Masters of the Turnaround : “When I lost everything after my apartment burned down, I learned that being a victim was not going to be any help to me” with Tomoko Omori and Jason Crowley
…happiness is determined by your own mind. When I lost everything after my apartment burned down, I learned that being a victim was not going to be any help to me. Wallowing in sadness will do nothing but keep you stagnant. I allowed myself to be upset after the tragedy, but eventually, I made myself think positively and move forward. I changed my mindset, and instead of focusing on the tragedy of the fire, I decided to look at it as an opportunity to start fresh and create a new life for myself.
As part of my series about prominent entrepreneurs and executives that overcame adversity to achieve great success, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tomoko Omori. Tomoko is the president of Go! Go! Curry America. Born and raised in Japan, she came to the United States in 1991 as an aspiring actress and performed in an off-Broadway show. In 1997, she made a career change and began working in Marketing, where she created a free magazine, “Chopsticks NY,” in order to introduce New York to Japanese food and culture. After years of success, she made yet another career change and became the President of Go! Go! Curry in 2012.
Jason Crowley: Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Tomoko Omori: I landed in NYC in 1991. When I graduated from Monterey Peninsula College, I performed in an off-Broadway show.
In 1997, I began working at a Japanese TV station to broadcast MLB games to Japan. I met my husband and stayed at home for a few months, until I began working in advertising for a local community paper for a few years, when I transitioned into creating “Chopsticks NY,” a magazine that introduced Japanese culture and food to New York City.
After much success with the magazine, I was recruited to be a president of the USA branch of fast-casual Japanese Chain restaurant called Go! Go! Curry in 2012.
Crowley: Can you share your story of when you were on the brink of failure? First, take us back to what it was like during the darkest days.
Omori: When I first came on-board at Go! Go! Curry, the company was having financial struggles that I was unaware of. I signed on to open 5 US locations in 5 years, and my plan was to create a franchise system. It wasn’t until presenting my plan to the rest of the executive team that I was told the company was considering filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, meaning the subsidiary company I had just joined would be closed as well. I had many sleepless nights — I was the personal guarantor on the leases for seven locations nationwide that were signed before I was made aware of the financial issues. The company’s debts were over $1.5 million and I felt personally responsible for the employees who would be losing their jobs.
Crowley:What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?
Omori: It was tough, and as I said, I had many sleepless nights. However, I don’t like to think of myself as a victim, ever, and all I could think about was how I could fix the problem. I never break promises, so my only thoughts were about how I could make Go! Go! Curry America stronger, and how I could protect the employees I promised jobs to.
Crowley: Tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and achieve massive success? What did the next chapter look like?
Omori: I never listened to anyone who told me overcoming the adversity was impossible — that was their opinion. People told me it was impossible to overcome the financial struggles, to open multiple locations with no restaurant background — I tuned them out. I opened 5 stores within 3 years, and we are targeting 55 stores by 2022.
Crowley: Based on your experience, can you share a 3 actionable pieces of advice about how to develop the mindset needed to persevere through adversity? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Omori: My first piece of advice is to never say “I can’t,” or “It’s too hard.” I believe in “kotodama,” or the power of language. If you think those negative thoughts, they will come to life. When I first came to the United States, I was constantly saying “I can’t,” or “English is too hard,” to avoid being embarrassed at my lack of language skills. One of my teachers at the acting school I attended told me that if I was never going to try to learn, then I should move back to Japan. That day, I stopped telling myself “I can’t,” and instead, told myself that I believed I could do anything.
My second piece of advice is that happiness is determined by your own mind. When I lost everything after my apartment burned down, I learned that being a victim was not going to be any help to me. Wallowing in sadness will do nothing but keep you stagnant. I allowed myself to be upset after the tragedy, but eventually, I made myself think positively and move forward. I changed my mindset, and instead of focusing on the tragedy of the fire, I decided to look at it as an opportunity to start fresh and create a new life for myself.
My third piece of advice would be to look at your business and those involved as a family. I use the happiness of my employees as motivation to work hard and continue to move forward. We are all working together toward one goal, and we are there to support each other.
Crowley: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Omori: My employees, hands down. Without them, Go! Go! Curry would never have come this far, and I would have never been able to motivate myself to continue moving forward.
Crowley: Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Omori: We are currently working on creating a complete online system for all of our franchisees so that they can focus on the basics when running their location. The system would have videos and manuals readily available, as well as portals for payroll, inventory, reporting, etc. With that technology available, everyone can focus more on our customers and giving them the best service possible.
Crowley: You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Omori: Just smile and say thank you more! Both will bring everyone more happiness — what goes around comes around.
Crowley: Any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share?
Omori: Change your mindset — think positively every day. We as human beings are stronger than we realize and we can continue to push through whatever adversity life may throw our way.
Crowley: How can our readers follow you on social media?
Omori: You can find Go! Go! Curry on Facebook
Crowley: Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.