Listen to Your Matriarchs

It's the secret to Maui Petroleum's success

August, 2005

James Haynes, a business graduate from University of Hawaii, learned two of his most important business lessons not in class, but from two matriarchs in his life. First his mother, who was raised on a Hawaiian homestead, taught him what it meant to be Hawaiian. That lesson took years, but the value of community and honesty, he says, were guiding lights as he developed his first and second successful businesses on Maui and then his third company on the Big Island.

Lesson number two took seconds.

“My grandmother told me she could have bought land off Beachwalk Road in Waikiki, over 80 years ago. The price was $6,000. She had the money, but she hemmed and hawed and didn’t buy it. Now, it’s skyscrapers,” Haynes says. “I told myself, I am never going to let that happen to me. I think a lot of local people in their past had some similar opportunity. That they might have had to make a stretch, and didn’t. I didn’t want to look back and say I could have, would have, should have.”

For Haynes, his first big opportunity knocked in 1973. Union Oil Co. asked him to start a franchise on Maui. “I did hesitate. When you are 20-something with two kids and no money, you worry about whether you are going to be able to support your family. There are anxieties there,” says Haynes. Then he scraped for cash. Union Oil helped him finance a delivery truck. He got a small office and his wife helped answer the phones. He hired one employee to make deliveries.

More than 30 years later, Maui Petroleum Inc. raked in $43.8 million in sales in 2004, a nearly 25 percent increase from $35.1 million in 2003 and the largest percentage increase for a Top 250 Maui-based company. Maui Petroleum, which delivers a spectrum of petroleum products, is No. 158 on the list, the seventh highest for a Maui company.

Early on Haynes also recognized the benefit of getting involved in retail as well as delivery. As Maui grew, Haynes shrewdly acquired key real estate to develop a network of convenience stores/gas stations called Minit Stop Stores. That company shot up 15 percent in sales, going from $32.9 million in 2003 to $37.7 million in 2004 and to No. 172 on the list. Years later, he would establish himself on the Big Island through acquisitions. There, Hawaii Petroleum, also a petroleum product delivery outfit, has grown into his largest company. Hawaii Petroleum had $45.1 million in 2004 sales and is No. 156.

All three businesses have grown steadily over the years. He now employs 220 in all his companies, 160 on Maui.

Haynes is quick to point out that increases in the price of oil can also result in sales increases, but not necessarily increases in profitability. However, the volume of petroleum products he sold in the past year also rose significantly. Haynes attributes his success largely to a mix of vision and calculated risk taking: “I am a numbers person and I am fairly disciplined. But you have to have that sense of opportunity.” He can thank his grandmother for that lesson.

Advice Haynes gives to anyone operating a business, especially on Maui, relates to what his mother taught him. Treat your employees right. “You do everything you can to retain your employees, because you don’t want to go out into the marketplace,” he says. “We take care of our employees. We offer a good benefits package and I am a local and I have never forgotten my roots, who I am and where I come from. Integrity and honesty is our overriding value.”

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