Cameron Boyd and Betti Fujikado

Community Connector

After great success in the business of advertising, Betti Fujikado turns her energies to reversing racism and fusing communities

Cameron Boyd and Betti Fujikado

Betti Fujikado (BA 1977) is a dynamo for positive change. A Japanese American whose parents were incarcerated during World War II, Fujikado rose to co-found—and lead as CEO for 23 years—the award-winning Seattle advertising agency Copacino Fujikado.

More recently, Fujikado helped establish Success Cohorts, a community building organization that provides coaching to first-generation college graduates. A longtime community leader, she also helped launch the Democracy Cup with Seattle Unite, a coalition of sports and cultural organizations encouraging communities of color to participate in the 2020 census and election. And, in response to escalating anti-Asian hate during the COVID-19 pandemic, she co-created the oral history project “Our Stories Are Your Stories” (#OSAYS), in partnership with Wing Luke Museum.

Fujikado has been named a Junior Achievement of Washington Hall of Fame Laureate, a Puget Sound business Journal Woman of Influence, an American Advertising Federation WA Silver Medalist and one of the 50 Outstanding Asian Americans in Business by the Asian American Business Development Center. She received the Foster School’s 2022 Distinguished Leadership Award and has served as an MBA mentor for many years.

Recently, Fujikado discussed her career and lifelong work to reverse racism and build community with recent Foster Evening MBA grad Cameron Boyd (MBA 2022), a talent management specialist at The Boeing Company who performs with the Seahawks Dancers on the side. Here is an edited excerpt of their conversation.

Cameron Boyd: What was your childhood like?

Betti Fujikado: I grew up in an idyllic, middle-class, Japanese American family in Skyway, Washington. As the second oldest of four daughters, I took the role of feisty and competitive. I wasn’t competitive with other people, but definitely always wanted to do my best to make my parents proud. My grandparents immigrated from Japan in the early 1900s. My elementary school experience included teasing about having slanted eyes and hearing things like “shoot that Jap” and “stay away from her, she’s the enemy.” My classmates’ parents had been a part of the war and my parents had been incarcerated under Executive Order 9066 at Camp Minidoka. It was hurtful and confusing for a six-year-old. I’m grateful to my family and sisters for providing a place of love and support. No one was going to mess with the Fujikado sisters! My competitive nature made it so that even if hurt, it wouldn’t break me.

What kind of impact did this incarceration have on you and your family?

My parents’ outward reaction to incarceration was typical of many Japanese Americans in that they encouraged us to “work hard, put your head down, and don’t rock the boat.” They didn’t talk to us about those years until our adulthood.

After returning from the war, although my father was able to attend college on the GI Bill, he had difficulty finding a job, and my parents were often turned down for housing. Discrimination certainly didn’t end with the war. I graduated from the Foster School of Business and became a CPA for PwC. My parents were proud of me but a little worried I was overreaching. As my mother said once, “I’m impressed with what you’ve accomplished, but never expected you to achieve all this.”

I think the incarceration is what caused a desire to stay off the radar. My viewpoint is very different—we need to talk about it, reflect on its significance, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I support and admire a nonprofit called Densho that has captured the stories of Japanese American elders who were unjustly incarcerated. Densho is a Japanese term meaning “to pass on to the next generation” or to leave a legacy.

Interestingly… I’m also of an age that was in the second wave of feminism, the Civil Rights Movement, and Title IX passed in my senior year of high school. It was an interesting mix of life experiences that influenced who I am today.

After starting your career as a CPA, how did you end up in advertising?

When I was young, my mother did illustrations for Nordstrom. I would watch her do this beautiful work and think I wanted to do that, too. I entered the University of Washington as an art major, but, as I say when asked why I didn’t stick with it, I just wasn’t talented enough. Luckily, I found the Business School—a place to belong and I discovered my fascination with business.

I have a philosophy of being “open to” and my 20s and 30s were spent being open to a variety of business opportunities from startups to turnarounds to companies going public. This included technology, retail, service and consulting with roles from controller to CEO. I believe—maybe because I’m a late bloomer—that your 20s and 30s are a time of exploration. Then I got married at 40, had twin daughters at 41, and started the advertising agency, Copacino Fujikado, at 42. It was a busy three-year span.

