Each year, Hawaii Business recognizes 20 people who we believe will have a major impact on Hawaii over the next two decades. They have already proven themselves by their accomplishments, intelligence, charisma, leadership and passion, but we expect even more from them in the future. They come from all walks of life: the business community, nonprofits and government. See below to learn more about the 2017 cohort.
(sorted alphabetical by last name, left-to-right)
Chief Innovation Officer, Mid-Pacific Institute
In the late 1990s, after Brian Dote graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with a master of science in information systems, he did what everyone else in his industry was doing: moved to Silicon Valley in pursuit of dot com dreams.
“It was incredible to move from Hawaii to that type of atmosphere and that type of buzz that dot coms were taking over the world,” he says.
He was hired and fired. And hired and fired again. After jobs that included working with the company sequencing the human genome and web development in the era of DSL internet, Dote was hired at Apple. That was in the early 2000s, when iTunes was in its infancy and Steve Jobs had yet to introduce the iPhone.
With Apple, Dote worked on the early development of what is now iCloud and was selected to build software for the first two generations of iPhones.
Dote and his family eventually moved back to Hawaii and, in 2014, he was hired at Mid-Pacific Institute, where he uses the skills he learned in Silicon Valley to introduce the next generation to technology. In addition to running the school’s tech department, Dote keeps up with emerging technologies and decides what to integrate into the classroom.
“I like to imagine Mid-Pac as more than just a school … What’s normal for a school and why should I care what’s normal for a school?” Dote says. “We should push the envelope.”
Under his leadership, Mid-Pac was an early adopter of virtual-reality tech. Through a partnership with HTC Vive, Mid-Pac students captured 360-degree footage of Pearl Harbor and helped create Vive’s Pearl Harbor experience, which immerses a viewer in the events leading up to and the bombing of the harbor.
Mid-Pac president Paul Turnbull says he created the CIO position several years ago because he recognized technology’s increasing importance in everyday life and wanted someone who understood the industry to bring those opportunities to students.
“In Brian you have the best of both worlds. (He is) someone who can open those doors, but he also understands how kids learn and develop,” Turnbull says.
Dote’s next big project is looking at getting artificial intelligence and machine learning into the school.
“What I think we can achieve is that Hawaii will have sort of commercializable success in emerging technologies from our students: Our students creating businesses and high-tech companies in our technology space.”
– ALEXANDER DEEDY
Executive VP, CFO, Treasurer, Central Pacific Bank
David Morimoto is the man you want on your side.
Seven years ago, when John Dean was hired to save Central Pacific Bank, Morimoto was part of his team at every step, visiting more than 100 institutional investors on the Mainland to raise the capital to keep the doors open for 1,000 employees and thousands more customers.
Through months of uncertainty, Morimoto’s demeanor and calm analysis of the numbers helped provide a steadying hand. “He played a major role,” remembers Dean. “He’s just very knowledgeable and knew the numbers backward and forward. He can take a very complex subject and discuss it at any level very succinctly.”
“You learn the most through periods of adversity,” Morimoto says. “When you’re trying to save a company, you do a lot of learning very quickly.”
As a director of the Institute for Human Services, he has helped oversee some finances at the nonprofit that serves homeless people. Along with their needs, he sees the impact of homelessness on the community, and the burden on hospitals absorbing the cost of emergency care for those who cannot pay.
“I see both sides of this complex issue,” says Morimoto. “My wife is a VP at Queen’s and part of her responsibility is the ER. So I see the impact on all of Hawaii. We all end up paying these costs.”
He’s involved with the Council of Economic Education, which sponsors the Hawaii Stock Market Simulation that teaches financial literacy to Hawaii’s students. Each year it challenges middle and high school students to manage a stock portfolio. Student teams are given $100,000 in fake money to invest, buy and sell.
“Their performance is tracked and ranked against other teams,” says Morimoto. “It’s a great program to give students good insights about finances and how the stock market works.”
At Central Pacific, Morimoto often interviews prospective employees.
“I run across kids who want to get everything perfect,” says the Castle High School graduate who worked his way through college busing dishes and waiting tables. “They want to get the right degree, the right career, and start with the right company and have everything flow perfectly.
“Our advice is that ‘You should also think about Plan B and being a little more flexible.’ You might have the perfect resume, but no work experience. A lot of times they postpone taking a job offer because it’s not the perfect job.”
– BEVERLY CREAMER
CFO, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
Elisia Flores was climbing the corporate ladder at General Electric, traveling the world as an internal auditor and senior finance manager, when she decided to return to Hawaii to take on the family business in 2014.
L&L Hawaiian Barbecue is a multimillion-dollar global restaurant franchise, but it’s a far cry from GE’s structured environment.
“I didn’t even have a budget (before Elisia arrived),” Eddie Flores says with a laugh. “It’s all in my head. I know how much money I’m making. That’s all I need to know.”
“That was one of my first challenges,” Elisia Flores says. “Getting used to the flexibility. GE was very corporate; here it’s more entrepreneurial. It’s a very different environment … but I’m always learning new skills and that makes it fun.”
