How an island girl grew her million dollar company
It is a number’s game.
With only US$12 (T$30.92) to her name, Virginia Toalepai tells us how she became the C.E.O. of one of the most successful construction consultation company in the United States.
From the four corners of her parent’s room, with a mattress as a chair and no desk, she is probably one of the most successful million dollar Samoan business women in the U.S.
She owns and operates World Wide Safety, which is headquartered in Nevada.
World Wide Safety ensures that construction companies are in compliance with laws and they also conduct training, inspections and write programmes and protocols for their registered clients in line with U.S. regulations.
She also owns three hundred productions, which looks at creating opportunities for children to fulfil their responsibilities and expand their horizon.
However, getting to operate a successful business in five different States wasn’t easy. Undergoing a divorce at the time and left with nothing except US$12 to her name, it was definitely a bumpy ride.
“I left with clothes on my back and clothes for my kids in a trash bag and we went right back to my mum and dad,” Ms. Toalepai said.
“I had three kids at that time with only US$12 to my name, no job, nothing.
“I didn’t have any job because the business that we had was left to my ex-husband. I later found a job in the first two to three months, I only had US$500 (T$1,288), which in Las Vegas is very little. ”
It was the knowledge she gained from involving herself in construction inspection with her ex-husband that helped her back on her feet and start her business.
“My first job I got was doing some safety consultation for a company and from there I was able to get my first cheque and went and open up my business.”
Ms. Toalepai said she earned $500 her first month and US$3,000 (T$7,732) her second month, which she used to open her Worldwide Safety company on August 23, 2013.
“From there, I started from my mum and dad’s bedroom, didn’t have any desk, nothing. Even the laptop I had at that time, it was my brother who helped me get the laptop and I made payments to him. My chair was the mattress that didn’t have the spring and my desk for the laptop at that time was a dresser.
“Over there, you had to pay rent, you had to make car payments and you had to pay food and everything. We don’t have plantations like you do here and homes here are free compared to over there. From there I joined the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association and networked a lot.
“I didn’t have any clients at that time. I had to go network and search. The first association that I joined when I went to the first event got me 21 accounts. Right now, we service, employees wise, over 10,000 employees.”
Five years later her business exists in Phoenix Arizona, North California, South California, Las Vegas Nevada, Utah and Pennsylvania servicing more than 10,000 employees and about 150 companies. She has 30 employees of her own.
During one of her recent trips to her island home, she spoke to the business team about the nature of her business and her day to day routine.
“In America a company has to make sure that whoever works for them, they got to make sure they provide proper construction tools. We’re police for constructions and businesses.
“When I created the name and came up with the name of my company in 2013, I had the vision of being the biggest company there is and to be worldwide.
"That’s why as we see, in America alone, we are already in five States, so my vision is to be the biggest safety company not only just the in the States, but expanding to other countries."
Ms. Toalepai said she made US$200,000 (T$515,764) in revenue during her first full year in business, $500,000 (T$1,289,411 million) in 2015, US$1 million (T$2,579,987) in 2016 and an estimated $1.5m (T$3.86m)at the end of last year.
“In terms of expenses, I have offices, rent, electricity, payroll, wages, paper, printer, copy machines, computers, ink, there’s different offices in different states and of course we have miscellaneous like gasoline offered to them. The States itself and the country collects taxes and all of that stuff on top of that. So expenses wise, it’s about $100,000 a month.
“Revenue makes up for the expenses. I try not to disclose how much I have made but just that it’s profitable.”
Ms. Toalepai also highlighted the challenges she encountered.
“One of the challenges I had was construction is a men’s world so having a woman come in there and interfere and try to tell them how to run things is one of the biggest challenges.
“Not only that, I am young compared to all of them. A lot of them challenge my knowledge. I mean you’re talking about someone who’s never picked up a hammer and hammer a nail and here I am coming in to tell them how to do their work.”
Ms. Toalepai adds the solution was: “I go to work every single day. Even now that my company is bigger than before, I still work harder than my employees. I would sleep four hours sometimes, a lot of times. Every single day, including the weekends, this only made me smarter and deepened my knowledge.”
Ms. Toalepai explained she never borrowed or loaned money from any financial institution or person.
Her advice to women and people who want to enter the construction field: “Construction is more diverse now and it doesn’t have to be men only because there are so many engineers and project engineers who are women. Construction is not a men’s thing, there are so many branches out there that you can involve yourself in. There is so much more than using a hammer.
“Businesswise, if you have the heart, you can have it all. Nothing is impossible.”
About Virginia Toalepai:
Her dad is from Matautu and Fagaloa and her mum is from Vaivase and Saleimoa.
She initially wanted to be a doctor, but destiny had a different plan for her.
“My passion was to be a number one doctor. My passion was to help people. I went to school to be a doctor and I changed careers but my main passion was to help people and protect people,” Ms. Toalepai shared.
“So I end up with having to deal with the same type of mission or safety but in the business or construction role, I got what I wanted and fulfilled what I wanted but it wasn’t as a doctor or it wasn’t anything I planned to have.”
She was basically educated in the islands.
“I was in Samoa in 1982 in Motootua and lived in Matautu, Saleimoa, from Se'ese’e and also Fagaloa. I went to school here at Vaivase Tai Primary School and then to Malifa and then Leiififi and then Pesega was my last year here in 1997 and then graduated here and then I went to the U.S. and finished high school there.
“I attended very little college there and got married and decided to pursue Police Officer and then doctor, then from that to C.S.I., to learning safety that has the same mission of saving lives every day and that’s how I got involved with construction.
“Pretty much my education background was here in Samoa because I only attended two years there and graduated from colleges.”