When you ask Josie Thompson about her career path, she starts with her family. She first came to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1971, when she was 11 years old. Her father had attended a private school run by Jesuit priests in the Philippines, where he found a mentor who told him he should bring his family to the United States.
“At that time in the Philippines, there was a huge divide between the rich and the poor,” explained Thompson. “My dad didn’t like the social inequality. He was an entrepreneur and, at that point, there was a lot of corruption in the country.”
Her father — who has since passed away — came to the U.S. in 1969, then sent for his wife and five children. Thompson not only had to cope with the usual preteen angst related to growing up, she also had to adjust to tremendous cultural change.
In the Philippines, her family lived in a much smaller space but also had a lot more domestic help. “I had never been alone in a room by myself,” Thompson recalled. “There were maids; I had never even tied my shoes by myself. That’s the age where, as a kid, you are trying to find yourself.”
Thompson’s parents — both college graduates and both having been entrepreneurs in the Philippines — also were in the process of adjusting to a life in the United States. “When they came to the U.S., my mom and dad started from scratch,” she said. “My dad got a job as an accountant, working for various companies, and his last job was for the finance department of Georgetown University.”
Her father continued to travel back and forth from the U.S. to the Philippines, and Thompson had always assumed she’d attend college in the Philippines. “I thought it wasn’t something I needed to worry about,” she said. “I was a good student, but I didn’t know much about taking the SATs or PSATs because, out of a bunch of entrepreneurs in the family, I assumed I’d be taking over a family business. When my grandmother died in the Philippines, we started going back slowly to the Philippines. We had to do it in stages because we were all at different stages of school.”
But when she was a senior in high school, her parents decided to stay in the United States. “I was stuck,” she said. “I had to worry about college, and this was at the end of my senior year. I hadn’t applied for anything.”
She met with her guidance counselor at Sherwood High School in Montgomery County, and tried to apply for last-minute scholarships. She ended up attending Montgomery Community College — on a full scholarship offered by the Sandy Spring Lion’s Club. Always fond of drawing, Thompson enrolled in the graphic design program.
Working for Herself
After earning a two-year community college degree, Thompson began to look at four-year colleges, following the lead of a close friend. After choosing East Carolina University, she earned a degree in graphic design, working during the summers to pay her tuition.
Her first job was for an ad agency in Bethesda, then she worked for a firm in Rockville, where she stayed for a decade as a graphic designer. After having two children with her husband, an electrical engineer, the family moved to Howard County and she gradually began working for herself, creating Josie Designs, her current company.
She also became increasingly involved in the community. While graphic design remains her bread and butter, she held leadership roles within the Baltimore Washington Chamber of Commerce and also started an initiative with her colleague, Rhonda Tomlinson, called Support for Success (SFS), to help fellow entrepreneurs.
This, in turn, branched into SFS Travel, another entrepreneurial endeavor with the goal of planning unique trips for niche groups. She is on the board of the Howard County Concert Orchestra, as well as the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center, currently housed in the Langston Hughes Community Center in Baltimore. She also serves as president of the Filipino-American Organization of Maryland.
Thompson said she tends to get involved in efforts that give hope to the next generation. “I just want young kids to know the opportunities,” she said.
At 57, she has many goals and a great deal of energy to accomplish them. Her mother, now in the Philippines and still running a family business, is part of her inspiration. “She’s 82 and at the point where she loves to share her age,” laughed Thompson. “She does everything.”
Thompson is also a black belt in karate. In July 2016, she was on a women’s team that competed against 18 other countries at the World Organization of Martial Arts Athletes World Martial Games XVI, held in Essenbach, Germany.
“I came out with two golds and a silver [medal],” she said. “Being part of an all-women’s team means a lot to me. When I reluctantly went to my first competition, I noticed that there were not many women in the room. So I wanted to change that. I seem to be moved to support women in many of the things I do.”