Her official title is chief financial officer, but she has a hand in everything from marketing to working with individual franchisees. Since she arrived, L&L has introduced two new restaurant concepts in Hawaii: L&L outlets at First Hawaiian Bank’s downtown headquarters and the Ala Wai Golf Course. She’s helped update the company’s website and overall branding, and plans to more aggressively push its catering services.
She’s also run cost analyses on menu items. For instance, it’s expensive to offer lau lau at Mainland L&L restaurants and it isn’t a top seller, but remains on the menu because it’s often the only lau lau option for loyal customers there.
If CEO Eddie Flores comes across as a brash, bigger-than-life personality – “I always told my kids, if they want to make money, make it in business, they need to be aggressive” – then Elisia , who has an MBA from UCLA, brings a measured, systematic approach.
“She is smart, personable and approachable,” says Deena Dray, executive director of Diamond Head Theatre, where Elisia serves as chairwoman of the Ilima Awards fundraiser. “She is also that rare combination of someone who instinctively knows how to contribute without stepping on toes, and yet is there any time we need her.”
Elisia says her commitment to community service was instilled early by her father. In fact, she sees the core of the business as helping communities by supporting entrepreneurship.
“We’re in the restaurant business but our real business is creating business opportunities,” she says. “We’ve created so many millionaire franchisees through L&L and we’re really proud of that. How can we continue supporting that? That’s what we really want to do.”
– KAREN IWAMOTO
Doctor, Kaiser Permanente Clinic on Kauai
Kapua Medeiros knew from a young age that she wanted to be a doctor. Raised on Hawaiian Home Lands on Kauai, Medeiros was a boarder at Kamehameha Schools Kapalama, on Oahu, when she broadened her interest in medicine, developing a related love of research.
While still a high school student, she executed a research project that explored the intersection of breast cancer and traditional Hawaiian medicine, winning accolades at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
After earning an undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Dartmouth University, Medeiros enrolled at UH’s Burns School of Medicine with every intention of returning to Kauai. When Kaiser Permanente opened its first clinic on Kauai in 2016, Medeiros was hired to help launch the facility’s family medicine practice.
“Lack of access to health care is huge here on Kauai because of the remote locations and the lack of medical facilities and providers,” she says. “My goal, and the goal of Kaiser, is to improve health care overall here.”
In the year since Kaiser opened its Lihue Clinic, Medeiros has proven herself as a standout leader and physician who connects with patients and inspires others around her, says Geoffrey Sewell, president and executive medical director of Hawaii Permanente Medical Group.
“She’s an excellent clinician, handling complex medical issues in ways that epitomize patient- and family-centered care,” Sewell says. “Kapua is also dedicated to serving the Kauai community in which she was born and raised. Despite her work and family commitments, she’s an active volunteer, supporting many health and wellness initiatives on the Garden Island. In addition to doing all of this, she teaches and mentors high school and medical students, passing on her knowledge and passion for medicine to future physicians.”
Medeiros, who has been awarded for providing teaching assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds through the medical school’s Imi Hoola program, attributes her success in patient relations to the fact that so many of her patients know her and her family, and feel at ease in her care.
“Pretty much everyone knows my family. They all come in and they all know my parents and grandparents, and it puts me in a unique position,” Medeiros said. “With many of my patients, I can build rapport really quickly and they’ll listen to me with my recommendations. It provides for better health care.”
– BRITTANY LYTE
SAMUEL M. OHUKANIOHIA GON III
Senior scientist and cultural advisor, The Nature Conservancy
Sam Ohu Gon III is as knowledgeable about biological inventories and climate change vulnerability analysis as he is about hula and traditional Hawaiian oli.
As the senior scientist and cultural advisor for The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, where he oversees an annual budget of more than $1 million, he has been fighting to preserve Hawaii’s environment for more than 30 years.
He earned his Ph.D. in animal behavior from the University of California, Davis, with a thesis on the Hawaiian happy-face spider, then spent a decade studying under the late Kumu John Keolamakaainana Lake, a master of Hawaiian religious and cultural protocols. Gon has sailed on the Hokulea and serves on its education team, and gave a TEDxMaui talk about what the world can learn from Hawaii about sustainability.
“Hokulea convinced the world that Hawaiians were amazing navigators,” Gon says. “The next step is convincing the world that Hawaiians are amazing ecologists.”
Hokulea master navigator Nainoa Thompson says, “Hokulea has gone around the world and we have met extraordinary people. We have gone to amazing places on the Earth, but I have not found anyone as exceptional and balanced in terms of knowing the science, culture and spirit of the Earth as Sam Gon.
“At the same time,” he continues, “I have not found a place that can match Hawaii’s extraordinary ecology and natural environment anywhere on the Earth, and it is because we have great leaders like Sam Gon, who are protecting our home.”
Gon says his background in science and Hawaiian culture lends him credibility in both communities and allows him to bridge two worlds that are often portrayed as opposed.
