2011 SBA Hawaii Award Winners

10 companies and individuals are honored as small-business leaders in Hawaii by U.S. Small Business Administration

April, 2011

Small Business Persons of the Year

Brian Bowers, president, and Dexter Kubota, VP, Bowers + Kubota Consulting Inc.

With clients all over Hawaii, Bowers and Kubota are men on the go because they make time for their clients.
In 2010, Bowers + Kubota’s gross revenues were $20 million, up from $15 million the year before. The Waipahu-based architectural and engineering company’s secret to success – particularly in a weak economy – is superior customer service, Bowers says.

“The best client is an existing client,” says Bowers, whose company specializes in construction and project management, and design and planning services.

Joanne Arizumi, a senior VP at First Hawaiian Bank, says Bowers and Kubota value not only their clients but also their employees.

“They are always asking for feedback from their employees and customers. They want to know how their service was,” says Arizumi, who nominated the company for the award.

Among the company’s recent projects is Ewa Makai Middle School, which opened in January 2011. Bowers + Kubota provided construction management for the school, which was the first entire public-school campus in Hawaii to achieve certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED.

Bowers says his architectural and engineering company’s secret to success – particularly in a weak economy – is superior service.

 

Entrepreneurial Success Award

Robert M. Fujimoto, chairman, HPM Building Supply Ltd.

In the 90 years it has been operating, tsunamis destroyed HPM’s Hilo headquarters in both 1946 and 1960, and Navy Seabees took control of its inventory and employees during World War II. Recently, big-box competitors have presented a new challenge.

Nonetheless, HPM continues to thrive. “The company is successful because of its ability to adapt and persevere,” says Art Taniguchi, senior vice president and regional manager of Bank of Hawaii, who nominated Fujimoto and HPM.

Fujimoto attributes the company’s success to local values, dedicated employees and loyal customers. “We’ve developed strong relationships over the years,” says Fujimoto, who manages HPM’s charitable foundation and, at 83, still goes to the office daily. Robert’s grandfather, Kametaro Fujimoto, and his business partner, Sanzo Kawasaki, founded the company in 1921.

In 1977, HPM was one of the first companies in the state to offer an employee stock-ownership plan. It became 100-percent employee-owned in 2006. Today, Robert’s son, Michael, is president, overseeing the company’s Big Island, Maui and Kauai operations.

“The company is successful because of its ability to adapt and persevere.”

 

Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Daniel T. Wright, owner, Tambor

Kauai native Daniel Wright was only 20 when he decided to start an acai business based on what he had seen in Brazil: Highly nutritious palm berries from the Amazon flood plains were being sold from trucks and eaten as part of a healthy, beach lifestyle.

Wright started Tambor Acai in 2006 and began receiving shipments of the product in late 2007. Tambor (“drum” in Portuguese) specializes in premium, sustainably harvested acai, often used in fruit bowls and smoothies. Wright started at farmers markets on Kauai and now has distributors on Oahu and the Big Island, and in California and Australia.

“Things are coming along,” says Wright, who turned 25 this year.
He links his entrepreneurial spirit to his personality and his experience working a variety of jobs, including bus boy, tour guide and landscaper.

“I never really felt that I wanted to be an employee,” he says.

His family has helped make Tambor possible. “Doing events, money … they are always there to help me.”

In her nomination letter, Eliza Kobayashi, business service representative at Bank of Hawaii in Lihue, described how Wright obtained an SBA loan in January 2007 and then worked through nearly a year of delays to secure reliable suppliers that met SBA standards. During that time, Wright stayed focused, designing promotional materials and a basic website, Kobayashi explains.

“Daniel enjoys his business and believes in his product. This is what gives this young businessperson the determination to keep going.”

“I never really felt that I wanted to be an employee.”

 

Family-Owned Business of the Year

KoAloha Ukulele, Alan Okami, VP

There are four members of the Okami family working at KoAloha Ukulele in Kalihi. But the feeling of family extends well beyond those four.

“At KoAloha, you come in as a friend, you leave as family,” says Alan Okami. Relationships are valued, and KoAloha is one of few manufacturers that welcomes direct contact with customers. “It’s part of our nature.”
When the economy is weak, sales stay strong. Growth has exceeded 14 percent per year since 2008, Okami says. This year – the company’s 16th – he expects to surpass $1 million in revenue.

KoAloha’s nominator, Malcolm Lau, a senior vice president at Bank of Hawaii, cites the Okami family’s strength as key to the company’s success.

“KoAloha was able to successfully reinvent itself from a plastics and acrylic-goods manufacturing business to a full-scale, handcrafted-ukulele business,” says Lau, who nominated KoAloha. Among the company’s original products was an acrylic Spam musubi maker, invented by KoAloha founder and musician Alvin Okami.

