This is part of a series of profiles on each of our Spirit of Downtown honorees, being recognized at this year’s Celebrate Downtown event on February 25.
When you meet Julia Huang, there are two things you’ll immediately discover: her love for Long Beach, particularly DTLB, is unquestionable but if you try to praise her for her many accomplishments—like taking one of our most famed buildings, the Psychic Temple, from the point of complete dilapidation back to its iconic status—there is a quick dismissal by the wave of a hand and shaking of her head.
”Aside from the fact that we bought a building and renovated it, I just do not feel we’ve done much yet,” Huang humbly said. “It’s not something that deserves recognition yet.”
And what about bringing the world-renown artist collective Pow! Wow! to Long Beach (and with it, a plethora of murals that have turned DTLB into an outdoor museum)?
”In Asian culture, there’s this matchmaker role—y’know, where you do matchmaking for marriage,” Huang explained. “I just feel for Pow! Wow! that you can’t do the matchmaking and take credit for the marriage working well. The matchmaker is matching two things or people that they think work… We knew Pow! Wow! and Long Beach were meant for each other—and we’re excited it worked out so beautifully—but that’s a testament to Long Beach and Pow! Wow!, not me.”
It is this characteristic—a lack of ego, bountiful with humility, frank in her assertions about the power (or lack thereof) of progressive, urban ideals—that has been key to her business acumen. After all, we’re talking about a woman who is not only fluent in Japanese, Mandarin, and Taiwanese and English, but has also tackled a male-dominated world of advertising with the creation of her firm, interTrend Communications, in 1991. With a $50K loan from the now-defunct Northwest Airlines, she gets some $60M (yes, million with an M) in annual billings from names like the Walt Disney Company and Toyota (not to mention a coveted Effie Award, the Oscars of the marketing world). Oh, and her offshoot sister company, Imprint Ventures Lab? It’s the sole venture capital incubator while continuing to host massive names to speak in Long Beach and LA (like Jonathan Gold of the LA Times, Kenya Hara of Muji Global Design and, most recently, renowned artist Sophia Chang).
Perhaps most fascinatingly is the fact that she feels her life’s professional story isn’t about advertising or communications per se; it is, in her words, the tale of talent recruitment.
”People have to love coming to work and if you have people who are not only good at what they do but they love coming to work, you will only see progress,” Huang said. “You’ll see that cutthroat corporate nonsense disappear and you’ll find that these workers are not just working but reconnecting with the community around them.”
That reconnection is key for Huang’s history with Long Beach. Before invading the Psychic Temple, interTrend and its crew were perched high in the sky at the 555 Building—the top floor to be exact. As Huang describes it, the company was “in Long Beach but not in Long Beach.”
”555 was a really great space—we had the whole floor so we had a gorgeous view, but there was no interaction with the city,” Huang said. “We were there for ten years but and it just… Being in Downtown where we are, it changed everything. It’s about caring for where you are; caring for where you are changes the way you offer your services, the way you do business—and it stimulates the way you think.”
It is with this approach that, while Huang dismisses her achievements as just part of her daily meal, brings such strength to her endeavors from the eyes of everyone else. Sure, someone can take Huang’s purchase of the Psychic Temple as an easy one; here was handed a property on the cheap by the City through the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency (RDA). But when the RDA dissolved, so did the $200K promised to her by the RDA to help with the rehabilitation of the building. Give up? No.
interTrend was slated to move in at the end of 2013 but a mixture of the building’s unforeseen deterioration, planning issues, and pricey touches continually pushed back the project—all the way to 2015, when the Psychic Building was finally able to welcome interTrend with open doors (and all the while, swooning Pow! Wow! organizers to come to the city, including bringing James Jean to laser etch a special mural honoring the building’s rich history in a secret library within their offices).
Despite how anyone else views her achievements, however, there will always be Huang’s own perception and that is that there is no need for an honor—yet. That word “yet” is telling: Pow! Wow! is returning—“Unquestionably,” she noted, “it’s in the works”—and the ground floor of Psychic Temple has some promising prospects. But for now, we can relish in what this woman has done to bring DTLB not only closer together, but also make it definitively cooler.
“I won’t sit here and be complacent about where I believe Long Beach can go,” Huang said. “It’s not just your job to up its game; it’s my job. I want to always up the game Long Beach brings not just because I desire it but because I know we can do it.”