Ready, Aim, Hire!

Resources and phone calls flood the offices of executive headhunters.

October, 2002

As the director of marketing for Nestle Food Co. in California in the 1990s, Brent Kunimoto was often the target of executive headhunters. “Recruiters would call me every week,” recalls the Punahou School graduate with an M.B.A. degree from University of California Los Angeles. “You hear from 100, but maybe five to 10 were solid recruiters.” Despite juicy offers from companies nationwide, he was only interested in one location: Hawaii.

Kunimoto at the time had been away from the Islands for more than 20 years. His two siblings, also on the Mainland, also wanted to come home. “We didn’t want to have regrets (about being away from their aging, yet active parents), so whoever received a job offer we felt good about, would return home,” he says.

It took a while before a Hawaii company offered the salary and benefits that Kunimoto was used to, but that local company turned out to be Cyanotech, a biotechnology firm on the Big Island. He joined Cyanotech in 1996 as vice president of sales and marketing and president of its packaged-goods subsidiary, Nutrex. Eventually, he relocated to Oahu to launch his own consulting company called Pure Strategy Group. “It was easy to turn on the memory cells of the local way, and I was able to bring back the best of the Mainland and integrate that into my business,” Kunimoto says.

That was when another recruiter contacted him. Kathy Inkinen, president of executive-search firm Inkinen & Associates, called to say that Hawaii Diamond Bakery was looking for a president to replace Paul Ishii, who had just passed away after 24 years at the company. “In Hawaii, Diamond is a very strong brand, and this position seemed tailor-made for me,” Kunimoto recalls. After a series of interviews, he was hired as president in April 2001.

That’s the kind of story that recruiters like to hear. Inkinen has been placing executives in companies in Hawaii, Asia and the Western Pacific for more than 10 years. Her database – which already contained the employment history of tens of thousands of people – significantly expanded after Sept. 11. “We received between four to five times more resumes than the number of jobs themselves,” she says. “Most of the time, the people we place are not looking for jobs. They’re happily employed, but should the right opportunity arise, they may make that choice.”

James Ellis, president of Executive Search World, has been in the recruiting business for 17 years. Like Inkinen, he too, received hundreds of resumes from executives in Hawaii, Asia and Micronesia since last September. The majority of job openings over the past year have been in technology, construction and healthcare. Positions are scarce in high-end retail, food distribution and financial services, he says. “Visitor and hotel industry jobs fell off quite a bit, too, but we still had an off-island general manager position filled, and a country-club executive position filled, both after Sept. 11,” he says.

Employment in Hawaii is expected to grow at a rate of 1.3 percent annually until 2008, according to the Hawaii state Department of Labor. The majority of growth will be in general contracting and business services.

Unlike in the past, Ellis says he rarely finds executive listings in the “Help Wanted” pages of local newspapers. “There used to be a few managers and directors listed, but that shift is being filled in internal areas, and by the informal networks and the executive-search firms. Those are the top-three methods, other than advertising in the newspapers,” he says.

For job-hunters, networking and word-of-mouth still is the best way to go, according to three studies done last year by national outplacement firms. Those studies found that 61 percent of management positions are filled through networking and personal contact; 6 percent are filled through the Internet, of which 16 percent are from corporate Web sites and 2.25 percent from major job-search engines, such as, and

There’s hope for Hawaii’s labor market. In fact, Hawaii is in better shape than the rest of the country. The state’s unemployment rate as of this writing in late August was 4.5 percent, compared to the national average of 5.7 percent. There were fewer unemployment claims in the second quarter of this year (2,243) than there were in the first quarter (3,598).

Recruiters hope that number will continue to drop. “Employers and business models change, and there is more mobility,” Inkinen says. “We used to think that loyalty was a factor, but now that has changed.”

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Cathy S. Cruz