I had 20+ years of business experience and my talented partner, Jim Copacino, was a lifelong, award-winning advertising creative. We thought it was a great opportunity, and differentiating, to partner a business strategist with a renowned creative. For 23 years we enjoyed a successful ride, working with incredible clients like Seattle Mariners, Seattle Children’s, REI, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Seattle Aquarium, among many others. We shared an office all those years, fought like brother and sister, but always knew our values and beliefs were in alignment. I’m incredibly grateful to Jim. We sold the agency in 2020—to our own executives—and it became my opportunity to pay it forward to serving my communities with whatever skills that I’ve gained over 40+ years working.

How are you doing that today?

I started Success Cohorts with Carla Corkern in late 2020. We provide coaching and community building for early career individuals from historically underserved communities. Our intent is to help level the playing field for early career individuals from diverse backgrounds. Direct action programs like this are important to achieving the JEDI (justice, equity, diversity and inclusion) dream.

A community for me is where we feel like we belong... I encourage everyone to think of their communities and how they can more actively engage in them.

-Betti Fujikado

In the fall of 2020, working with form King 5 journalist Mimi Gan, I co-founded the Democracy Cup, a campaign to encourage Seattle communities of color to participate in the census and election. Seattle Sounders FC, Seattle Mariners, Seattle Kraken, Seahawks, Storm and OL Reign players and broadcasters were featured as they talked about the impact the Census and voting can have in our local communities.

In May 2021 and 2022, #OSAYS brought forward the personal stories of the AANHPI (Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander) community. It started in April 2021 when four API friends and I shared Zoom space to express our feelings of frustration and anger at the Asian hate rhetoric. We were emotionally charged by the targeted murder of Asian-American women in Atlanta and the resulting stereotypical coverage. We wanted to do something. So, in five weeks, we put together a campaign to send out into the world to express humanity in the face of animosity. This year, we highlighted a significant number of AANHPI women to combat the racism, sexism and hyper-sexualization of Asian women. These are badass women doing amazing things in areas like the arts, music, and healthcare.

I admire the way that you invest so much time and energy into righting the wrongs of systemic oppression. How does establishing a sense of community combat hate and violence?

A community for me is where we feel like we belong. I believe if I sit down with anyone in this city, I can figure out what our shared community may be and how we share space there. If we find that shared community, we can establish a shared trust that starts us on the path of a productive conversation. There may be things we violently disagree on, but we’ll get to those later. Let’s establish that place of commonality first and then let’s keep talking. I encourage everyone to think of their communities and how they can more actively engage in them.

Why is mentorship so important to you?

Mentorship should provide a safe environment where you feel supported, learn, and can seize opportunities. Mentorship for those from historically underrepresented communities is my passion. It’s my small part in leveling the playing field to achieve our goals of JEDI.

I hired a lot of young people at the advertising agency, partially because of the freshness and diversity of perspectives that young people bring. It can be a challenging transition from school. During the school years, classes to take are known, grades exist to show achievement, and rubrics provide the measurements for success. That doesn’t exist in the workplace.

While companies post about their commitment to hiring a diverse workforce, I challenge them to provide direct actions for individuals from historically underrepresented communities to decode the workplace and find trusted places to belong. You asked me about what it was like growing up to be the child of parents who were incarcerated during World War II. It was very hard as I started my first job. I had been protected in my Japanese household and didn’t share the same experiences of the majority of my co-workers. I didn’t even understand what a happy hour was. It was a foreign concept to ask for a promotion or raise. I would watch people who were a lot more savvy getting promotions and attention. I just didn’t understand how it all worked.

I started Success Cohorts because I believe that the cohort structure of like-experienced individuals helps us belong, trust, feel safe, and begin the learning of working together as a group to solve problems.

Ed Kromer Managing Editor Foster School

Ed Kromer is the managing editor of Foster Business magazine. Over the past two decades, he has served as the school’s senior storyteller, writing about a wide array of people, programs, insights and innovations that power the Foster School community.