After 20 years in finance, how one woman found her passion project
Posted August 30
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Chapel Hill resident Jeanhee Hoffman spent 20 years of her career working in finance. But when it opened in June 2016, Hoffman says she finally discovered her true passion and purpose through founding Gigi’s Playhouse Raleigh, the local chapter of the Gigi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center.
The national organization offers free therapeutic and education programming for people with Down syndrome and their families to help “change the way the world views Down syndrome."
Hoffman, who still works in finance, was inspired to open the nonprofit because her brother has Down syndrome.
“The families that I have met and the impact we have made in such a short amount of time is just amazing, and it’s brought me so much joy,” she said. "Every family reminds me of my family, so there is such a personal connection."
In its first year of operating, the organization has served 478 local families, Hoffman said.
“I so wish there had been something like this for my brother years ago," she said. "But at least there is something now.”
Hoffman works at a small Chicago-based money management company that she commutes to regularly from her home in Chapel Hill. Her formal title is vice president of marketing, but she says she “wears a lot of hats” at the firm.
Having spent 20 years with the same company, she said it is energizing to throw herself into her passion project, Gigi's Playhouse on nights and weekends.
“My husband will tell you I’m up late,” she said. “I’ve raised two boys, too. I have a lot of energy, and I do what my heart wants me to do.
“But Gigi’s has really become a passion of mine to stay up late and work hard.”
WRAL sat down with Hoffman to discuss how she balances her career in finance, passion for Gigi’s Playhouse and family life.
This conversation has been edited for clarity:
WRAL: How important is having a supervisor who understands your commitments outside your job?
JH: I’ve been very fortunate with my boss, and having been with him as long as I have been, I am very comfortable telling him about this nonprofit work that I was doing. If he was not going to be supportive, looking back, I think I would have had to leave.
I’m 47 years old, and the money does help, but my husband even told me, "If your boss isn’t going to support you, and you have finally found your passion at 47 years old, then go for it."
It would have been hard to leave my employer after so long, but my passion is honestly not in finance or that company, and my boss knows that.
WRAL: How important is it for women to find something they are passionate about?
JH: This is something I’ve been talking to my son about as he enters college. I am second generation Korean-American, and my parents are very traditional, so all they cared about was grades starting in kindergarten. My parents are very educated, so that was definitely a priority. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin’s business school with a degree in finance. So in college I was encouraged only to study. So exploring different interests is something I’m encouraging my son to do.
I was fortunate to get a job in finance, but honestly my heart was not in it.
But the reality is, if you find something you enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work. And that is possible. That’s what Gigi’s is for me.
WRAL: What are important qualities to bring into your career?
JH: Communication and networking are so very important. They are important skills to have, and they can make the greatest difference. Be genuine, and people will recognize that. That’s the greatest compliment I get from people. I know my audience, and that makes a difference when I am communicating with people. Open communication with your supervisors is crucial.
WRAL: Have you run into any roadblocks in your career because you are a woman?
JH: Fortunately for me, I don’t think I’ve run into that. I was my boss’s first employee to go on maternity leave, and he gave me three full months.
But I do know others in my firm may feel a bit differently. A few of our associates that were male and female both got master’s degrees, and as supportive as he has been for me, my boss definitely recognized those male associates for getting their master’s. And the female associates didn’t get any recognition as far as pay and promotions. I don’t think my boss did it intentionally, but he’s part of the “old boys’ club.” He’s in his mid-60s. When my male co-worker got his, there was definitely an immediate bump up, and the other associate had to wait for her evaluation.
There were three females that got their graduate degree, and I would say that was the trend for all of them. We had one male get his graduate degree, and his promotion came pretty quick.
WRAL: Is there something you wish for the next generation of professionals?
JH: I definitely feel I have encountered more discrimination in regards to my ethnicity more so than my gender. I haven’t encountered it in the workplace, but definitely out in the community. Also having a brother with a disability, people can be really judgmental. And that’s my mission through Gigi’s in changing the perception of Down Syndrome. But I think that can be a mission in life.