Nowhere is this clearer than on the issue of Mauna Kea, where astronomers wanting to build the Thirty Meter Telescope have met opposition from some Native Hawaiians.
Gon, who was recently reappointed to the Board of Land and Natural Resources by Gov. David Ige, will play a direct role in the future of the mountain. While he did not talk to Hawaii Business directly about the Mauna Kea controversy, he did say he does not see science and Hawaiian culture as being at odds; he says education links the two. Not only does he believe there will be more Native Hawaiian scientists in the future, he believes the larger world will learn more about caring for the environment from Native Hawaiian culture.
– KAREN IWAMOTO
Co-Founder, Bar Leather Apron
Saddle up and order a drink crafted by one of the best bartenders in the country, served at one of the Top 10 Bars in America. Both are possible at Bar Leather Apron, inside Topa Financial Center in downtown Honolulu, thanks to the vision of Justin Park.
What to drink? His business partner and co-founder, Tom Park (no relation), recommends the Old Fashioned. “Justin’s is special. You know how you can put the same recipe in front of two chefs, but it will taste different?”
The intimate lounge opened in January 2016, but Justin’s been rising in global cocktail circles for awhile. He’s twice won “World’s Best Mai Tai” and twice represented the U.S. at world cocktail competitions – the only Hawaii bartender to do so.
Still, “He’s very humble,” says Tom Park. “He’s super respected but he’s not showing off. He leads by example. He went to Japan with me, his first time there, but, it’s funny, he has that innate Japanese sensibility, humble, always trying to improve.”
Justin Park grew up in Kaimuki. He fell in love with the world of spirits during a job at Buca di Beppo, before becoming a working partner at Richter’s Sports Saloon in Discovery Bay. It wasn’t open long, but Park calls that, in a funny way, a blessing. “I learned to close a bar. Everyone knows how to open a bar but not how to close one. I learned how to keep those relationships with patrons and distributors.” Next came a stint at Bar 35, before he went on to whip up the first cocktail menu at award-winning bar The Manifest.
Eventually he teamed with Tom Park, the owner of luxe shoe store Leather Soul, to bartend for VIP events, and the two Parks matched even better than whiskey and soda. “We started joking, ‘We should open a bar,’ “ says Justin Park. “We wanted to create a place that is good not by Hawaii standards, but by world standards.”
The resulting bar is almost like a speakeasy. Six employees labor over details such as hand-chipping ice and the perfect garnishes. One might even see Justin’s wife, Esther, a labor and delivery nurse at Kapiolani, pitching in.
“In Hawaii bar culture, everyone is watching him and waiting to see what he does next,” says Tom Park. “We plan to expand and take it to the next level.”
– KATHRYN DRURY WAGNER
Artist, Co-Lead Director, Pow! Wow! Hawaii
The family story goes that it was his grandmother who discovered Kamea Hadar’s talent. After a trip to the mall, the young boy told his grandma he liked a hat he had seen. Tell me what it looked like, she offered, and I’ll go back and buy it for you. Instead of using words, the young Hadar drew a detailed picture.
His parents enrolled him in art classes and, by 8 or 9, he was painting with oils on canvas. He went on to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, the University of St. Louis in Madrid and the University of Tel Aviv, Israel.
As he grew, his art became all about fusion.
“To me, mixing is always good,” Hadar says. “You get these amazing collaborations that come out of it.”
Raised in Hawaii as the son of an Israeli father and a Japanese-Korean mother, Hadar says he grew up at the intersection of a loud, blunt culture and a reserved, polite one. That hybrid upbringing shows in his art, much of which is inspired by Hawaiian imagery, like flowers, haku lei and feminine form, but drawn with a contemporary spin.
Through Pow! Wow! Hadar helps cultivate one of the ultimate collaborative art experiences in Hawaii. He runs on-the-ground operations for the event, which brings together artists from all over the world for a week of working together on large murals in Kakaako and other areas.
“With Pow! Wow! we’re trying to take these very industrial-looking buildings and make them beautiful with a coat of paint, bringing value to communities that are very overlooked,” he says.
Respected Hawaiian artist John Koga has known Hadar since the younger artist was a teen and has watched him grow from a passionate youth into an influential young artist.
“He and (Pow! Wow! founder Jasper Wong) have taken over the urban art world single-handedly,” Koga says.
Hadar often says Hawaiians are blessed with such a beautiful landscape they don’t think about having to create beauty. But, with the rise of an urban core, Hadar says, people are recognizing the importance of projects like Pow! Wow!
“I feel like Hawaii has such a deep-rooted tradition and I don’t ever want to see that go,” Kamea says. “But it’s also important to push the culture forward and have very contemporary stuff here.”
– ALEXANDER DEEDY
President and CEO, Boys & Girls Club of Hawaii
For Tim Motts, creating equal opportunity for all children in Hawaii isn’t just a talking point, it’s his creed.