How did they get from musubi molds to ukulele ranging in price from $500 to $4,000? “They did it by leveraging their talents within their family,” Lau says, “… and by taking a long-term outlook in their strategic thinking.”

“At KoAloha, you come in as a friend, you leave as family.”

 

Small Business Exporter of the Year

Joseph Rossi, president & owner,Maui Babe Inc.

Sun worshippers across the globe are discovering that Maui Babe’s tanning lotions turn skin golden brown, thanks to a propriety blend of kukui and macadamia nuts, aloe and Kona coffee.

The company, with annual revenue of $2.2 million, ships its lotions to the U.S. Mainland, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and expanded this year to 250 stores in Germany.

“This is quite an accomplishment, from a small retail stand on the side of South Kihei Road where (Rossi) initially started selling products,” says Rossi’s nominator, Jon Fujimoto, business banking officer for Bank of Hawaii.

Rossi credits simplicity for his company’s success. “It’s back to basics,” says Rossi, who founded Maui Babe 14 years ago. “Rather than making 15 items where quality control gets lost, we concentrate on four excellent products.”

Those four products are: browning lotion, after-sun care, sun block and a salon-formula lotion. “I knew I made a profit when our competitor called to ask, ‘How come you’re outselling
us?’ ” Rossi says.

“It’s back to basics.”

 

Veteran Small Business Champion

Henry “Hank” L. Cashen, director,Soldier & Family Assistance Center, Schofield Barracks

The center may be a modest-looking facility, but its impact is big. It provides injured soldiers in the Warrior Transition Battalion with help ranging from financial advice to family counseling.

After multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers sometimes return home with physical injuries and mental challenges, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. They use their recovery time at the center to plot their futures and many dream of starting their own businesses.

“Some of our soldiers are ready to leave the Army and are looking for educational and employment opportunities,” says Cashen, who became the center’s director in April 2009 after a 21-year career in the Air Force as a clinical social worker.

The center regularly invites specialists to talk to soldiers about debt management, business-plan writing, resume writing and job interviewing. Nonprofits, such as Special Olympics Hawaii, provide volunteer opportunities.

Naomi Masuno, a vice president at First Hawaiian Bank, has nothing but gratitude and admiration for Cashen and his 10-member team. “They’re there to assist the soldiers, men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend our country,” says Masuno, who nominated Cashen.

“After multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers sometimes return home with physical injuries and mental challenges, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. They use their recovery time at the center to plot their futures and many dream of starting their own businesses. “

 

Home-Based Business Champion

Roger Lane, owner, Roger Lane Inc.

Lane retired several years ago, but couldn’t stay away from what he loves: helping businesses succeed.
“I know how easy it can be, and I want everyone to know it,” he says from his home in Hana, Maui.

A business-development specialist, Lane has 24 clients at a time, recently ranging from a Wall Street lawyer to a hotel in Italy. He works from Monday through Wednesday, spending the rest of the time enjoying life in Hana. 
“I tell my clients they should be able to work five days a week and have two days off and evenings,” he says. “If you can’t do that, there’s something you don’t know.”

Recessions tend to expose those things businesses don’t know. For example, companies that didn’t have to market their products suddenly had to be concerned about marketing, Lane says.

Greg Knue, VP and business banking manager at Bank of Hawaii in Kahului, says he nominated Lane for the award because he has the “skills, tools and processes that enable businesses to experience significant, sustained and measurable improvements.”

Previously, Lane was Hawaii district manager for Redken Laboratories. Among his successes was coaching the startup of Paul Mitchell Hair Products when he and Mitchell were neighbors.

Lane helps businesses near and far. As president of the Hana Business Council, he focuses on improving Hana’s business climate, where 99 percent of businesses are home-based, Knue says.

Greg Knue, VP and business banking manager at Bank of Hawaii in Kahului, says he nominated Lane for the award because he has the “skills, tools and processes that enable businesses to experience significant, sustained and measurable improvements.”

 

Minority Small Business Champion

Eddie Flores Jr., president and CEO, L&L Drive-Inn and L&L Hawaiian Barbecue

In 1976, Flores bought an L&L restaurant as a gift for his mother. He took over operations in 1990 and quickly grew the company.

Today, more than 180 L&L franchises serving plate lunches at fast-food prices are located in Hawaii, on the U.S. Mainland, and in Japan, New Zealand and American Samoa.

In addition to his company’s rapid success, Flores is a respected community leader. He has created entrepreneurial programs for minorities, mentored hundreds of business owners and helped to raise $14.2 million to build the Filipino Community Center, now the heart of economic development and revitalization in Waipahu.

