By Dani Douglass
When Maura Mizuguchi, BBA ‘83, made the decision to earn her accounting degree after thumbing through the help wanted ads in the newspaper, she never looked back. She worked diligently at earning high grades and being involved in extracurricular activities to earn a position at PricewaterhouseCoopers. She successfully landed at the firm and eventually moved to the mainland. Since then, she’s worked at several Fortune 100 companies and is now the chief accounting officer of Cetera Financial Group.
Despite her successful career path, Mizuguchi’s life took a turn when her son, Kapono, was diagnosed with autism at age 5. Initially, she was devastated but after processing and making her way through the stages of grief, she decided that she would speak openly about her and Kapono’s journey. Mizuguchi is no stranger to being in the minority. She's Native Hawaiian and a first generation college student so being frank was nothing she couldn’t handle.
“I realized that the more I spoke about Kapono’s diagnosis and challenges, the more we were understood,” she said. “The more I reached out, the more people seemed to reach back. Referrals, empathy and references to personal experiences emerged, and most surprisingly, people wanted to be a resource and to help.”
Not everyone was receptive though and her openness about Kapono and his struggles in school and in everyday situations was not without rejections and having to rearrange routines. She says that some of his behaviors were so severe that the school district threatened to stop educating him.
“Raising children is difficult, but raising a child with autism is a whole other playing field,” Mizuguchi said. “I wanted to resign from the workforce to tend to my child full-time but that wasn’t financially possible so I had to supercharge my efforts in every aspect of my life and ultimately, that overdrive provided me the opportunity to succeed in my career.”
Mizuguchi says that raising Kapono has caused an internal shift in her as a mother and business executive. Many of the core values that she puts into practice in her career and her leadership style are from her experiences of being a mom to a son with special needs. She says that instead of fixing her child, it was herself she needed to fix.
“I became more flexible, empathic and tolerant of differences,” she reflects. “I learned to practice acceptance and I took a 360° view of everything and realized that everyone has a special need in them. I do and you do. And if you don’t believe you do, then maybe that is your special need.”
Read more in Jane Well's article.