Recently, a 10-year-old boy named Lorenzo was a regular at the Boys and Girls Club Waianae clubhouse, but no one had ever met his parents. When a staff member walked Lorenzo home one evening, he discovered the boy was living in a tent on the beach with his mom. Over the course of a year, the Boys and Girls Club helped the family find an apartment and helped Lorenzo explore his interest in video production. In late 2016, when Motts was in Waianae getting interviewed for a video about the club, Lorenzo was running the camera.
“Sometimes people think it’s theoretical. No. Literally, we’re changing people’s lives,” Motts says. “It’s pretty incredible.”
Just before the new year, Motts was walking through downtown toward the office when a car pulled over and the door opened. The driver was retired Circuit Court Judge Michael Town, who has been on the BGCH board for over 30 years and directed the nationwide search that led to Motts’ selection in 2011. In Motts, Town says, BGCH found a fun leader and an innovator who is willing to listen.
Motts had been CEO of a Boys and Girls Club in West L.A., after working his way up from a minimum-wage job at the YMCA as a teen. His wife has family on Oahu, and when Motts was approached about the job here, he accepted.
“Tim draws out the best in everyone, old and young, particularly the kids, and we’re fortunate to have him,” Town says.
Motts has overseen dramatic growth in the number of youth using clubhouses. In 2011, BGCH was serving 8,000 or 9,000 youth ages 7 to 17 on Oahu and Kauai. Now that number is closer to 14,000 in eight clubhouses.
In the car that morning, Town and Motts discussed the future of BGCH.
Looking forward, Motts says he has two goals: He wants to ensure every child has an opportunity to succeed, no matter which school they attend, and, by providing that opportunity, Motts hopes Boys and Girls Club can help stem future generations of homelessness.
“We’re not going to say homelessness is too big or child hunger is too big, or child trafficking is too big,” Motts says. “… We’re 100 percent committed to tackling those issues head on.”
Commissioner, Public Utilities Commission
At the edge of the Arctic Circle, north of Churchill on Canada’s Hudson Bay, Lorraine Akiba and her husband, Robert Pennebacker, watched from their Land Rover as mother polar bears with cubs made their way to hunt and feed in a world of melting ice.
For Akiba, it was a chicken-skin moment, one that was part of a life lived with the concept of sustainability at its core.
“We’re doing more eco-traveling now so we’re not adding to the congestion, but sustaining those economies,” says the member of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, whose career has revolved around building a path to energy sustainability for her Island home.
Akiba’s commitment to the PUC and, before that, to two law firms where she headed the environmental practice groups is this: Finding ways to sustain Hawaii’s economy by creating a resilient future anchored in renewable energy that partners energy producers and their customers.
“Energy is a key area of our economy and we’re in a very competitive global reality and energy has so much to offer the rest of the world. We’re obviously a leading state, and a living laboratory for cutting-edge technologies in energy storage and use of the smart grid so that customers are active partners in supporting the electric grid.
“Utilities of the future need to change their business models to partner with their customers. It’s all about giving customers choice as ‘pro-sumers.’ In Hawaii, we have more distributed energy resources that can help to allow us to put more renewable energy onto the grid. Energy storage is the game-changer for the future.”
Akiba’s commitment serves as a powerful message to Dawn Lippert, who founded the Energy Excelerator and chairs the board of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. “Now, more than ever, we need leaders like Lorraine to set the agenda for the decades to come,” wrote Lippert in nominating Akiba for the 20 for the Next 20. Lippert noted that Akiba has devoted the majority of her career to creating a clean, sustainable energy future for the state.
Akiba is always forward looking. “The role for all of us is to mentor the next generation so Hawaii has stewardship throughout the future, rooted in our strong local values of self-reliance,” she says. “I draw an analogy to the Polynesian voyagers, who charted by the stars. We should use that as our guide – trusting in what you value to assess what’s coming ahead.”
– BEVERLY CREAMER
Chief Development Officer, Salvation Army
Jennifer Hee was hired in May 2014 to oversee the Salvation Army’s Community Relations Development team. While her primary job is “linking different sectors to the work of the Salvation Army,” after hours she’s undertaken additional roles.
From 2014 to 2016, Hee served as chair for the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii’s Young Professionals program. Currently, she is on the Next Generation Committee at the Pacific Club and, in April 2016, started “Echelon,” a young professionals group at The Salvation Army.
Yet, with everything she’s done, Hee says, “I feel like I’m not doing enough.”
Her passion to help others started young. Hee was born in Japan and raised in Hawaii by FBI agent parents who she says sacrificed to “make the world a safer place.” Being involved in her church’s mission trips, such as rebuilding homes in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, also had a significant impact. “I always knew I wanted to be in a position that serves others … That’s just how I was raised,” she says.
Prior to working at the Salvation Army, Hee was executive director at the Arthritis Foundation and a director of development at UH. Both jobs taught her management and fundraising skills. But, she says, “Being in this position is one of the things I’m most proud of. I feel like really there’s no other place that would allow me to combine my passion for serving others with an organization that I’m super passionate about. Aligning a donor’s passion to the needs of the organization, there’s nothing better than that.”
