2008 Movers and Shakers
The standouts of the 2008 Top 250 list.
(page 4 of 6)
Back to Business for Bishop Museum
New Bishop Museum president and CEO Timothy Johns is bringing a businesslike approach to the venerable 119-year-old nonprofit — one that emphasizes financial goal setting and long-term planning. The former head of the Estate of Samuel Mills Damon and the Department of Land and Natural Resources says it’s critical for Bishop Museum’s survival.
Johns says, “I don’t want the story to be that the museum’s [doing] bad because it’s not, but it’s not necessarily sitting on a pot of gold, as the impressions that might have been created by previous administrations on their way out the door.”
In 2007, Bishop Museum reported revenues of $29.5 million — a 52.8 percent increase over 2006 sales of $19.3 million — enough to make a debut appearance at No. 224 on our Top 250 list. However, a large part of those revenues were one-time donations for the capital campaign to renovate the historic Hawaiian Hall.
In late June 2008, the museum cut 14 staff positions, citing challenging economic conditions. The layoffs included management and non-management personnel, and represented about 6 percent of its 221-member staff. A week earlier, Mike Chinaka and Jodi Yamamoto, the museum’s CFO and general counsel, respectively, announced their resignations.
Johns said in a written statement, “Bishop Museum has undertaken a restructuring effort to better ensure the museum’s sustainability and long-term growth.” The museum’s annual operating budget is about $15 million. The layoffs will reduce that figure by $700,000 to $800,000 a year.
Almost 70 percent of Bishop Museum’s income is generated through competitive grants, state and federal funding, contributions, book sales, endowments and capital campaigns. The remainder comes from admissions, gift shop sales, facility rentals and investments.
Bishop Museum also operates the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden and the Hawaii Maritime Center, which recently de-rigged the historic Falls of Clyde and shored up its hull as a safety precaution due to the ship’s deteriorating condition.
Keeper of the Culture
Bishop Museum was founded by Charles Bishop in 1889 to house the extensive collection of rare Hawaiian artifacts and precious family heirlooms of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop — the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family. Since its founding, the goal of Bishop Museum has been to create a world-class institute of culture, science, technology and education with broad appeal.
Over the years, Bishop Museum’s history has been marred by fiscal deficits and disagreements over the facility’s direction. In 1986, in an effort to cut potential losses of $1.35 million in half, the museum terminated 13 positions and began closing the facility three Sundays a month.
The tide began to turn when former Bishop Museum president and CEO William Brown was hired in 2001. During his tenure, Bishop Museum opened its $17 million Science and Adventure Center, completed renovation of the Watumull Planetarium, and nearly doubled its endowment, among other highlights.
But progress didn’t come without challenges. Brown was criticized for hosting traveling exhibits that had little to do with Pacific Island culture and some in the Native Hawaiian community decried his stewardship of sacred Hawaiian burial objects. Brown resigned two years into his second four-year contract in January 2007.
Last year, the board also hired Johns after a seven-month executive search; the historic Hawaiian Hall closed for renovations after a successful $12 million capital campaign — a big reason for the jump in 2007 revenues; and Bishop Museum Press won more awards than any other publishing house in Hawaii.
“There’s a different trend in terms of people being philanthropic, so we’re very pleased by all of the generosity and support that we’ve received in recent years,” says Dr. Charman Akina, chairman of Bishop Museum’s board of directors.
In 2007, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs awarded the museum a $2 million grant — the largest ever in the history of OHA. “The work which Bishop Museum does is essential to perpetuating Hawaiian history,” says OHA administrator Clyde Namuo.
Meredith Ching, president of the Alexander & Baldwin Foundation, agrees. “Without an institution like Bishop Museum to house and communicate Hawaii’s culture and history to future generations of Hawaii residents and visitors, Hawaii risks losing what makes us (and our people) unique,” she said in a written statement. Last year, A&B contributed $50,000 in support of the museum and its programs.
Looking Toward the Future
Johns, who began serving as the museum’s president and CEO on Oct. 1, 2007, says the secret to success lies in the museum’s ability to plan for the future. He says much of that planning will be left to the museum’s 25-member board of directors, more than half of whom are Native Hawaiian.
“You always build upon your predecessors,” he says. “Bill [William Brown] focused very much on the capital side and not so much on the operational side, so there needs to be a focus on sustainable operations that can weather the changes in the economy.” He adds that the museum is conducting an operational review to identify ways to further streamline costs and reduce electricity usage.
At the top of Johns’ priority list is to oversee the renovation of Hawaiian Hall, financially stabilize day-to-day operations and, by early next year, finalize the strategic plan, which will pave the way for future endeavors. “A lot of nonprofits haven’t done the type of strategic business planning that many successful businesses do,” Johns says. In addition to the broad mission of Bishop Museum, he says specific goals are crucial to ensuring the museum becomes more inclusive and responsive to the community’s needs.
“There’s no magic bullet,” he says. “It’s really [about] being involved, being out there, getting the word out and just being an ambassador for the museum to parts of the community that may have forgotten about us.”
In an unstable economy, the museum not only loses essential foot traffic, but also sees a decline in the amount of charitable contributions it receives. Johns says Bishop Museum has a better chance of remaining viable by building lasting partnerships with the private sector. OHA’s Namuo says companies and organizations whose success depends on the promotion of the Hawaiian culture should step up to support the museum.
According to chairman Akina, going forward, Bishop Museum intends to showcase its strengths, such as — its new and improved campus, anthropological studies and more than 24 million catalogued objects.
“Not only do we have a role to tell everybody about Hawaii and the Pacific, but we also have, I think, an important role to educate the children about the rest of the world,” says Johns. “I think there’s room for both, and I think it’s better for the children of Hawaii that we do both.”
Johns declined to provide 2008 revenue projections, but does expect capital campaign proceeds to dip once renovations to Hawaiian Hall are completed later this year. He says, “That’s why we really need to be proactive in our planning. It’s all about perpetuity.”
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