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Maui Business Report 2013

(page 5 of 5)

Q&A: Kelly King

The co-founder of Pacific Biodiesel on how she greased the wheels for international success.

Photo: Ryan Siphers

When Robert and Kelly King began Pacific Biodiesel in 1996, the humble startup was operating within Central Maui
Landfill and had just one employee. Today, the company has developed 12 facilities across the Mainland and in Japan, opening its latest venture, Big Island Biodiesel, last year. Kelly reflects on their 17-year partnership, and on how they turned a big idea into a big business.

What do you and Robert each bring to the company?

Bob is chairman of the board, and I’m vice president and chief communications officer. It’s a very left-brain, right-brain kind of thing. He’s been a diesel mechanic for almost 40 years, so he oversees things like technology development. My side is more of the marketing, outreach and education.

Biodiesel was such a new concept when you started in 1996. What convinced you that it was a good idea?

It wasn’t something that I inherently knew was a good idea, because this was the third big idea. The first two didn’t go so well, so from my point of view, I was like “Okay, but this is the last time.”

What encouraged you to push forward?

Our first customers were more like what you’d call a hippie today. They’d come in with bare feet and T-shirts with holes in them, pay 50 to 70 cents more—because biodiesel was quite a bit more expensive than petroleum diesel back then—and thank us for making the fuel. You’d never see that at a typical gas station, so that had a huge impact on me. At least three times, Bob told me he just wanted to sell it. I said, “Look at the people who come in and support this. They do it because they believe in it, and that’s reason enough to hang on and push ahead.”

You’ve won a number of awards and accolades throughout the years. Which are you most proud of?

When we started, it was all about the environment. Then it became about creating a community-based business, and now it has become more about jobs than ever before. In 2011, we won the national Green Jobs Award. It was special for me because we won not just for being an environmental company, but for the way we treat our employees. That touched us deeply.

What kinds of business lessons have you learned since starting Pacific Biodiesel?

Looking for skill sets is important for any business. In the early days we hired a lot of people who were really enthusiastic about biodiesel, but maybe they were someone we were hiring to be a salesperson, and they didn’t really have that kind of experience. Now we look for people with the correct background, then teach them about the business, because most people who learn about this business are going to be excited when they find out what we’re doing.

I’ve also learned that you’re never going to regret doing the right thing. To knowingly march into something for the wrong motivation, you’re probably going to end up doing the wrong thing, so we try to keep our motivations pretty pure. Our mission hasn’t changed since the beginning: it’s all about community-based biodiesel and trying to promote local and sustainable practices.

Kahului Airport by the Numbers

5.5 million

Total passenger arrivals and departures for 2011, the most recent period available. Roughly 3.1 million headed to the Mainland or Canada, while 2.4 million flew interisland.


Price of a “Wabo Rita Margarita.” The concoction made with Cabo Wabo Tequila, triple sec, sweet and sour cocktail mix, fresh lime juice, and a splash of curacao is a signature drink at Sammy Hagar’s Beach Bar and Grill, one of five restaurants serving travelers.


Total arrivals and departures
for private and corporate jets in January 2012, the month of peak traffic for the year. September had the fewest with 27.

6,955 feet

Length of Runway 2-20, one of two landing strips at OGG, and the only one long enough to handle interisland and Mainland-bound jets. The state Department of Transportation has announced plans to replace the aging runway; an environmental impact statement for the project is expected to take 18-24 months.


Number of public parking stalls. Honolulu International Airport has around 6,000.


Sources: Department of Transportation; HMSHost.

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