Before he was 30, Anson Wong had already run his own ad agency, and he had gone on to be marketing manager of a profitable savings and loan in Tucson, Ariz. "I was doing well," he recalled, "and I was aspiring to my boss' position."
But the savings and loan merged with a larger institution, and Wong was out of a job. Like many ambitious young executives in his generation, Wong had climbed fast in the corporate world and suddenly found himself set adrift.
Wong took a job in the marketing department of Tucson's daily newspapers. Meanwhile, his wife Sharon Wong gave up a school teaching career in Tucson to start a newspaper geared to elementary school children. As the paper was growing, so was Anson Wong's values were changing.
"When I helped Sharon with the paper, my job became less important. And I was getting tremendous satisfaction from doing the art work and the design for my wife," said Wong, now 36.
Wong left his job in 1983 and the couple became partners, sharing ownership and the title of publisher of Bear Essential News for Kids, which has become a monthly newspaper distributed at no cost to 340,000 elementary school students.
Bear Essential, which Sharon Wong started in Tucson in 1979, expanded to Phoenix in 1981, and last fall the couple moved the company's main operation to Irvine and began publishing editions for Orange County children. The Wongs say they hope to expand as early as next year into parts of Los Angeles.
"The growth has been part of my motivation," said 37-year-old Sharon Wong. "My goal was always to have an affect on others. As a school teacher, I affected people, and publishing the paper I started reaching that many more kids."
"It was a risk. But it was a service that seemed to make so much sense," she said. "I think we went about it as something we wanted to do, not as the basis for a business."
The Wongs, who manage a staff of more than 20 in three cities, spend a great deal of time commuting between California and Arizona. In addition to overseeing operations, they help write copy, sell ads and distribute papers to schools.
"When I was at the savings and loan, I was comfortable. I thought I never wanted to be in business independently again. I was entirely motivated by the finance industry and the people in it and it felt good," Anson Wong said. "When it ended, I didn't want it any more."