20 for the Next 20: People to Watch 2013
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Photo: Ryan Siphers
President/CEO, Maui Economic Development Board
Jeanne Skog has fond memories of growing up in Haiku when pineapple was king.
“My dad had quite a bit of acreage and we had the freedom to roam the fields and enjoy that smell of pineapple,” recalls Skog.
Today, as head of MEDB, she has made it her life’s work to diversify Maui’s economy beyond agriculture.
“When I was growing up, it was all about agriculture and tourism. It was a given that if you wanted to do something else, you would have to move somewhere. But now there’s really a sense here that there are other options,” she says.
One option is technology and, particularly, the Maui Research and Technology Park in Kihei, which employs about 400 people at more than 20 companies.
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa says Skog’s leadership has been instrumental in the Valley Isle’s move toward diversification. “She set the direction and has made the MEDB a very vibrant organization that has been able to promote Maui in a large way as a tech center,” he says.
Skog attributes the tech park’s success to key leaders coming together and persevering.
“Looking back and seeing how they thought ahead about strategy and process, it’s pretty amazing to see how it unfolded,” she adds.
Skog’s leadership style is to bring people together. It’s something she learned from Don Malcolm, the first MEDB president, who died in 2007. He hired her as his executive assistant when the agency was new in 1984. She rose through the ranks as board secretary, VP and, now, president.
“I was fortunate to have him as my mentor. We had long talks about how he was seeing our path forward,” says Skog. “He had a way of gently explaining and bringing people to the table. There may be people who don’t agree where you’re initially headed, but you still have to bring them to the table. In the end, you’ll have to deal with these points of view so it’s better to deal with them up front, so no one feels left out in the initial step. It’s not easy, but I’ve come to see that reaching out to people is the most effective way to move forward.”
Chief Information Officer, Hawaii Community Foundation
Forest Frizzell’s hanai uncle once told him he was born in the wrong place.
The kid from Walton, Ore., population 250, grew up poor but became the first in his family to attend college. That choice led to Hawaii. “At Portland State, I met a Hawaiian kid named Hoala Greevy, who invited me home for the summer. I fell in love with Hawaii,” says Frizzell.
Greevy’s mother, Haaheo Mansfield, says Frizzell fit in immediately.
“When it was time to go back to school at the end of summer, Forest said, ‘Aunty, I want to stay here. May I stay with you and your family?’ ” recalls Mansfield, who is senior VP of programs at the nonprofit Parents and Children Together. “I said, ‘Yes,’ and he enrolled at the University of Hawaii.”
Mansfield says Frizzell has strong values and a great work ethic.
“I learned from a young age, if I wanted money, I had to work for it,” says Frizzell. “When I was 10 or 11, I helped this guy build a barn. We hand mixed concrete in a wheelbarrow.”
With his degree in communications at UH-Manoa, Frizzell went to Silicon Valley during the dot-com era. After a year and a half, he returned to Hawaii.
He was working for Integrated Security Technologies when the city’s IT director, Gordon Bruce, offered him the job of deputy director. “It was an exciting time,” Frizzell says. “Mayor Carlisle’s goal was to get citizens more involved and engaged in government. He wanted to bring a transparency that hadn’t existed before.”
That transparency included putting all budgets and financial disclosure statements online.
Bruce says that, in 2012, through Frizzell’s work and leadership, Honolulu received a grant to develop a mobile phone application to make the city more open, efficient and user-friendly.
Honolulu was also recognized as the top large “Digital City in America” in 2011 by the Center for Digital Government, a national research institute on IT best practices in state and local government.
Frizzell’s role with the city included public outreach and he says working with people suits him perfectly. He has taken that skill into his new role as CIO of the Hawaii Community Foundation.
“I’m a community member first, before I’m a technologist,” he says. “I like to connect people, open up opportunities and solve problems.”
Photo: David Croxford
Poni Askew has always followed her heart.
The Leilehua High School graduate spent a few years at UH-Manoa, and then decided she needed a change of scenery. She moved with some musician friends to Nashville.
“Other than a few vacations here and there growing up, I had never left the island. It was a fun adventure,” she recalls. That “adventure” turned into 15 years working in music’s road-management. She started working part-time for coffee shops and eventually full-time for Starbucks. In 2007, she was offered the job of Hawaii district manager of license stores, the ticket home for her, her husband and their 6-week-old baby.
Once again, she followed her heart, though she missed the boat with her first entrepreneurial idea. On the mainland, she had tasted Mexican paletas, ice pops made from fresh fruit, and planned a gourmet ice-pop business in Hawaii.
“I worked on product development for two years,” she recalls. “Then Ono Pops launched and beat me to it.”
Plan B was the mobile food industry. Askew got a Twitter handle, @streetgrindz, to connect with food truck vendors. That led to the first “Eat the Street” at a parking lot in 2011.
“We’ve had street vendors in Hawaii since the manapua-man days. It feels good to know that I’m not only carrying on this legacy, but I’m also supporting the people who do that. If I can provide a platform where they’re able to sell their product, it’s almost like a stepping stone, where someday they’re elated to open a brick and mortar,” says Askew.
Wendy Awai-Dakroub, co-owner of two food trucks, Xtreme Tacos and Fairy Cakes, is grateful for Askew’s support.
“Poni really cares about small businesses. She’s really instrumental in helping all of us and finding opportunities for us,” says Awai-Dakroub.
Last fall, Askew launched the Honolulu Night Market in Kakaako to provide a new platform for local artisans and chefs. She says finding the right financial balance is her biggest challenge.
“We need to be able to afford to produce these events and also make sure we’re mindful of our fees and costs to our vendors. My commitment is not to gouge. I try to keep our prices low. This is not a get-rich quick scheme,” she adds.
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