Mercer Island businesswoman releases new book

For Keiko Kay Hirai, owner of Studio 904 on Mercer Island, running a business has always been more about passion than profit. She believes that small business success comes from investing in people and community, which she calls “social entrepreneurship.”

After 40 years of running her salon, she is sharing her advice for entrepreneurs, women in business and other readers in her new book, “Sheer Determination: Swimming Upstream in a Downstream World.”

Hirai didn’t know a word of English when came to Seattle from Japan at age 11, but she didn’t let that stop her from becoming a leader in the small business world.

She has developed cutting-edge business philosophies, including an employee training program known for helping women, immigrants and refugees, and has served on many small business boards and commissions.

“I’m hoping this book will help young women wanting to succeed and gain confidence,” she said.

Hirai said that when she first started in the salon business in 1976, it was a man’s world, and she had to learn how to stand up for herself. She decided that she would tap into her passion — for learning, helping others and making people feel good — to add purpose to her business, and her life.

“Most of us work hard to make good things happen. We work to sharpen our skills. We put in long hours. We put ourselves out there and do our best to serve others,” she writes in the book. “Yet, it is easy to forget the core values that lie deep within us, waiting to be awakened. It is essential to dig deep and uncover those values. If we don’t make that effort, there is no passion, joy, or purposeful direction to our lives and we end up feeling lost or unfulfilled.”

Hirai’s core values are based on the Kaizen principles of life-long learning in small incremental steps. In addition to “Sheer Determination,” she has written two other books: “Yumi’s Life Lessons,” a collection of stories about her Jack Russell Terrier, and “Keiko’s Journey,” which chronicles her childhood in Japan during World War II.

Neil Ducoff, founder and CEO of Strategies, wrote that “in an industry known for its lack of business sophistication and employee turnover, Kay proves that the right leadership, culture, business skills and best practices can turn ‘just a hair salon’ into an extraordinary, profitable, world-class business worthy of the highest recognition.”

Owning your own business isn’t as easy as one might think, Hirai said. She wanted to document her experiences to remind herself, and others, of the ups and downs of going through the lifelong journey of building a business and the lessons learned along the way. Those who go into business for themselves thinking it’s a “get rich quick” scheme will be disappointed, she said.

She said that after completing a few of the chapters, she couldn’t believe she had done some of the things had written about, and that she wondered if she was “crazy” to take the risks she did.

In the book, Hirai shares stories of her early struggles, from learning English to securing her first bank loan, eventually learning how to create and manage a cohesive team and finally becoming a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Hirai said she was looking for a deeper connection with readers, so her book is interactive, featuring QR codes that link to inspirational videos.

The book will be available on May 11, and a launch event will take place from 5-7 p.m. on May 18 at Island Books. Visit www.KeikoKayHirai.com for an author Q and A and a free sample chapter.

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