The Power Issue

Who are the most powerful people in Hawaii?

October, 2003

Power is like obscenity. A universally accepted definition is hard to come by, but you know it when you see it.

As we put together our second annual Power issue, we once again found that identifying power was the easy part. Qualifying and quantifying power, then compiling a ranking of people who possess it, was a little more difficult.

That is also when all the fun and spirited debate started: Does being in a prominent position automatically make one powerful? Does popularity translate into power? Is it enough to control or possess large amounts of cash to be considered powerful? Then there is the wild card of charisma. Does a roomful of people slowly start to orbit around the power player shortly after he or she walks through the door?

It never used to be this difficult. If we were compiling this list 50 years ago, we could probably get away with consulting a few annual reports, five to be exact. In the old days of the Big Five, when the Islands’ economy and leadership were more insular, power-brokers used to be able to settle disputes or broker extensive deals over a $5-Nassau and a handshake. Hawaii is part of the global village now, and executives don’t seem so omnipotent anymore, having to answer to corporate boards, investors and federal regulators like never before. We submit that the late Johnny Bellinger of First Hawaiian Bank and his protégé, Walter Dods, may be the last of a magnetic and omnipotent breed.

This year, to compile our lists we polled 100 prominent community members and asked who they thought were the most influential people in business, politics and community affairs. We then took our results to an editorial board we assembled for this occasion and reviewed the data. Our editorial team then finalized the rankings. The resulting lists are hardly scientific, but we hope the debate that they will stimulate will be as interesting and fun as ours was. The following are profiles of powerbrokers from our various lists in no particular order. It’s a selection that we think will illustrate the diversity and complexity of power in Hawaii.

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