Hawaii Business CEO of the Year: Eric Yeaman

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One of his first actions was to rekindle a local cultural sensibility, something employees complained was missing in the years that The Carlyle Group was in charge.

Yeaman, second from right, joined his family for a reunion in
1997 at Honaunau Beach in Kona on the Big Island, where
he grew up. He graduated from Konawaena High School
and is one-quarter Hawaiian.

“Fierce Resolve,” say signs now emblazoned on walls everywhere at Hawaiian Telcom.  “Aloha Spirit … Superior Service … Trustworthiness.” 

“We call them our FAST values,” says Yeaman. “I told employees we need to find our North Star – what’s going to guide us – and that is a set of values. And that became something our employees could rally around.”

Yeaman’s down-to-earth style reflects his origins as a local boy who spent summers picking tomatoes, cucumbers, coffee beans and macadamia nuts on Kona farms. Nowadays, he personally greets employees in the elevator or on their own turf at far-flung Neighbor Island baseyards several times a year. He also makes time for a slew of community organizations and speaks at local events, especially back home on the Kona coast. He knows the importance of homegrown heroes because he vividly remembers how Kona-born Ellison Onizuka would speak to his and other classes before the astronaut perished in the 1986 Challenger explosion.

“It helped me dream about what I could do and be,” says Yeaman, whose father was one of Onizuka’s high school classmates. Yeaman remembers his dad and Ellison’s brother Claude getting together for meals. “I was this kid listening to adults talk about life and business. I was gaining real-life experience. I was this lucky kid.”

 

Chasing New Clients with New Technology

Hawaiian Telcom is moving from being “the phone company” into being an “integrated, full-service communications-technology company,” says Eric Yeaman. That places HT head to head against Oceanic Time Warner and other companies on a host of technology, data and communication services.

“We’re aggressively going out there to expand our footprint and go after new customers,” says Hawaiian Telcom spokesman Scott Simon.

Its new and expanded services include a full range of Internet Protocol services (IP), including ethernet, high-bandwidth data services, managed services and cloud-based services, which are coming online shortly. After almost a year of study, focus groups and equipment tests, the company in July began rolling out a new generation of TV/phone/Internet packages that use fiber-optic technology in partnership with Cisco and Microsoft. TV/phone/Internet package deals have helped Oceanic convert many phone customers away from Hawaiian Telcom in recent years, and now HT is fighting back.

Hawaiian Telcom is expanding this service neighborhood by neighborhood on Oahu, using the phone network. “Oahu has approximately 300,000 households and we’re looking to build out Oahu over the next four to five years,” Yeaman says. (To find out if your area is covered, go to hawaiiantel.com/TV.)

Yeaman touts the quality of his company’s technology and then adds, “What we’ve seen on the mainland is that price is not the area where you want to battle. You want to battle on the value and product and service side. It’s still competitive pricing, but not a race to the bottom either.”

HT’s revenue comes from three main sources: about one-third from residential customers, 43 percent from businesses and the rest from wholesale.

Wholesale includes servicing wireless phone companies and long-distance companies that use the statewide Hawaiian Telcom network. HT has upgraded 141 cell sites to 4G for its wireless customers and more upgrades are coming. 

“We’re a wholesale provider to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile,” Yeaman says. “They buy network access capacity from us.”

 

The Yeaman Effect

Source: Presentation to investors, November 2011

 

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

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Comments, page 1 of 2 1 2 Next »
Jan 4, 2012 12:20 am
 Posted by  nobu

"the company has generated $15 million in profit and now has a net worth of $300 million." Can this be because the systems still don't work, jobs out-sourced, reduction in force, etc? Since the company turned a profit, why couldn't part of that profit go toward keeping jobs local, or just keeping jobs period? Maybe fixing the systems the front line employees need to work with? Instead, half of that profit went to the CEO and management bonuses? Par for the course perhaps? Thanks

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Jan 4, 2012 07:06 am
 Posted by  JA4579

@NOBU What jobs were outsourced? I keep hearing this but I've never spoken or interacted with any rep that wasn't based locally.

Jan 4, 2012 01:37 pm
 Posted by  nobu

@JA479-The 411, "0" operators, and company directory operators are now based in SAIPAN. When a pay phone is used (what is that anyway?) your calls to "0" are also routed elsewhere. Thankfully, the customer service reps you speak to are all LOCAL.

Jan 4, 2012 02:58 pm
 Posted by  Janice Okubo

A great person to honor. Eric is a wonderfully humble and gracious man of integrity. As always, great writing by Beverly Creamer.

Jan 4, 2012 07:23 pm
 Posted by  AlohafromMinneapolis!

I am so proud of Eric Yeaman. We were roommates in college while attending University of Hawaii. I knew that Eric would be very successful in his chosen career based on his determination, drive, skills, intelligence, personality, and more importantly, dedication to his work and family. I salute you Mr. Yeaman!

Jan 4, 2012 07:50 pm
 Posted by  john doe

"One of the things I look for, too, was he started at the bottom, picking coffee in the Kona mountains..."

What a horrible thing to say! That is really insulting to farmers. Some people take pride in doing a good job - regardless of the nature of their business. So walter dods thinks picking coffee in kona is the lowliest of jobs? Or did he mean to say something like "...he started at a humble job, picking coffee..."?

Tough one, that. Walter is not usually this careless with words...

Jan 6, 2012 06:13 pm
 Posted by  Dan Canete

He needs to look at his internet business. Hawaii Telcom just lost mine because they do not stock modems locally. They have to ship them from the mainland and it takes 3-5 days. So, I have a business that depends on the internet and cannot afford a 3-5 day downtime. I called Oceanic and was told I could get a replacement the same day. Maybe the light will go on in Eric's head that these things are small enough, he can keep them in his garage. Duh!

Jan 6, 2012 06:42 pm
 Posted by  WeGo

Actually, the modems are stocked locally, shipped to neighbor islands from Oahu, not the mainland. It takes 1-2 business days. If you are on Oahu, you can pick one up at one of the Hawaiian Telcom TV Depots.

Jan 7, 2012 02:38 am
 Posted by  nobu

@Dan Canete-as you can see communication isn't the strong point at Hawaiian Telcom any longer. According to WEGO, obviously HT mgt, modems ARE shipped locally, perhaps you can pick them up at the former HT stores, but where are they? Reps are so busy selling, CUSTOMER SERVICE is a thing of the past (FOR SOME). Front line folks have so much stress placed on them, and such little resources to help, VALUABLE customers like yourself are lost.Believe me there are reps who really CARE.

Jan 7, 2012 02:56 am
 Posted by  nobu

cont@Dan Canete-I can say "keep the faith" but I too have lost faith in this "Local Company". There is no mention in the article about how hard the rank and file worked together to turn this company around. It seems like all the credit was given to yeaman, and he gave no credit to the workers. Oh, he did cut their benefits. LIGHT BULB time, where would you and your management team be if not for the workers doing the work? I so agree with you Dan..DUH on more than 1 count. Thank you

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