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Institutional Knowledge

Inside the minds of Hawaii’s most successful companies

(page 1 of 4)

Honolulu Skyline

Don Horner, CEO, First Hawaiian Bank
“The first priority is the employee. The second is you’ve got to take care of your customer. And the third priority is to take care of your community.”

Don Horner
CEO, First Hawaiian Bank

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“I’m kind of a Bishop nut,” says Don Horner, the president and CEO of First Hawaiian Bank, standing in the small conference room adjacent to his 29th floor offices. There, Horner has created a modest shrine to the bank’s founder, the remarkable Charles Reed Bishop. Housed in a glass case is a small collection of documents and mementos from a career in banking and public service that spanned nearly 50 years and five Hawaiian monarchs.

“We’ve got Mr. Bishop’s general ledger from when he got off the boat in 1846,” Horner says, referring to a vest-pocket account book, which lies open beneath the glass. The ledger, in Bishop’s own meticulous hand, shows that he arrived in the Islands with $75 in his pockets. Also among the artifacts preserved here is the first general ledger of Bishop and Co., the institution that would eventually become First Hawaiian Bank. A quick glance reveals that deposits on Aug. 17, 1858, the day the bank opened, amounted to $4,800. “I love this history,” Horner says. Then he adds, “Because it’s important.”

We agree.

In 1983, to help commemorate the bank’s 125th anniversary, First Hawaiian published a slender book called “Tides of Commerce,” which celebrated the bank’s role in the commercial history of the Islands. Coincidentally, that was also the year Hawaii Business first published its list of what began as the Top 100 companies. Since then, the list — which quickly grew into the Top 250 — has served as an annual portrait of Hawaii’s biggest and most successful companies.

Now, 25 years later, it seems like a good time to look back and reflect on our own record of commercial history in Hawaii. To help us, we sat down with the CEOs of some of the companies that have been on the list from the beginning. These executives must be doing something right, after all, only 16 percent of the companies on the original 1984 Top 250 list have been on the Top 250 every year since. We wanted to know what it means to be a Top 250 company — what does it mean today, and what did it mean 25 years ago? How has doing business changed in the past 25 years? And what are the responsibilities that go along with being one of Hawaii’s largest companies as we look to the future?

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Hawaii Business,August