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  • Valerie Schmidt BA ’94

Valerie Schmidt BA ’94

Valerie Schmidt, a respected financial advisor in Hawai‘i, knows the technical aspects of finance and investing inside out. But to her, the art of money management is personal. She’s become a master at fleshing out the ingrained habits, attitudes, and motivations that mold her clients’ relationship with money.

“They sometimes joke that I’m their marriage and family counselor,” says Schmidt. “I’m great in a crisis, always calm in the midst of chaos.”

An independent franchisee with Ameriprise Financial Services in Honolulu, Schmidt is also a dynamo community advocate. She serves as president of the Organization of Women Leaders in Hawai‘i (which named her Business Woman of the Year in 2015). She’s also president of the nonprofit Bella Project, which promotes self-confidence, individual beauty, and diversity by providing prom dresses, accessories, and makeup free of charge to underprivileged high school students. An accomplished woman who celebrates her own femininity, Schmidt competed in her first pageant in 2004, winning the title of Mrs. Hawai‘i. Over the next 10 years, she continued to compete and earn other national and international titles.

When she was 17 years old, Schmidt left Hawai‘i to study at Lewis & Clark, where she soon began sharing the food and customs of her beloved home state. “Lots of people from Hawai‘i like to listen to music, dance, and eat sticky rice with spam and kalua pork,” she says. Schmidt and other students from Hawai‘i began serving food from their personal rice cookers to their peers at events like Hawai‘i Night. Later, she enlisted the help of Bon Appetit food services (where her now husband Tony Schmidt BA ’93 worked) to cook up enough Hawai‘ian cuisine to feed the large crowds at L&C’s International Fair.

While at Lewis & Clark, Schmidt majored in business administration and minored in East Asian studies. During her junior year, she studied abroad in Sapporo, the capital of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. “Being of mixed race—Japanese, English, and Irish—I dove deep into my Japanese heritage.” She found that work in East Asian studies helped broaden her perspective, especially her love of art.

Schmidt also learned valuable lessons about philanthropy. In 1992, she participated in the Pamplin Challenge to raise money for the college. Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. ’64, ’65, ’66—life trustee, philanthropist, and fitness promoter—pledged contributions based on students’ ability to complete a series of physical challenges.

“The way I approach nonprofit work is tied directly to the Pamplin Challenge,” says Schmidt, who has established an annual scholarship program based on community service at her former high school. “It made me realize that merely donating money isn’t fun. The enjoyment comes from tying community participation to donations.”

A year after graduation, Schmidt headed home to Hawai‘i. Because she’d been one of a handful of women in her business classes at Lewis & Clark, she was not intimidated working and competing in the male-dominated world of finance. “In Hawai‘i, and in many Asian cultures, women control the checkbook while men do most of the investing,” says Schmidt. “I work hard for gender balance, encouraging couples to blend those responsibilities.”

Because family is also a top priority, Schmidt strives for a fluid work-life balance. “I’m my own boss, so I can adjust my schedule to be available for my husband and 15-year-old son, Hunter,” she says. “Nurturing my family and community, as well as my clients, makes life more rewarding.”

—by Pattie Pace

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