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1. Walter Dods

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, BancWest Corp.

More than 30 years ago, a group of important bankers from Hawaii and the Mainland gathered for lunch at the famed eatery The Willows. After the luncheon finished, a long line began forming at the restaurant’s valet parking stand. People were going to be late. Appointments were going to be missed. But one of First Hawaiian Bank’s young executives quickly leapt into action, grabbing car keys and delivering autos to the waiting businessmen. The banker-turned-parking attendant was Walter Dods.

“None of those bankers knew who this well-dressed valet was,” says Wes Park, former president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Dental Service and Dods’ close friend. “But that’s Walter for you. He’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done, and he acts quickly and decisively. You know, I think he got 50 cents in tips that day.”

The fact that Dods, chairman and chief executive officer, BancWest Corp., was the top vote-getter in our poll was no surprise. But the margin between Dods and second place was eye-opening. Everyone mentioned Dods in their surveys, and everyone, except two (we won’t tell.), had him on the top of their list. He was prominently mentioned in all three categories.

Why is Dods universally recognized as the most powerful person in Hawaii? The numbers don’t lie: In 2001, BancWest Corp., which ranked second in Hawaii Business’ Top 250, had $1.63 billion in gross sales, a 7 percent increase from the previous year. Annual profits for that year were $254.8 million, far and away the most of any company on the list. That year wasn’t unusual. Under Dods’ 13-year leadership, the bank’s shareholder value and presence in the community have increased exponentially.

But that’s not the only reason for his influence. Possessing an uncanny ability to put a finger to the winds of change, Dods has been sought after for his sage advice by governors, senators and leaders of many stripes. In addition, a reputation for honesty and loyalty has won him friends throughout the business community.

Finally, for people outside the circles of power, Dods, who started at the bank as an officer boy, is the Island-style version of the American dream.

“Walter started with nothing and worked his way to the top. He had no connections,” says Park. “The bottom line is that he’s a genius and a good guy.”

— David K. Choo

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Hawaii Business,October