Laura McHolm Revels in Surprising People in Good Ways

Aug 7, 2020 | Member Spotlight


Laura McHolm, co-founder, chief marketing officer and chief of organized living of the Los Angeles, California-based NorthStar Moving Company, doesn’t mind a little “shock and awe”—in fact, she revels in surprising people in good ways by doing the unexpected.

She was just 16 when she headed to college. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a BS in Cognitive Neuro-Psychology. After graduating, she taught computer programming on Apple computers at the Lawrence Hall of Science and then worked in marketing at Atari’s computer division. She was Atari’s 14th employee in the marketing department and grew with the company as it grew into a Fortune 500 firm. The company encouraged her to go to law school. She obtained an emphasis in Computer Law at the University of Oxford. During and after law school, she worked at Intel as an intellectual property attorney.

“I kept working in these environments I loved, but felt like I couldn’t create a complete experience for my team members and customers,” Laura says. “I really wanted to be in a service business. I loved the idea of providing great service. I think it’s about taking care of people and making sure they’re really attended to. I looked at the moving industry and there couldn’t have been anything farther from the truth.”

Still, Laura’s partner had a background in moving, and she in marketing. They thought they could create something truly different—and surprising—together. “I liked the shock and awe of it because it was the last thing people would think a person of my background and physical appearance would do,” she says. “I thrive on that stuff where you have to prove yourself again and again.” Laura’s dad and uncle were business owners, too, so she felt like it was in her DNA after watching and learning from them for so many years.

So 25 years ago, she took the leap—leaving the comfort and stability of the Fortune 500 world she had found so much success in to co-found NorthStar Moving—and she never looked back. Today, NorthStar Moving is the largest independent moving company in California and is the go-to mover for A-List celebrities, and other movers and shakers.

Over the years, Laura has helped to set the company apart by introducing innovative, luxury services that provide “the red carpet treatment” to customers. There’s a package that sends goats to clear out brush in backyards, and other packages that provide nannies, dog trainers and feng shui. NorthStar Moving can even pack a home and use photos to put a bookcase, for example, back together exactly how it was; just in a new location.

“Moving was never approached like this before,” she says. “Even if you don’t use any of these services, which quite frankly, most people don’t, you see that we can tailor your experience to anything you need and want it to be.”

Another thing that sets NorthStar Moving apart is its commitment to making the world a better place, starting with the environment. Most of its trucks are biodiesel, which means they use fuel that increases energy security and improves air quality.

Laura also has a passion for giving back. She is chairman of the board for Claire's Place Foundation, started by a young woman with cystic fibrosis to help the families of those battling the disease. She is also involved with Miry's List, an organization that uses crowdsourcing solutions to welcome the arrival of new refugee families into our communities. My Stuff Bags Foundation, as well as several dog rescues have also benefited from this passion.

Every year, for the past eight years, NorthStar Moving has also hosted a community food drive called Let's Send Hunger Packing. This year, when the need is greater than ever, they have teamed with Groundwork Coffee and Compass Real Estate to get the word out about making monetary donations to the L.A. Regional Food Bank (who cannot accept food donations at this time because they cannot bring together volunteers to sort and distribute it). The drive runs through August 13th. Donations are urgently needed and can be made here.

“They are so overstretched,” says Laura. “Prior to COVID, one out of four people in L.A. and one out of five in Orange County would go to bed hungry at night. I guess because I was so horrified that was the truth, I needed to do something about it.”

These efforts have added up to quite a few accolades. Laura was featured in Ladies’ Home Journal as one of 16 women making the world a happier place. She was also named 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Los Angeles Business Journal and Community Leader 2019 by NAWBO-LA. Meanwhile, NorthStar Moving has earned an “A+” rating by the Better Business Bureau and Green Vendor Awards.

Of all the honors, though, Laura is perhaps most proud of the 10 consecutive “Best Places to Work” awards they have received. “It’s a validation that you’re treating your team right,” she says. “I believe if you have a happy team, you’ll have happy clients and then, in turn, you’ll have a happy community.”

Still, her entrepreneurial journey hasn’t been without challenges. The moving industry is so tied to real estate that in the weeks leading up to the 2008 market crash, NorthStar Moving’s phones stopped ringing. “It was to the point that we thought something was wrong with our phones,” she recalls. “We vowed at that point we weren’t going to let anyone go except for cause. We didn’t, which meant tapping into our own personal bank accounts to keep the company afloat despite being advised by our attorneys, bankers, etc. that we were nuts. It was a scary thing we did, but also the best thing ever. Our team members got it and when things turned around, they were there and dug in even deeper.”

Now, during the pandemic, NorthStar Moving is faced with challenges just like every business, even though they are considered “essential.” “My heart goes out to so many industries that had to shut down,” she says. “We had to keep going and pivot on a dime.” Luckily, they saw it coming in early March and began working to get personal protective equipment to keep their team safe. They staggered shifts and began disinfecting trucks and taking temperatures. They got computers for employees who didn’t have them at home and made adjustments so their working parents could still work while caring for their kids and homeschooling.

“We thought things would come to a grinding halt, but they didn’t,” says Laura. “We’re not as busy as we would normally be during the summer months, but we are busy. Part of it is that people want to go with a trusted company.”

So what’s next for Laura and NorthStar Moving? They are now slowly franchising the brand and already have one franchisee in the San Francisco Bay Area. They are looking for others they feel they can count on to deliver the same high quality people expect.

Laura is also focused on making the community food drive a success. “Right now, in this next part of the slowdown, it’s really about making sure the community is taken care of. That counts always, but particularly now.”

And while that’s not shocking by any means, it certainly continues to set this entrepreneur apart.


Laura & NAWBO

Laura met NAWBO-LA Past President Schenae Rourk after an event where Laura had just spoken. “She came up and told me, ‘You’ve got to join NAWBO!’ and then she emailed me after saying, ‘Join NAWBO!’ so I was like, ‘Okay!’” Laura laughs. “I did and then I was so incredibly honored when NAWBO-LA gave me the Community Leader award last year. I felt like it was an opportunity to really join with women and make women stronger, and I feel like the world really needs that.”

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