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20 for the Next 20: People to Watch 2013

(page 6 of 8)

Elizabeth Churchill

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Churchill

Senior VP Sales & Marketing, Aqua Hotels and Resorts
Age: 45

Aqua Hotels & Resorts founder and director Mike Paulin told Elizabeth Churchill that if she slept on the job before all else, everything would fall into place.

She did, and it has.

“Beth spent many days and nights experiencing Aqua’s service delivery as a ‘secret shopper,’ so she came on board well prepared for the task of generating broad brand recognition,” says Paulin. “It led to an unprecedented expansion of inventory during Hawaii’s deepest tourism decline on record.”
Paulin says Churchill’s leadership resulted in a complete rebranding of his hotel group, tripling the number of rooms it oversees, multiplying Aqua’s earnings many times and creating job security for 1,500 employees.

Churchill feels fortunate to have had the chance to revamp the hotel’s brand.

“Not a lot of people have the opportunity to create a brand in the their lifetime,” she says. “When I started at Aqua in 2005, I ran both marketing and guest services. Very few companies have ever combined the two like that. It’s a fantastic combination because it’s the full cycle of service from start to finish.”

Paulin says Churchill’s accomplishments include renaming The Edition as The Modern Honolulu, transforming the former W hotel into the Aqua Lotus at Diamond Head with better returns, rescuing the iconic Ilikai and transitioning Wailea’s failed Diamond Resort into the hip Hotel Wailea.

For the first three years, Churchill says, she worked six days a week and never took a day of vacation. She sees the team she created as key to her success.

“I’m not a micro-manager. I really love and appreciate smart, creative people,” she says. “I try to find people with the same sense of fulfillment.”

Paulin says Churchill’s team came mainly from outside the hotel industry, which lets Aqua provide a leading-edge e-commerce commitment to its hotel owners.

“In the process, several of Aqua’s ownership groups have made multiple hotel purchases, leveraging the expertise and real-time results of Beth’s team,” he says.

Ben Ancheta

Photo: David Croxford

Strategic Accounts Officer, ProService Hawaii
Age: 40

Ben Ancheta surfed with a longboard way before it was considered cool.

“As a surfer, you don’t use a longboard until you can no longer shortboard,” says Dustin Sellers, Ancheta’s surfing buddy and co-owner of ProService Hawaii. “But Ben used a longboard when he was 26 years old. He was very comfortable with that. It says a lot about his sense of self.”

Born and raised in Waipahu and a Kamehameha Schools graduate, Ancheta has always been true to himself, while building his life on personal integrity and the value of relationships.

“I really try to connect people. Not for personal gain, but I really like seeing other people doing well. I especially like helping people find new careers and bringing them back from the mainland,” says Ancheta.

Sellers met Ancheta on the job at a consulting firm in Los Angeles and struck up a friendship. Later, when Sellers and Ben Godsey bought ProService, Sellers called Ancheta, who was working on the East Coast in his wife’s family’s business. “When Dustin called me, I wasn’t looking to come back,” says Ancheta.

“Hawaii is a very difficult place to make a career, but it found me and now I’m here to stay.”

Sellers originally hired Ancheta as COO, but Ancheta says he realized it wasn’t a good fit.

“I always thought of myself as an operations guy, but came to the painful realization what I wanted to be was not who I was,” he explains. “I found that I am really a relationship person. So in my new role in the last two years, I’ve been able to work directly with clients and directly with the CEO on HR issues and set up special programs. It’s been fun.”

Sellers is glad Ancheta found his niche.

“To be a change agent in Hawaii, you have to be creative in the way you build consensus,” says Sellers. “... He has this unique ability to make people like him and trust his vision. He comes from a very pragmatic and strategic view. We need more of that.”

Scott Mercer

Photo: Atsushi Sugimoto

Co-founder/CEO, Volta Industries
Age: 26

Chenoa Farnsworth thinks back on her first contact with Scott Mercer and laughs.

“He sent me a business plan, thinking that was how to get funded,” says the managing director of Hawaii Angels. “It was a naïve thing to do, but I was intrigued and set up a meeting with him and Chris (Volta co-founder Chris Ching). When they showed up, I thought, ‘My goodness, you guys look like you’re 12 or 13 years old!’ ”

But Mercer’s honest approach worked, and Volta received a $200,000 investment from Hawaii Angels in September.

A Colorado native, Mercer’s affinity for all things wheeled began when he started trading Hot Wheels at the age of 4. After working his way through Cal Poly San Luis Obispo restoring vintage sports cars, he sought a job with electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors. That didn’t pan out, so he and a friend, Hawaii-born Chris Ching, searched for the best place to launch a business built around electric car-charging stations and found that Hawaii had the best legislation.

“Every business with at least 100 parking spots must have an electric car-charging station,” explains Mercer. “We’re the only state that has that law.”

Volta has become one of the two largest providers of EV charging equipment in the state.

Ching has moved to the mainland to bring Volta to other cities, while Mercer remains here to run the Hawaii operation. “We try to build the stations in places where people can spend an hour or two, so they can do something else while their car is charging,” says Mercer. “That’s why the stations are set up at shopping malls.”

Mercer said charging up at Volta’s stations is free, with billboard advertising paying the bills.

“We’re not just trying to appeal to those that are driving around in electric cars now, but those that will be driving one in the future,” he says.

And what’s his daily drive? “An electric dirt bike,” says Mercer. “I really wanted an electric car, but you can’t buy a brand new car and start a company at the same time.”

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