9. Bert Kobayashi
Chairman, Kobayashi Development Group LLC
Developer Bert A. Kobayashi is a good friend of the governor. He is also the current chair of the University of Hawaii’s Board of Regents and is a board member of numerous other Hawaii community institutions. Kobayashi is a formidable fund raiser, recently chairing the recognition event when First Lady Vicky Cayetano received the 2002 Distinguished Citizen Award from the Aloha Council of the Boy Scouts of America. His community involvement extends to Washington, D.C., where he is a regent of Georgetown University.
“It’s not power that I’m looking for. It’s more like connections, so that I can help other people,” Kobayashi says, “I help myself once and a while, too.”
The 57-year-old Kobayashi never finished college. His father, Albert C. Kobayashi, who started A.C. Kobayashi Construction, became ill when Bert was a 20-year-old student at Kapiolani Community College. Young Bert ran the construction company from that time on, until its sale to the employees in 1997. Last year, Albert C. Kobayashi Inc. ranked No. 102 on the Hawaii Business list of the Top 250 companies with 2001 gross sales of $66 million. The company’s president, Russell Young, says, “Not everybody can go knock on doors and ask other people to donate or buy for worthy causes [like Bert can], if that’s considered power.”
Kobayashi says that when he took over the construction company 37 years ago, his goal was to make $1 million and retire. He made his million in nine years. The retirement part never happened. Today, he estimates that his development projects, under numerous companies, including Kobayashi Development Group LLC, have been grossing about $100 million a year. Some of his more high-profile projects include proposed twin luxury condominium towers (in partnership with Duncan MacNaughton) on land formerly owned by Victoria Ward Ltd., the Kukio Beach Resort on the North Kona Coast of the Big Island, Kapolei Civic Center and Kapolei Middle and High Schools.
Lobbyist Bob Toyofuku says, “I think Bert’s relationship with Gov. Cayetano, especially, and his network of friends throughout Honolulu and outside make him a power person in this state.”
But Kobayashi says his friendship with the governor has been a business drawback. “I would say being close to the top dog in government is not really a glamorous, powerful thing,” says Kobayashi. “Basically, my net worth went down by 40 percent while the governor held the governorship, because I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do. … I think it was a detriment for me to be friends with him, but that’s more important for me than the business.”
— Kelli Abe Trifonovitch