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Digging for Data

Chris Tomoyasu has been the Top 250's head researcher for 20 years

"It was just a matter of luck and happenstance," says Chris Tomoyasu, a retired University of Hawaii librarian, of her 1983 involvement with the inaugural Top 250 effort, which was then known as the Hawaii Business 100. "Mike Schmicker [former Hawaii Business editor] used to hang out a lot at Hamilton Library and one day we were talking about compiling a list of Hawaii's top companies. Forbes and Fortune did it, and it seemed that back then there were a lot of regional business magazines on the Mainland, which were compiling lists."

NUMBER CRUNCHER: Business reseacher Chris Tomoyasu has been hitting the books since 1983.

Several months later, Tomoyasu, then the list's lead researcher, didn't feel quite so lucky. Although the magazine's list had been pared down to 100 companies, in many ways Tomoyasu's effort was more daunting than those nationwide listings. Forbes' and Fortune's lists were populated by large public companies, institutions that had long, detailed paper trails of financial information. Like the well-trained librarian that she was, Tomoyasu hit the books, consulting as many as 37 print and computer databases. She plowed through annual reports and 10-K filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission. She scanned specialized trade journals such as Grocer's Spotlight. She read newspaper and magazine clippings, state and county documents.

According to Tomoyasu, that first effort did much to clear up misconceptions (and questionable sales figures). For instance, Tomoyasu found a New York database that was still reporting sales figures from the fraudulent investment firm Bishop, Baldwin, Rewald, Dillingham and Wong. At the time the firm was broke and its founder, Ron Rewald, was in a federal prison awaiting trial. Some other revelations where closer to home.

"In that first list, Kyo-ya showed up as No. 12 with revenues of $190 million," says Tomoyasu. "Mike told me that it must be a mistake. How could that little restaurant in Waikiki make all that money?' he said. We didn't realize at the time that it was also the name of a much bigger company, which owned a lot more in Waikiki."

Although she has many more tools at her disposal, Tomoyasu says compiling the Top 250 lists has remained largely unchanged. It still involves diving into databases and journals. In some ways, it is even more difficult than the early days of pencil and paper.

"As time has gone by, printed and online sources have become less and less useful," says Tomoyasu. "We discovered that many of these databases are now using us as a source."

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