Building the center has been his biggest challenge. “It was an impossible dream for the community, and I thought it might never happen,” Flores says.

Flores’ community involvement is “genuine and well beyond his business or professional responsibilities,” says Keith Shimomura, assistant vice president and manager for Hawaii National Bank, who nominated Flores. “He has achieved his American dream and now works to help others achieve the same success.”

Flores’ community involvement is “genuine and well beyond his business or professional responsibilities.”

 

Financial Services Champion

Patrick Garcia, business development manager, Strategic Financial Concepts LLC

Patrick Garcia once advised a client about starting a food service. After their fourth meeting, however, the client admitted he’d rather sell his own artwork. Garcia encouraged him to pursue his passion and, today, the man’s business grosses more than $350,000 annually.

“Those are the things we look for,” says Garcia, who founded Strategic, an alternative investment firm, with business partner Rey Agustin, in March 2007. “By working with a businessperson’s heart and soul, we get a higher success rate, versus a 60-page business plan.”

A self-taught investor, Garcia previously owned insurance and mortgage firms and worked with private investors. Today, his company’s clients run the gamut from individuals living in transitional shelters to corporations with $20 million in gross annual sales.

“The company’s comprehensive approach to businesses appeals to a broad range of people, from startups to well-established firms,” says Lauren Tanouye, a Bank of Hawaii business banking officer, who nominated Garcia.
They met at a Waianae transitional home, where Garcia advised residents. “He always sticks to the fundamentals of running a business, through good and bad times,” Tanouye says.

“By working with a businessperson’s heart and soul, we get a higher success rate, versus a 60-page business plan.”

 

Women in Business Champion

Judy Bishop, president and owner,Bishop & Co. Inc.

Bishop believes so strongly in women’s business ownership that she is mentoring her own staff of women to possibly take over someday as owners or managers of her employment agency.

“I have been a supporter of women in business for as long as I have been a businesswoman,” she says. Bishop started the company in 2006 after acquiring the assets of CTA Staffing, where she had been general manager for five years. She has more than 30 years of staffing experience.

Kevin T. Sakamoto, senior VP and regional manager at Bank of Hawaii, praises Bishop’s support of women, which includes work as a board member for the Women’s Fund of Hawaii and the Organization of Women Leaders.

“Judy has a passion that makes her special,” says Sakamoto, who nominated Bishop for the SBA award.
Bishop cites women’s passion for what they do as a reason they make great business owners. “They are willing to do the dirty work as long as they are fulfilled. They know hard work and … how to wear every hat!”

“I have been a supporter of women in business for as long as I have been a businesswoman.”

 

2011 COUNTY WINNERS

by the U.S. Small Business Administration for Hawaii

Honolulu County

Small Business Person of the Year:
Blake Kolona, president 
Kolona Painting & General Construction Inc.

Minority Small Business Champion:
Claire J. Tamamoto, president
Empower Oahu

Family-Owned Business:
Dr. Jarod T. Kanemaru, Dr. Lester N. Kanemaru and Dr. Gordon M. Kanemaru
president, VP, treasurer/secretary
Kanemaru Dental Group Inc., dba Kanemaru Family Dental

Small Business Exporter: 
Steven M. Mulgrew, president, 
Mulvadi Corp.

Financial Services Champion:
Rodney P. Batara, partner and CPA
Hedberg, Batara & Vaughan-Sarandi LLC

Home-Based Business Champion:
Shane Griffin, president
Kai Oli Oli Inc. – Ocean Joy Cruises

 

Hawaii County

Small Business Persons of the Year:
Michael McKinney and Christopher Kaiser, president and VP,
Pacific Quest Corp.

Minority Small Business Champion:
Marah J. Hardt, owner, researcher, writer and creative consultant, OceanInk

Family-Owned Business:
Orville Dant III and Melynda Dant, president & VP,
Fair Wind Inc.

Veteran Small Business Champion:
Melvin Arai, local veterans employment representative,
state Workforce Development Division

 

Maui County

Small Business PersonS of the Year:
Mariah Brown and Les Tomita, co-owners, VP & president,
Restaurant Destinations Inc., dba Da Kitchen

Minority Small Business Champion:
Kai Pelayo, director of operations,
Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa

Family-Owned Business:
Curtis Takaoka, president and CEO,
Tasty Crust Inc.

 

Kauai County

Small Business PersonS of the Year:
Rob & Lois Silverman, owners, president & VP
Rob’s Good Times Grill

Minority Small Business Champion:
Melissa McFerrin Warrack, executive administrator,
Kauai County Farm Bureau

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