Major John M. Chamness, Hee’s supervisor and the Salvation Army’s divisional leader, says her team building and motivational skills have “brought a whole new level of professionalism and integrity to the development department that’s reflected in increased fundraising, visibility and donor involvement.” For example, she transformed the organization’s annual Partners in Community Service fundraiser from a $25,000 event to a $200,000 one.
Corralling resources and uniting helping hands in the community are necessary because, Hee says, “It really takes a village to be able to make a difference. And it’s such a privilege to connect the dots to make Hawaii a better place.”
– BRANDI-ANN UYEMURA
Co-founder and Managing Partner, Sultan Ventures
As a New Orleans college student in 2005, Tarik Sultan was on track for a career in medicine or research, like many in his family, when Hurricane Katrina hit. With the city in ruins, he had no idea how to help. “I looked around, and the people making the most impact were those with business backgrounds,” he remembers.
That realization changed his future.
“As a doctor you can help one patient at a time. As a medical researcher you have the opportunity to change the world, but you need knowledge of business to effectuate that, and then perhaps you can impact millions. I realized I needed to get my MBA. And then, when I did the business competition, I fell in love with entrepreneurship and venture capital.”
In a family of high achievers, Sultan grew up knowing he wanted to help people; in Hawaii, where he relocated along with his sister Aya, a physician, and brother, Omar, also a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, he found the way to do that.
Eight years ago, the siblings founded Sultan Ventures, a boutique venture firm dedicated to helping promising startups with advice and investment capital. Since then, Sultan Ventures has nurtured five startup cohorts with 26 successful teams; won many awards; created a national network of partnerships; and joined with UH to oversee XLR8UH as a way to commercialize ideas created by UH faculty and students. Along the way they’ve raised more than $17 million in the Hawaii startup community.
“We’ve been selected twice by the Small Business Administration as one of the elite accelerator programs in the country,” says Sultan. “The Economic Development Administration selected us as one of 17 programs in the nation for our regional innovation strategy, with an award of $500,000.”
“Tarik is a financial mastermind,” says colleague Melialani James, who heads new ventures for the company. “When you look at really specific skillsets that many startups need, he is that expert who helps companies think creatively and long term around different revenue models.”
To build their national network, Tarik is on the road constantly and made 17 trips to meet with Mainland investors last year alone. “We want to grow a bigger and bigger fund so in time we’re a nationally known fund with tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars in our portfolio headquartered in Hawaii but doing work nationally,” he says.
– BEVERLY CREAMER
VP and GM, Turtle Bay Resort
Every Sunday, Danna Holck has dinner at her mother’s house in Kailua – the same home Holck grew up in – surrounded by her siblings, nieces and nephews.
“I have five brothers and sisters; my family and I are very close.” She’s classically “local”: she’s the daughter of a soldier in the 442nd Infantry Regiment, danced hula from age 5 and attended UH.
Yet she spent 20 years away from home, building a career that took her to resorts and hotels around the Caribbean and the country. “I was really curious about how other people lived,” she says.
Among the stops were the Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa in Puerto Rico, The Westin San Francisco Market Street and Naples Grande Resort & Spa. “Danna has a unique vision of hospitality worldwide that very few in our industry possess,” says her boss, Greg Champion, president and CEO of Benchmark Hospitality International.
When a chance arose in 2011 to return to Hawaii, she jumped at it and came to Turtle Bay.
She immediately made a big change. “As a kid, I could never get in here because they had a gate. I remember that experience. I didn’t want other people to feel that way; it’s alienating. I took it down a few months after I got the position. If we want our guests to feel our culture, then what better way than have local people coming here, and dining at places like Roy’s Beach House and going to the beaches, which are public, anyway.”
The day of our interview, Holck was about to enjoy lunch at Roy’s with her husband, a police officer on Molokai. He flies in every few weeks to see her. “He’s a Romanian. They call him Russian mob because he’s covered with tats and huge. We’ve been married 10 years.”
She oversees 600 employees and, if that weren’t enough, is committed to nonprofit work, including her position on the Oahu Island Burial Council, and as VP of the board for the Key Project, which promotes the well-being of the Kualoa-Heeia area. She is also a board member for the Turtle Bay Foundation, which gives grants to North Shore nonprofits and scholarships to college students.
“I admire how Danna balances the needs of our business with the needs of the community and her family and makes it a win/win experience as much as humanly possible,” says Champion.
– KATHRYN DRURY WAGNER
Lawyer and professor at UH Richardson School of Law
Maxine Burkett is a champion for climate justice. Her innovative research explores the disparate impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities, including climate-induced migration and displacement, sea-level rise and the policy parameters for compensating irreversible loss as a result of unprecedented climate change.
“I’ve always wanted to be an academic who was relevant, an active scholar,” Burkett says. “I don’t see the point of publishing an academic journal if it can’t have legs in the real world.
“We are all connected by climate, whether we’re talking about the ability of our kids to learn in classrooms that are comfortable and not sweltering in the summer or if we’re talking about what we miss when we look to the future without excitement about new energy. There is something each of us can do in our daily lives that matters and that helps.”
