Public People, Private Passions
Hawaii's executives work hard and play hard. Here's a look at how some of our business leaders spend their time when they're off the clock
President and CEO, Digital Mediums;
President, HiRez Network
Lubuw Falanruw might have been the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s first subsistence student. The native of Yap came to the Big Island school in 1993, with enough money to pay for tuition and dorm. But he could only afford to purchase half of the university’s semester-long meal plan. Talk about mid-term pressure.
“Back home in Yap, I could just go fishing for food, but I didn’t bring any of my spears with me,” says Falanruw. “And I was so broke that I couldn’t even afford a good piece of wood to make a spear gun.”
Not a problem for the Island boy, who, with his cousins, made countless spear guns out of discarded wood and scrap metal, even pieces of chain-link fencing. Falanruw cut down a tall guava tree that stood behind his dorm, from which he carved the stock of his gun. He fashioned a trigger from an old car windshield wiper, while a friend found an old, but still useable spear. Falanruw did have to cough up $11 for a piece of rubber tubing, from which he fashioned a sling.
“After you cut down the tree, you’re supposed to let the wood dry out before you carve,” says Falanruw. “But I just couldn’t wait. So to this day, if you look really closely at that gun, you’ll notice that it bends slightly to the left.”
When he completed his spear gun, Falanruw didn’t just have a meal ticket, but an important tool of commerce. Not only did he have fish to eat, but he would trade his catch with fellow students for other foodstuffs and goods. The rest of his college career went along swimmingly.
Now the head of two thriving high-tech businesses, Falanruw doesn’t have to go spear fishing any more to put food on the table. But he does still go diving from time to time – usually to provide some fish for a gathering of friends or family. However, sometimes the busy executive will go fishing just for himself.
“Spear fishing for me is more then shooting a fish. When I dive, I leave everything above water [stress, work, etc.]. It’s a very good escape, once you’re deep under water, because it’s just me and the fish,” says Falanruw. “And some of those fish are the most beautiful anywhere. When I see a parrot fish, I take a split second to admire its colors, then I go ahead and shoot it.”
Vice President and Director of Marketing
Finance Factors Ltd.
Maureen Lichter was a soccer mom. She has spent many years shuttling her son and daughter to their games, even coaching several of their teams. But the vice president and director of marketing at Finance Factors is also one of the mothers of Island soccer, a pioneer who played the fledgling sport in the ’70s.
“With soccer, I just loved the camaraderie,” says Lichter. “There’s also no better feeling in the world than scoring a goal.”
It turned out that Lichter was a little ahead of her time. When she tried out for the University of Denver’s soccer team as a freshman, she was sorely disappointed in the level of play and decided to hang up her cleats. She returned to Hawaii in 1982 and got on with life, starting a career and a family. It would be 12 years before she would kick the ball again.
“In 1992, my husband broke his neck and became a quadriplegic. It was a very tough time for our family,” says Lichter. “A couple of years later, I was at my son’s practice, and I overheard one of the moms talking about a league she played in. It was time for me to do something for myself – to exercise and be with friends, something I really enjoyed.”
So began a year-round passion that includes two leagues, two practices and two games a week. While she may have lost a step or two since her high school days, Lichter, a forward and midfielder, hasn’t lost her goal-scoring ability or her enthusiasm for the game. She considers the friendship and support of her sisterhood of teammates priceless.
Even a devastating knee injury couldn’t keep her off the field for long. After surgery and a long rehab, she returned stronger than ever.
“I have a stressful job and a stressful family life. Soccer has helped me in so many ways,” says Lichter. “I can’t imagine my life without soccer. It has made that much of a difference.”
Hawaii Convention Center
Golf Book Collector
Look into the golf bag of any experienced player and you’ll find extra balls, tees, gloves, ball marks, loose change, maybe even a change of clothes. Unzip Joe Davis’ bag and you might find a small library.
“I used to carry around Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf in my bag and I’d refer to it from time to time,” says Davis. “It got a little ridiculous, because I’d highlight the book with a marker and pretty soon the whole book was highlighted. It was just nice to have around.”
