for all. If we could provide for free education from birth through four years of college or vocational school and health care until 22 years of age, I believe this country would be number one in many areas and have a thriving economy in the world.
CKW: Tell us more about Pantheon of Women. Why have you chosen to create this production company?
DC: We want to mentor millions of people through our movies. We want to entertain, engage, and empower women and girls to make positive changes for themselves, their families, and their communities, and to even change the world. The Dali Lama said, “It will be the western woman who helps save the world.” I want to be a part of that movement. We have to tell great stories about strong women with supportive men to change the way men and boys perceive and treat women and girls, as well as changing how women and girls perceive themselves.
CKW: What achievements has Pantheon of Women made?
DC: Pantheon of Women is one of the producers of I Dream Too Much, a movie about three generations of women and friends that shows how people can help others achieve their dreams, that some dreams get filled late in life, and that we can learn from the younger and older generations. It’s a heart warming story with Diane Ladd, Eden Brolin, Danielle Brooks, and Christina Rouner, written and directed by Katie Cokinos, and executive produced by Rick Linklater. We are making the film festival circuit now.
We fund films and documentaries that need to been seen to help make positive change. Some screenings in Houston have been I AM, Miss Representation, directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom and headed by Geena Davis, Girl Rising, Where Hope Grows, Iron Jawed Angels, and The Mask You Live In.
CKW: What do you hope for Pantheon of Women’s future?
DC: I hope that when people see that Pantheon of Women has a movie coming out they feel the need to gather their friends and family members to go to the movies, buy the DVD, or watch it on TV, since our brand is about inspiration and empowerment.
CKW: What films are currently being backed by Pantheon of Women?
DC: We have a script now that is phenomenal. It is a historical fiction about the young life of Cathy Williams surviving during post-civil war time as the only African American woman in the Buffalo Soldiers. It is written by Sarah Bird, who is the Texas Writer of the Year. The movie is an action-packed drama with intrigue, suspense, and romance.
CKW: What would you like your audience to learn from this movie?
DC: I hope when people see Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen they will realize that even though Cathy lived in a time when there was little hope for survival, she found her inner strength and did the unthinkable to not only just survive, but to thrive. Even when pushed to the lowest point in her life, Cathy found a way to be a highly respected woman who overcame many obstacles.