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Burkett immigrated to the U.S. as a youth, spending her formative years in New York City. She received her law degree from UC Berkeley.
Burkett says she knew she would be a lawyer from an early age.
“Once my family immigrated to the States, there was always this sort of ambition on the part of my parents that my sister and I do well,” she says. “I just remember my dad saying to my older sister, ‘I think you’ll be the doctor, and you, Maxine, you argue so much that I think you’ll be the lawyer.’ ”
In 2009, Burkett arrived in Hawaii as the inaugural director of the Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy, where she led numerous projects to address climate-change policy and planning for island communities around the world. In 2016, Burkett was appointed to the federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment and tasked with advising the undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.
Locally, Burkett has served on statewide task forces working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the interplay between climate change and public health. She has also served on many nonprofit boards and working groups, and is a former Omidyar fellow.
“She has a profound sense of her own responsibility as a leader,” says Bill Coy, director of the Omidyar Fellows Program. “She leads in a very powerful and quiet way. She has this combination of really fierce intelligence and extreme kindness that really brings out the best in other people.”
– BRITTANY LYTE
Co-owner, Tin Roof restaurant
When Mark Ellman looks at Sheldon Simeon, he sees striking similarities with celebrity chef Emeril Legasse.
“I’ve known chef Emeril a long time and Sheldon has the same look in his eye,” says Ellman, himself a celebrity chef on Maui and one of Simeon’s former bosses and mentors. “The same words come out of their mouths and Sheldon has the same infectious personality and smile that people are drawn to. I expect that, if he keeps on track, Sheldon will be every bit as popular as Emeril.”
Simeon will tell you that track can seem fast and whether he chooses the brass ring of celebrity fame won’t be a measure of what he considers success.
Simeon, a father of four, can be seen on his second go-round with Bravo’s popular cooking show “Top Chef.” He was invited back for Season 14 after making it to the finals of Season 10 and earning the title of “Fan Favorite.”
In April, the James Beard finalist opened Tin Roof restaurant in Kahalui with his wife and family. Simeon’s first venture is an affordable mom-and-pop local restaurant, with $9 pork belly and garlic shrimp being the most expensive items.
“My dream with these restaurants is for them to be part of the community and serve good, honest food,” Simeon said. “We’re going to be opening another in Wailea in 2017 and we’re looking for a spot on Oahu. What I want is to look out at the tables and see people coming two or three times a week, like family. I want three generations coming in for special occasions or just to eat on a regular basis.
“You know when I finally felt I made it? A few months after we opened, an aunty went to a Neighbor Island and brought us back pastries. That she thought enough to bring omiyage meant so much.”
Simeon turned down grander opportunities in New York and across the Mainland after his Season 10 showing so he could pursue his dreams in Hawaii. That didn’t surprise Ellman.
“He’s very genuine and all about family,” Ellman says. “People who are successful have a vision and it drives them. Sheldon is like me. He didn’t set out to be a celebrity chef. He just wants to care for his family and make the best life he can for his kids and wife to enjoy. Success has followed.”
– DAVE DONDONEAU
Director of Homeless Services, Waikiki Health
Jason Espero found his first job out of college on Craigslist”
Wage: $10.50 an hour.
Where: Paiolu Kaiaulu Emergency Shelter in Waianae.
“Because of that I can empathize with the families and individuals I work with,” Espero says. “If it weren’t for being able to stay with family it would have been nearly impossible for me to make it when I took that first job. A lot of the clients we work with don’t have the opportunity to live with their families for help like I did. Many aren’t even lucky enough to find a job making even $10 an hour. It’s my civic duty to advocate for them.”
Espero, who grew up in Aiea and Ewa Beach, made a career out of helping homeless people after volunteering at the Next Step Shelter while at UH Manoa. Eight years later, he’s working at Waikiki Health and entering his fifth year on the board of directors of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, the longest serving member of the board.
Aloha United Way Housing program manager Jay King has worked with Espero for six years and says his actions make him one to watch.
“We’re fortunate to have someone this committed to solving our homeless problems,” King says. “His actions speak volumes of the type of person he is.”
Espero says he lives and breathes searching for solutions, sometimes turning to his father, state Sen. Will Espero, as a sounding board.
“I’m in a good place to help,” Espero says. “I’m not married, no kids. That’s one advantage for me. I know what to do, I have the necessary skills and the circumstances in my life allow me to give 100 percent. Ending the homeless problem in Hawaii is something I believe is possible.”
The current challenge is to comply with state regulations that took effect Feb. 1.
“The goal for homeless programs is to move families, to move people in and out (of shelters and into permanent housing) within 60 to 90 days or risk losing significant state funding. It really is a huge challenge.”
Eventually, Espero envisions running for a political office, where he can make a bigger impact with homeless policies, add funding for help centers and increase case-management programs.
“My motto is ‘Do Today What Is Going to Feel Good Tomorrow.’ Being courageous, going for things even if you know it could be a huge challenge.”