While the Hawaii Convention Center general manager loves to read putts, he also likes to read about putts, chips, pitches and drives. Davis collects golf books – mostly instruction books – but also biographies, histories, picture books and novels. His 300-plus book collection fills the shelves in his family room and spills over into other parts of his Waialae Nui home.
Davis, a 13 handicapper, began his collection years ago during the familiar (for golfers, that is) search for a cure to some swing woes. He started with instruction books and discovered the wide variety of approaches to the game. Then he began collecting books on the U.S. Open, Masters and favorite players. Even the fiction was pretty good. Sometimes he would pick up a book if it looked nice and felt good in his hands.
The instruction book collection will be put to good use this coming year. With all of his children out of the house, the 61-year-old Davis is resolved to knock down his handicap into the single digits. “I’ve rededicated myself to the game,” says Davis. “If I have to go to [instruction] school, I’ll go to school. In the meantime, I’ve been reading up about the short game.”
Carol Ai May
Vice President, Secretary
City Mill Co. Ltd.
Float Pen Collector
According to Carol Ai May, float pen collecting was a hobby that found her and not the other way around. About 15 years ago, she was on a trip (she can’t remember where) with her two young sons and she needed a pen, so she bought a souvenir one with a little object that slid back and forth in a mineral oil-filled chamber. On an ensuing vacation, she bought another, then another and another, dropping each pen into a crystal bowl in her living room. After the family had accumulated about 10 pens, Ai May, City Mill Co. vice president and secretary, realized that the “tacky pen collection” was something worth keeping and growing.
“It’s a fun, silly and inexpensive reminder of places I’ve been. I don’t really go looking for them, they tend to find me,” says Ai May, who used to travel at least twice a year with her sons. “I’ve never seen anyone else buy these pens, but they must, because I find them everywhere.”
At last count, Ai May’s collection included 137 different pens, which she collected throughout Europe,Australia, New Zealand and the United States. She has an especially large selection from the country’s national parks. On a recent trip to Italy, Ai May acquired one of her favorite pens, which features a floating leaning Tower of Pisa being “held up” by a group of tourists, a popular photograph at the landmark. Much to her surprise, she even managed to find a float pen in the chic resort town of Portofino.
“Sometimes I feel so silly buying these cheesy little pens,” says Ai May. “But then once in a while, back at home, someone will take them all out, spread them out on the table and reminisce about all the places we have been. Then, I know it’s all been worth it.”
President and CEO, Altres Staffing
Flyer and Designer
For Barron Guss, it was love at first sight. In 1969, the 7-year-old had gone to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to see off his mother and older sister, when he got his first glimpse of a Pan Am 707 jetliner on the runway. It was sleek. It was fast. It was beautiful.
That same year, he would ride a similar airplane to Honolulu, where his family would relocate.
“To this day, I still remember the excitement and emotion of that moment,” says Guss. “Anything and everything airplane related fascinated me.”
Guss started with plastic modeling kits, but soon discovered that it was actual flight about which he was passionate. He then began constructing and designing “extreme” paper airplanes before moving onto remote-controlled model aircraft.
Guss would attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida with the intentions of becoming an airline pilot. However, shortly after graduation, his father asked him to return to Hawaii and take over Altres Staffing, the family’s employment service company, while he looked after his ailing wife. Barron switched careers without hesitation and, years later, without regret.
Even though he couldn’t fly professionally, he never stopped flying high – ascending to the very top of his hobby. Guss is not only an avid flyer of radio-controlled airplanes and helicopters, but he is also a pioneering designer of high-performance hobby aircraft. In 1987, he was the first to build a miniature radio-controlled, electric helicopter. Recently, working with a Japanese manufacturer, he designed the first jet-powered helicopter.
His inventiveness has led to the creation of two small businesses – a company that does aerial photography and another that sells conversion kits that transform “toy” electric helicopters into high-performance, precision flying machines.
“One of the satisfactions of this hobby is just being a kid again,” says Guss. “Another is being an engineer and creating things with your hands. Another is being an entrepreneur and making a buck in a way no one else has in the past.”