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In Focus

For Francis Oda, leading the state’s largest architecture and planning firm

Francis Oda
Age: 62
Education: Cornell University Dept. of Architecture, BA, ‘64; University of Hawaii, Pacific Urban Regional Planning Program, ’73; University of Hawaii, 2000
Work Experience: Head of Group 70 International for more than 25 years
Family: Wife, Caroline Ward Oda, is head of St. Andrew’s Priory School, two children

Eight years ago, architect Francis Oda stunned his partners when he told them that he was contemplating a career change. The chairman and chief executive officer of Group 70 International was considering a move to the ministry.

He was going to take two weeks off. If God called him to spread the gospel, he would leave the company and his life's work behind. After much prayer and fasting, he returned to the office and announced to his still-mystified colleagues that he would become a full-time minister and continue heading the firm.

"God told me to follow the path of Paul," says Oda. "I didn't know much about Paul, so I had to look him up. I discovered that he was a tentmaker throughout his ministry. He was always self-supporting when he preached. This kind of ministry-living, working and interacting with the people-is what led to the explosion of early Christianity. This is how a small group of people was able to spread the word so far so fast."

Today, in addition to heading Group 70 International, Oda is senior pastor at New Life Church, a 90-person, non-denominational Christian congregation on South King Street. On any given day, Oda might be literally redrawing the city's skyline with some of Honolulu's most powerful developers, or he may be trying to patch up a broken home. Sometimes both worlds intersect, when he counsels clients and work friends through difficult times. However, for Oda, keeping a foot in both worlds isn't as confusing as it may seem. He contends that work and worship are indeed all part of one whole.

"I deal with business and all of its complications, but I'm also working with family problems, employment and housing issues and drug abuse on a daily basis. It's like having one very big family," says Oda. "Everyone has multiple roles in life. We are business people and husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. When you go to the office, you don't stop being a father."

Oda's multi-role life was a huge paradigm shift for the architect, who once believed that he had to be able to dream a building before he could design it. That wasn't his first epiphany. Oda converted to Christianity nearly 25 years ago, after an all-consuming devotion to his work filled his mantle with awards and his bank account with commission checks, but left the star architect empty. A week after his equally super-achieving wife, Caroline (now head of St. Andrew's Priory School), was born again at a church service, a skeptical Oda attended church and found what was missing in his life.

"We had all the superficial things of success, but it didn't seem like it was enough. We were running around like crazy. We would be interested in this and that, but nothing sustained itself," says Oda. "I think many people who achieve professional success early experience this. They make their first million or $10 million and then say, 'Now, what?'"

The architect says that the past seven years have been the most successful and fulfilling, both professionally and spiritually. Group 70's business has been booming (the firm was ranked No. 248 in Hawaii Business' Top 250, with gross revenues of $16.3 million, a 21.6 percent increase from a year before), and recently Oda has begun training four junior pastors in how to minister in the workplace as he has done.

"Our architectural practice is based on the principles of sharing, giving, serving and loving," says Oda. "We might not believe in the same god, but we believe in the same values, and we attempt to treat everyone accordingly. We really understand that we are servants of the community. We aren't in this for our own ends."

Good business practices or a good reading of Scripture?

Both.

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