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Constance Lau

President and Chief Executive Officer, American Savings Bank

Photo: Jimmy Forrest

Connie Lau doesn't have a problem with being identified as a powerful, influential person in the community. But she does have a beef with the term "powerbroker."

"It does have negative connotations - the backroom dealing, the trading of positions of power, everything associated with the old autocratic organizations where a handful of people were in charge," explains Lau, president and chief executive officer of American Savings Bank (ASB). "Real power isn't positional. You can have a position of power and not exercise the value of that position, or you can create positions of power from nothing."

While it isn't fair to say that Lau has created power from nothing, she certainly possesses the latter type of power she's describing - the ability to influence others on her own merit, regardless of her title. Or titles. Currently the only female head of a major financial institution in Hawaii, Lau is chairwoman of Kamehameha Schools' board of trustees, director of the Consuelo Zobel Alger Foundation and chair of the Maunalani Foundation. She is also a trustee for both the Charles Reed Bishop Trust and Punahou School, secretary-treasurer of the Hawaii Bankers Association and director of the Hawaii Community Reinvestment Corp.

"Connie absolutely embodies what I would call a 21st-century leader. You can drop her into almost any organization in Hawaii and she can take it over and do a marvelous job. Because she's got the true leadership qualities that cause people to respect, trust and follow her," says Admiral Robert Kihune, chief executive officer of Sandwich Isle Communications Inc.

Colbert Matsumoto, the former court-appointed master of Kamehameha Schools, works closely with Kihune and Lau, trustees of the school. He's witnessed Lau's knack for troop rallying and attributes it to a little-known thing called servant leadership. "She talks about people's roles in the community with nonprofits, and how when you're thrust into that role, it's not something you get rewards out of, but that you're making a commitment to do a good job and to better the community," he says. "She's very dedicated in that respect, and people see that and buy into her vision."

In 2001, Lau sold her staff on her vision for ASB by acknowledging that her new position as president was an opportunity to move the state's third-largest financial institution from being "just a bank" to an institution with greater impact on people's lives. "My predecessor was very low key, and this institution went about its business every day. Whereas I view the institution as having a major contribution to make to the community," says Lau, who immediately began developing a strategy to reposition the bank.

Lau says the ongoing transformation is a major shift from providing typical banking services to being a catalyst for economic development, by identifying and supporting "social entrepreneurs" and collaborating with others in the community who are trying to make a difference.

"Companies don't exist purely to make money. They have a responsibility to the community in which they operate, to help them grow," she says. "Because when the community grows, business grows. It's a very symbiotic relationship."

-Jacy L. Youn

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