Rosemed, CA – “Queng leon queng tigre ecu tatacut, queca pa?” That’s how Mercy Tolentino Steenwyk, a petite native from Lubao, Pampanga, got everyone’s attention when she spoke before a group of young professionals on July 24, at the Southern California Edison employee lounge here during the Asian American Professional Association’s ‘Create Your Own Future’ Speaker Session #3. Pampanga warriors’ motto means ‘I fear neither lions nor tigers, why should I be afraid of you?’
Mercy shared her lessons in courage, after facing numerous rejections; perseverance, after doors closed on her and nay-sayers confronted her; and lessons in humility. She shared five critical strategies to create your own future: (1) Know who you are, your deep driving desire, your passion, and purpose. (2) Focus on the big picture, which holds everything together. (3) Never stop learning and embrace a growth mindset that helps you to meet each challenge and keep going. (4) Surround yourself with inspiring people. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. And (5) Have faith in yourself and believe in your purpose.
Born in Lubao, ‘a sleepy town in the Philippines,’ Mercy earned her degree in Journalism from the University of the Philippines. She wrote art reviews for the local paper before traveling throughout South East Asia, and came to the United States as a young professional. Though her career in art journalism morphed into PR and, later, an entrepreneurial venture, “my love for the arts remains,” she noted.
She says she draws inspiration from her home country. “The bright and vivid colors along with tribal aesthetics reference not only my Filipino heritage but the history of my culture as a whole.” Her work intertwines portraits with bold abstract shapes to explore the notion of time and the human condition. Drawn to tell the story of those who may not be allowed to speak for themselves, Mercy’s work looks to give a voice to those without one.
Mercy Tolentino Steenwyk, 3rd from left, with AAPA Program Director Lia Andika and Program Manager Freya Nishimura; daughter Emily Steenwyk, sister Daisy Walworth and AAPA president Francis Cheung; back row: Steve Walworth and Howard Steenwyk. Photo by Lydia V. Solis.
In the early 1990’s Mercy was determined to create her own future against very low probability: she’s not an engineer; she’s not a lawyer; and she doesn’t even have a business degree. She had no capital and had a young family to support; and her friends discouraged her from starting a business, advising her: “You’re a minority woman in a male-dominated industry.”
But Mercy believed in herself. “I had the passion and purpose, and faith,” she asserted, “and I welcomed the challenge, remained resilient and had a growth mindset.” She went on to build one of the leading expert and consulting service companies in the nation.
Mercy Tolentino Steenwyk is the founder, president and CEO of ForensisGroup. The adjective forensic, according to vocabulary.com, comes from the Latin word forensis, which means ‘in open court’ or ‘public.’ “I founded the California expert resource group in 1991, with just ten engineers,” she narrated. “Today, the firm boasts over 3,000 consultants and experts in hundreds of technical and scientific disciplines.” ForensisGroup’s mission, Mercy expounded, is “to bring the best minds together to uncover the truth when something has gone wrong and then, ultimately improving people’s lives and making the world a safer and better place.” She has grown her nationwide expert and consulting firm into a multi-million dollar business, earning close to $10 million in sales in 2016. Such success has been noticed by private and public firms across the nation, including 98 of the top 100 law firms in Los Angeles, having all contacted ForensisGroup for its particular brand of quality, service, and expertise.
ForensisGroup has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Women-Owned Businesses and Top Minority-Owned Businesses in Los Angeles for the past several years. While the company has made Los Angeles its home for more than two decades, its services now stretch far beyond the city and it serves over 15,000 clients in 20,000 litigation cases nationwide.
But it’s not all business for Mercy, who was one of the top Five Finalists in Women Making a Difference in Los Angeles. The success of ForensisGroup has provided opportunities with which Mercy and her company help the community. She serves on the board of directors for the American Red Cross in the San Gabriel Pomona Valley Chapter and is a Community Boardmember of Youth Business Alliance. “My mission,” she declared, “is to educate as many children as possible and to challenge business leaders to drive their companies with a higher purpose. The daughter of educators from Davao, who believes that the best gift for children is education, runs the ForensisGroup Give Back Program which through Empowerment through Education provides scholarships to 50 students and “we have graduated teachers, engineers, and vocational people through the years.” The program also provides meals to malnourished children two times a week in the Philippines and supports other causes. “We’re partners with the American Red Cross,” she added, “and we raised close to $30,000 for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan by matching various donations.
“She inspires me everyday,” says daughter Emily, who is a teacher. “She’s a loving mother and I trust her as my mentor. She’s always pushing me to give back for the greater good. More than ever, I’m inspired to create my own future.”
The Asian American Professional Association (AAPA) is a non-profit organization committed to addressing the diverse talent challenge in corporate America. AAPA focuses on inspiring, developing and promoting Asian American professionals and minorities to maximize their leadership potential. For over 17 years, according to Freya Cruz-Nishimura, more than 75 passionate AAPA mentors have delivered the award- winning AAPA mentoring program to over 1100 mentees. AAPA’s programs include one-on-one mentoring and effective leadership and management training through speaker sessions, workshops, and special networking events.