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Institutional Knowledge

Inside the minds of Hawaii’s most successful companies

(page 4 of 4)

Giving Back

Perhaps the most common motif in our conversations with Hawaii’s CEOs was the chorus for community service. According to Robert Wilkinson, a man who, before coming to Grace Pacific, spent decades as a corporate executive in cities across the Mainland, “There’s more charity here than any place I’ve ever been. It’s almost expected of you as an executive to spend time in community affairs. And I think that’s a good thing. That’s Hawaii.”

Nick Cutter, the CEO of Cutter Management, puts it another way: “Aloha is alive and well here in Hawaii. When times are tough, you’ve got to give back. That circle is what keeps an island community going. You can’t just take out.”

Of course, each company views community service through its own prism. Like several of the Top 250, A&B, through its foundation, has channeled millions of dollars into community nonprofits. But the company’s range of community involvement is much broader than that. Doane gives a fascinating example: “Last week, we did something that, for us, was quite significant. We held a global climate-change symposium here. We got everyone together and brought in some experts to talk about the problem.”

“The world is coming unraveled,” he added. “No one wants more CO2 in the atmosphere. So we wanted to talk about what we do as a company. The point is, we’ve committed ourselves to figuring out ways to reduce it. We’re not going to wait for the regulators to tell us what to do.”

Corporate charity is clearly a source of pride among the Top 250 CEOs. Horner notes, “To this day, First Hawaiian Bank is the largest corporate giver in Hawaii — by a pretty large margin. Last year, we gave out $3.5 million. What’s more impressive, though, we have something called Kokua Mai, which is an employee campaign to raise money for charities. Amazingly, 90 percent of our employees participate in that. Last year we raised $550,000, just from employees alone.”

And for many CEOs, community involvement starts with taking care of your employees, especially when times are hard. Nick Cutter puts it succinctly: “As president of this company, I’ve got a responsibility to my employees. Their bills don’t go down just because new-car sales have gone down. So we don’t do the layoff thing. I’m always telling my managers, ‘Protect your employees. In hard times, if a couple leave, don’t replace them. Let the 12 who have been with you earn a paycheck.”

Horner likes to cite what he calls the “core values” of First Hawaiian Bank. “The first priority is the employee —you’ve got to take care of your family. The second is you’ve got to take care of your customer. And the third priority is to take care of your community. And I think if you take care of those three first, the shareholder will be taken care of, too.” Standing in the little museum on the 29th floor of the First Hawaiian Bank Building, Horner tells a story about Mr. Bishop to emphasize his point. In 1876, Bishop and Co. moved into a brand new building on Merchant Street. The traditional thing when you have a grand opening is to have a big party. But Bishop took a different route. He quietly donated to several charities. Horner would have you believe this is good business.

We agree.

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Hawaii Business,August