Colbert Matsumoto

President, Island Holdings Inc.

October, 2003

Colbert Matsumoto has received oodles of accolades for successfully leading an effort to free the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii from $9 million worth of debt in less than two months. But according to friend and business colleague Bill Kaneko, the significance of the accomplishment is not the amount of money raised or the short amount of time it took to raise it. “Those are achievements, but what he’s really done is enabled a rejuvenation of Japanese-American culture and heritage,” explains Kaneko, president of the Hawaii Institute of Public Affairs. “The Japanese-American community is beginning to think again about the importance of our history and culture. And to accomplish something like that – a large public mission – really requires strong leadership, focus and vision.”

It also requires a fat Rolodex. And Matsumoto has been quietly filling his with a wide range of lofty names for a few decades. Since the ’70s, the former attorney and current Island Holdings Inc. president has been nurturing relationships with Hawaii’s movers and shakers by serving on some notable boards. Among them: City Bank and its parent company, CB Bancshares Inc.; National Mortgage & Finance Co. Ltd.; Oahu Publications Inc.; the state Employees’ Retirement System, with more than 100,000 beneficiaries; and Island Insurance Company Ltd., of which he is chairman.

Having connected with former Gov. Benjamin Cayetano early on (he clerked for Cayetano back when he was the Senate Ways and Means chair), and having established relationships with key members of Gov. Linda Lingle’s cabinet, Matsumoto also developed strong political ties.

“Colbert has numerous relationships that have been built over the years … consisting of leaders within all aspects of the community,” says Richard Lim, president of City Bank. “Therefore he can bridge gaps and make connections.”

One huge gap that Matsumoto was called upon to fill was the bottomless pit that Bishop Estate had dug itself into in the mid ’90s, following a period of scandal. In 1996, he became the court-appointed master charged with restructuring the multibillion-dollar institution, and boy, did he clean house.

“The level of political pressure and heat that Colbert must’ve felt was enormous. But he saw major deficiencies in the management of KSBE, and he stuck to his guns,” says Kaneko. “He was very deliberate in ensuring that Kamehameha Schools is adhering to the trust and purpose of the will. Because he cares about people’s well being. To be concerned with equality, fairness, justice – those real core values of human dignity – it permeates his basic philosophy on life and leadership. And those are traits he’s grown up with all of his life.” But even though Matsumoto has displayed a passion for civic duty and demonstrated leadership skills since childhood, his star is just starting to rise.

“I would imagine that Colbert’s power is only beginning to develop. He represents the new leadership of Hawaii, and his power will grow as the existing leaders retire and/or vacate their positions,” says Lim. “As for his ‘staying power,’ I don’t think he really cares, which, ironically, will probably tend to increase his longevity.”

-Jacy L. Youn

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Jacy L. Youn