Leading the Way

Donavan Kealoha

March, 2007

At 31 years old, Donavan Kealoha is between his third and final year of law school and the beginning of his professional life. Upon graduation, Donavan, in the vein of social entrepreneurship, is planning on working in a field “where profits are an emphasis, but not the only emphasis.” Donavan recently shared with us what he feels Hawaii’s seasoned executives could do to inspire his generation, and in turn, what today’s young leaders have to offer the state.

We hear you’re from Lanai. How has that affected the person you are today?
For one thing, it’s given me a different perspective from the people I go to law school with. During orientation, we talked about how everybody felt when we told them we were going to law school, and everybody heard things like, “Oh, not another lawyer. We don’t need more lawyers.” But when I told people on Lanai I was going to law school, everybody was happy. And it gave me this sense of community. It feels like I’m going to school for my family, my community – more than just myself. Especially because I’ve always intended to go back and help as much as I can.

Do you want to be an attorney?
No, not at all. I just want to use the education to do different things for the community. I eventually see myself, hopefully, being a part of a fund. I’d like to take a different spin on it and do a social equity fund, where profits are an emphasis, but not the only emphasis. So a fund that builds positive social impacts in the community. Especially communities like Lanai, where you have one dominant landowner.

Do you want to move back to Lanai?
I go back every once in awhile. My brothers and I have a wholesale distributing business that operates out of Lanai, Three Brothers Inc. Our brand is called Stone Shack. It’s sort of like a Hawaiian Style brand but dirtier, more country.

So you’ve got some business experience?
I’ve always been entrepreneurial. But when I went back home after I graduated from college, I was offered a position teaching business. My major at UH was Hawaiian language. I never took any business courses – no accounting, no economics, nothing. So I started teaching business classes out of a book – reading the questions and just talking about it. After a while it just seemed like it wasn’t that hard.

What sort of community projects are you involved with?
On Lanai we took over this nonprofit organization, Laulima Kuha‘o. The board was a group of older people who kind of slowed down in their activities. We saw the opportunity to develop young leaders, so we transitioned their leadership out and put our new blood in. We want to stick with the original mission – to promote economic enterprise projects. But it’s tough, because the older generation is seeing the younger kids wanting to get involved and we’re being pulled in all these different directions.

As a young professional entering the business world, what are your expectations of the more seasoned executives?
Networking and mentoring, or “face-time” opportunities with business leaders provides us with the chance to hear anecdotes, and get some practical advice, which is all great. I also think that having working opportunities to interact and work alongside mentors on a professional level would be mutually beneficial. I use the term “working opportunities” in the sense that together, we could roll up our sleeves and work on relevant issues involving our communities, or larger public policy issues, etc. Working collaboratively will give us the chance to see the work ethic, the decision-making and strategic thinking skills in action, in addition to hearing the anecdotes and advice. For the mentors, it’s an opportunity to impart years of business experience to a captive and very attentive audience.

Do you have any mentors now?
Not necessarily mentors or role models in that sense. With everyone I meet, I learn things I want to emulate or things I wouldn’t want to do. For instance, me and a few others started a business law club on the campus. We brought in Mitch D’Olier. He’s a really magnetic, charismatic guy and that’s something I totally admire. And I’ve met several people like that who inspire the troops, like James Koshiba and Colbert [Matsumuto].

Sounds like you’ve been doing a lot of networking.
Yeah kind of, not on purpose though. When people think networking, it’s kind of like … you’re a schmoozer. But I don’t think like that. I am who I am. For me, knowing different kinds of people is just being in the right place and being genuine. That’s why I don’t like that term “networking.”

Is there anything you’d like older generations to know about your generation?
The goal of our generation is figuring how we’re going to provide good living-wage jobs to locals – especially to the disenfranchised people way out there. And I’d like to think everything’s in good hands. There’s a lot of passionate, good, smart, visionary people in our generation. And we’re doers. So they can feel safe turning over the reigns in 10 or 15 years. A lot of people will be stepping out then, and new people are going to have to step in. So I’d like for them to think that the future is in good hands, but they can help nurture it even more through mentorship and those sorts of things.


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