– DAVE DONDONEAU
Director, State Ethics Commission
Dan Gluck sees his job as helping ensure that the people of Hawaii believe in the integrity of their state government.
“I think the work that the Ethics Commission does is so important,” Gluck says. “When you talk about the principles of government, the people having faith in their government is really the foundation. We are a part of that.”
Since taking over as the director of the commission in August, Gluck has overseen the administration and enforcement of the State Ethics Code for state officials as well as the Lobbyists Law for lobbyists and organizations that lobby the state Legislature.
Gluck has launched an effort to clarify the law that delineates who is a lobbyist and who needs to register as one, while also working to scrub out any ambiguity pertaining to the commission’s powers and authority. He supervises a staff of 10, managing case loads, proposing legislation and monitoring complaints.
“When it comes to ethics, often there is not a right or wrong answer, and people are going to disagree,” Gluck says.
“My role now at the Ethics Commission is trying to balance all the different opinions and all the different stakeholders so that some sort of agreement can be formed that everyone can live with.”
The former legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii is a Cornell University and Harvard Law School graduate. He has built a career tackling civil rights issues, including constitutional law and anti-discrimination cases. Through his post at the ACLU, he played an instrumental role in the state’s marriage equality movement, which culminated in the passage of the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act legalizing same-sex marriage.
“Without his extraordinary efforts,” says retired Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Steven Levinson, “marriage equality may well not yet have become a reality here.”
Under Gluck’s guidance, Hawaii’s ACLU addressed a wide range of important issues including the rights of homeless students and their families, gender discrimination among athletes in public schools, privacy rights of public school teachers, the right to protest, the right to videotape law enforcement, prisoners’ rights issues and the protection of journalists under Hawaii’s “media shield” law.
Gluck’s tenacity for justice and equality has also led him to take on numerous community service activities, including pro bono work for the Mediation Center of the Pacific. He also provides free help to victims of domestic violence who are preparing for court cases.
– BRITTANY LYTE
CARIANN AH LOO
President, Na Alii
Na Alii consulting company was founded in 2003 by Warren Ah Loo, who suffered a heart attack in 2015 and died. His daughter, Cariann Ah Loo, took over as president and, in the short time since, has rapidly expanded the company.
“Warren started this company and created this foundation, and then when he passed away suddenly, she very quickly had to take on the leadership,” says a close friend, Shannon Edie. “Since then, the company has grown almost exponentially, and that’s just in two short years. I think that speaks a lot to her leadership.”
Cariann Ah Loo says Na Alii has landed multimillion-dollar military contracts to deliver management and logistical support and screen inbound mail and parcels for chemical and biological contamination. The Honolulu-based company, with satellite offices in Omaha, Nebraska and Washington, D.C., has grown in three years from fewer than 10 employees to nearly 100.
“It was a challenge,” said Ah Loo, who has been managing Department of Defense contracts for two decades. “All of a sudden you become responsible for the livelihoods of the people who are employed by you, and you have to learn to put aside your personal feelings and learn how to adapt and make it work.
“There were a lot of questions. We didn’t have my dad’s guidance to bounce ideas off of. We really had to become very candid with each other, and I think it helped build a strong team. Now we are able to be honest and provide really good feedback to each other.”
Na Alii is a for-profit company organized under a federal law commonly referred to as Native 8(a), with majority ownership by a nonprofit Native Hawaiian Organization. The organizational structure under federal law is designed to encourage Native Hawaiian small businesses and support the broader Native Hawaiian community.
Cariann Ah Loo says Na Alii supports the economic welfare of Native Hawaiians through public and private educational, community, and business partnerships.
“What makes running this company worth it for me is that, because of our success, we are able to give back to the community and we are helping to fund several worthwhile initiatives for Native Hawaiians,” Ah Loo says. “We are supporting STEM programs for underserved communities and we recently established scholarship programs for Native Hawaiians. This is how I want my dad’s legacy to live on.”
– BRITTANY LYTE
President and COO, HMSA
As Congress debates the future of the Affordable Care Act, Mike Stollar says he and some of his staff will closely watch the action, because HMSA has 40,000 patients enrolled under ACA.
“Some of these things that could be problematic include cutting back on Medicaid money through the block grants idea,” he says. “No matter what happens, it’s likely those grants mean less money for the state and less money for the state through Medicaid. And it means greater pressure on our physicians and facilities.”
Stollar is leading HMSA’s “scenario planning.”
“We are trying to envision the different possibilities and how we might react in these situations,” he says, adding that HMSA has to consider how to continue to provide affordable, reliable care to a population that has traditionally struggled to get health care because of their illnesses or their incomes.
Dr. Mark Mugiishi, HMSA’s chief medical officer and a leading Hawaii cancer surgeon, sees the challenges up close and knows how well Stollar handles them. “We meet every day,” says Mugiishi. “He not only listens, but he reaches out proactively to solicit other perspectives. He has all the things you want in a colleague: He gets all the connections, is such an organized thinker and can drive an initiative. People feel empowered working with him.”
