5. Mike O’Neill
Chief Executive Officer and Board Chairman, Bank of Hawaii
Michael O’Neill is the maestro who fine-tuned Bank of Hawaii. He is a leader that heard cacophony and translated it into a familiar message that everyone, of all levels, now understands. “He’s a very down-to-earth person, a very plain-speaking person, and you always know where you stand with him,” says Donna Tanoue, vice chair of financial services for the bank. “He’s recognized by, not only our business community, but by analysts on Wall Street. He’s the CEO who has shown the world that you can do business in Hawaii, successfully.”
O’Neill joined Bank of Hawaii in November 2000, immediately after the company eliminated hundreds of employees and cut millions of dollars in costs. The two-year long cuts were part of, what the bank dubbed, New Era Redesign.
Albeit painful, O’Neill proceeded to make more changes throughout 2001. The bank divested its non-strategic assets in Arizona, California, Asia and the South Pacific. It refocused its operations in the Western Pacific and strengthened its presence in Hawaii.
It then put shareholder value and customer service at the top of its priority list.
O’Neill’s strategies received a standing ovation from Wall Street. Today, Bank of Hawaii is a leaner, stronger financial institution. As of this writing in early August, the company’s stock price (NYSE: BOH) hit a crescendo of $29 per share, slightly more than its 10-year high of $27 in 1997. “He is not afraid to shake things up when it’s in the interest of the company and our shareholders,” Tanoue says.
For someone who has been in Hawaii for only two years, O’Neill has made a lot of noise. Unbearable sounds for some people, but for others, music to the ears. Steve Bloom, president of the Honolulu Symphony, says this: “He’s made a major impact on our organization. He got involved from fund-raising, to now serving as the treasurer of the symphony board. For someone to get on the board that fast is incredible.”
And O’Neill is a leader who likes challenges. Bloom says, “Instead of joining a board already doing wonderful things, Mike went to an organization, such as ours, that needed help. He truly wants to make a difference, and that says a lot about Mike’s character. ”
— Cathy S. Cruz