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20 for the Next 20: People to Watch 2014

(page 7 of 8)

Jason Fujita

Consumer Sales & Product Marketing,
Hawaiian Telcom
Age: 38

As a boy, Jason Fujita often sat at the dinner table with high-level executives and future CEOs such as Bob Hiam and Mike Gold. Fujita’s mom, Georgiana Fujita, retired senior VP and chief information officer at HMSA, often took her son to company events.

“Her expectation was that I could hold conversations with adults,” says Jason Fujita. He believes such exposure to people led him on his current path.

The 1993 Iolani School graduate says his parents encouraged him to pursue engineering at Santa Clara University, earning his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1997. But, Fujita says, his people skills drew him to business. Soon after graduation, at the age of 22, he was chosen to participate in a two-month national training program by GTE. He focused on sales and joined the company as an account executive.

Over the past 13 years, he has worked his way up the corporate ladder through all the changes at the phone company, from the days of GTE Hawaiian Tel to Verizon Hawaii, Hawaiian Telcom and its Chapter 11 bankruptcy, to its emergence now as a publicly traded company.

“He’s a Hawaii success story, a local boy who has consistently exceeded expectations, leading to well-deserved promotions to roles of increasing responsibility,” says John Komeiji, Hawaiian Telcom’s senior VP and general counsel. “Jason’s well respected by his peers and his employees.”

Fujita oversees the residential and business call center for sales and service, the door-to-door sales team, bulk agreements for residential buildings and pay phones.

“I love this company. I have a personal stake in terms of the people I work with,” he says. “I know I’m one of the people who plays a big role in the health of the business and I just want this company to succeed.”

According to Komeiji, Fujita isn’t afraid to make tough decisions.

“But, at the same time, he’s empathetic, taking into consideration how things impact both customers and employees,” says Komeiji. “As a young leader, he has been in uncomfortable situations, but has managed them with consummate grace and professionalism.”

“I’ve been really lucky to be where I am and fortunate to have a lot of good leadership mentors along the way, like Eric (Yeaman), Warren Haruki and Duane Kurisu,” says Fujita. “My success is never based on what I do. I work for my people, not the other way around.”


Hiilei Kawelo

Hiilei Kawelo says the Heeia fishpond not only requires a community to restore it, but the fishpond in turn sustains that community. “There is nothing selfish about this place,” she says.

Photo: David Croxford

Executive director,
Paepae O Heeia
Age: 36

Hiilei Kawelo knows exactly where she’ll be 20 years from now.

“I will be sitting here eating fish from this pond,” she says, looking at the 800-year-old, 88-acre Heeia fishpond. “We’ll be distributing fish throughout the community. I probably won’t be lifting the rocks by then, but hopefully there won’t be a lot of rocks that need lifting. Just more fish.”

Kawelo is one of eight founders of Paepae O Heeia, a nonprofit on a mission to restore the fishpond. While growing up in this Kahaluu neighborhood, Kawelo says she didn’t even know the pond existed and learned about fishponds in a Hawaiian Studies class at UH.

While pursuing a B.S. degree in Zoology at UH-Manoa, Kawelo discovered that fishponds run in her blood. Her grandfather’s family took care of a fishpond in Kaneohe and another relative cared for a fishpond in Pearl Harbor.

She volunteered to help restore the Heeia fishpond in 1998 and education provided a further catalyst in 2001. “With the charter-school movement, there was a huge need to educate kids in nontraditional settings,” she explains. “The fishpond would serve as an outdoor learning lab, giving kids a way to get stoked on science, math and Hawaiian culture.”

At the time, Kamehameha Schools was leasing the pond to a private aquaculturist, but agreed to fund Paepae O Heeia.

“It was a way for Kamehameha Schools to extend their reach, adding value to education and get one of their prime assets taken care of. We now educate 7,000 kids a year.”

Mahina Duarte, principal at Halau Ku Mana, a public charter school whose students benefit from the fishpond, praises Kawelo’s leadership.

“Her approach to decision-making, management and strategy development is led by her local sensibility and multigenerational thinking,” says Duarte. “Her efforts have helped inspire other communities to view the fishponds not only as aquacultural settings, but as ecocultural spaces that teach communities to aloha aina.”

Kawelo believes the fishpond can help rejuvenate a weakened sense of community.

“The fishpond is the vessel. It’s a place that is welcoming of all, requiring a community to restore it. It’s also an effort to benefit the whole community. There is nothing selfish about this place.”

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