Stollar served for three years in the Peace Corps in Tonga. Having fallen in love with the Pacific, he earned a master’s degree in international affairs after his undergraduate degree in biology, and then came to Hawaii job hunting. He landed a position at HMSA as a staff assistant in the underwriting department, then worked his way through almost every department before being named president and COO in November.
He’s a strong advocate of HMSA’s latest health initiative, “Mahie 2020” and creating “Blue Zones” across the state to offer communities the opportunities to envision, create and manage healthy programs that fit their individual needs.
“We go into communities and help underwrite and resource community-led initiatives to enhance the health of the communities,” Stollar says. “They have to set up a leadership team and identify the projects they want.”
In 2015, HMSA rolled out three Blue Zone communities, then added another five recently. Some of the projects already in place are walking paths, schools offering healthier food choices, more physical activity and campus gardens.
– BEVERLY CREAMER
Executive VP and Mortgage Banking Manager, Bank of Hawaii
James Moniz knows what it’s like to struggle. He grew up on Hawaiian homestead land in Waimea on Hawaii Island, where his mother’s family owned a flower and vegetable farm. After his father left, Moniz and his three younger siblings were raised by their mother and grandparents.
“My mom and my grandparents were super-supportive of education,” Moniz recalls. “I was the first in my family to attend and graduate from Kamehameha Schools – it was a big deal to them.”
He received a B.B.A. from George Washington University and got a job as a loan officer with Ford Motor Co. in Detroit. “Post 9/11, I was fortunate enough to be brought back to Hawaii by the manager here for my permanent assignment.”
In 2002, there was uncertainty at Ford, and several people in the credit department moved to Bank of Hawaii, Moniz among them. He became assistant VP working with local car dealers.
“Fifteen years later, this turned out to be the best career choice of my life,” he reflects.
After several other jobs, both at BOH and elsewhere, he was promoted last year to become the bank’s youngest executive VP, in charge of its $3-billion mortgage business.
“James has the talent and skill set to bring disparate groups together,” says Peter Ho, chair, president and CEO of BOH. “He’s very conciliatory and has a way of finding common ground among a lot of different people.
“He’s been successful at whatever we’ve tasked him to work on. He can go into a situation and assess opportunities and assess potential weaknesses within operations, and figure out how to create success from there.”
Moniz says, “We help more families than any other lender in Hawaii finance home purchases or refinance them to improve their financial situation.”
Moniz is also passionate about mentoring the next generation of leaders – those he calls his “bench” or “retirement plan.” Last year, he expanded the Bankoh Associate college graduate program to the mortgage department, bringing in new college graduates. “I wanted fresh eyes, new ideas and diversity in our business. I want to help us find our future leaders and be a part of their success.
“It’s also a morale thing. If you bring someone up from within, that speaks volumes.”
– JACKIE M. YOUNG
VP of Human Resources, Hawaiian Telcom
“I’m a Hawaiian girl from Keaukaha on the Big Island. I never thought I’d be an executive,” Sunshine Topping says.
Now that she is one, “I feel very strongly about mentoring and growing the next generation of leaders. But we, as local leaders, need to shift the way we feel about ourselves. We need to be more confident and assertive, and not always defer to others.”
Her “hippie doctor” father provided her inventive first name, her Native Hawaiian mother her middle name, “Pualaniumikalakaua,” and she took the last name of her husband, Miles. But growing up on Hawaiian Home Lands as one of nine children, Topping says, “It’s funny, my father always called me ‘Pua,’ while my mom always called me some variation of ‘Sunshine.’ “
When Miles was hired by Boeing in Seattle in 1996, Topping got a temp job at Boeing crunching data. “I became so passionate about a project on workforce turnover – the impacts of having the right people in the right spots, and how, if you didn’t have the right people, how much they struggled.” Topping found her niche.
The couple returned home to Hawaii in 1999. Since then, Topping has been Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s director of the state Department of Human Resource Development, senior director of recruitment at Hawaiian Airlines and chief human resources strategy officer at the ike family of companies. She’s been with Hawaiian Telcom since 2015.
She’s active on the state Workforce Development Council, the local board of the Society for Human Resource Management, and the state Careers and Technical Education Coordinating Advisory Council.
In the short time she’s been at Hawaiian Telcom, Topping has revamped the internal employee survey – it was getting a lackluster 50-percent response – to one that’s more accountable and collaborative. The responses have increased to a “through-the-roof” 87 percent.
Noticing that employee health was a problem, Topping launched a wellness program that included having a sense of purpose. “We’ve already been noticing more people contributing to their 401Ks, using the employee counseling services, using our fitness center and we’ve lost about 400 pounds.”
“She doesn’t allow existing barriers to limit her vision of what’s possible to improve a job, situation or process,” says John Komeiji, chief administrative officer and general counsel at Hawaiian Telcom.
“She’s able to connect with people on multiple levels – she’s not intimidating or condescending. She is passionate about workforce issues in Hawaii, and specifically about creating opportunities for Native Hawaiians.”
– JACKIE M. YOUNG