They’re the Bomb

Companies old and new explode onto the Top 250

August, 2000

Some were old, some were brand new and all were explosive.

This year’s newcomers to the Top 250 caught our eye for the variety of business they do and how well they do it. Here’s a quick look at some of the top rookies.

Parsons-UXB Joint Venture

It was an act of Congress in 1993 that authorized the clean-up of Kahoolawe, a military target for over 50 years. But listen to Parsons-UXB Joint Venture’s program manager Bill Ahrens talk about the massive scope of the $400 million operation to remove unexploded ordnance and you can easily come to the conclusion that it may take an act of God to get the tiny island bomb free.

“It’s really been an abused island. The Navy bombed it for 50 years and threw just about everything it had at it. And no one knows how many bombs and shells were dropped or where they landed,” says Bill Ahrens, Parsons-UXB Joint Venture’s program manager. “We have a 28,000-acre island broken down into 100 meter by 100 meter grids. That’s 11,500 grids, many of which we have to clear by hand.”

By project’s end in November of 2003 that could translate into five to ten million pounds of scrap metal—a lot of debris and a lot of dollars.

Last year, the joint venture was responsible for $33.8 million is sales up from $16 million in 1998 but Ahrens believes that 2000 will reach into the $50 million-plus mark before leveling off. “Were building infrasctructure as well as clearing debris,” says Ahrens.

Parsons-UXB Joint Venture is a consortium of companies which includes Parsons Infrastructure & Technology Group Inc., UXB International and five subcontractors.

The actual clearance work by the joint venture began in 1998 but the effort wasn’t firing on all cylinders till March of 1999. According to Ahrens, with 315 people building roads and clearing debris on the island, the project is now approaching peak production.

“This is probably the most labor intensive project that I can think of,” says Ahrens, who built airstrips and other structures in Vietnam while in the Navy. “The terrain is amazing, our logistics are incredibly complicated and the work, of course, takes a long time. But we have a good feeling about this project. We’re doing a good thing, and we are doing it well.”

State Farm Insurance Companies

It didn’t make much sense to us that the largest insurance company in the state and one of the largest companies in the nation ($75 billion in assets) would only now be joining our Top 250. But it’s true. State Farm Insurance Companies, with $155.1 million in sales last year, is a “newcomer.” The reason is that the Top 250 figures reflect revenue generated in Hawaii and for the past several years the company was unable to break out its investment income for Hawaii from its mainland divisions. This year, we didn’t require State Farm to provide such income, only calculated its Hawaii sales for auto, fire, health and life insurance premiums. Those figures alone put the company high in our listings.

“We’re the 14th largest company in the Fortune 500,” says Carolyn Fujioka, State Farm’s Hawaii director of public affairs. “We have a 22 percent market share in auto insurance in Hawaii. The next largest company has 17 percent of the market.”

According to Fujioka, 1999’s hefty sales were down from 1998’s $171 million because premiums were lowered last year. Since 1997, State Farm has reduced auto rates by 27.6 percent, and, earlier this year, State Farm announced that policy holders would be receiving a 20 percent dividend, the third time in four years that such a payback took place.

“Rates are pretty cyclical. Some states are going up, but we’ve been going down for several years now,” says Fujioka. “There are many factors that are responsible for the decrease like tougher DUI laws and enforcement and more safety items such as air bags.”

It’s too early to tell if rates will continue to go down but Fujioka won’t rule it out since many of the factors that lead to the decrease are still in place. However, what is certain is that State Farm will make a return to the Top 250 next year.

Hawaii Health Systems Corp.

Hawaii Health Systems Corp. has a hard time convincing people that it really is a privately-run company and not a state agency. It is a misperception that CEO Thomas Driskill has heard often in the past three years of his company’s existence. But it is also one that he is hearing less and less of.

“It’s hard for people to understand that we are still a state-owned public benefit organization, yet are not another publicly funded one,” says Driskill. “Yes, we still get a small subsidy from the state but the last three years we have earned over 95 percent of our operational budget of about $240 million. You can call us an experiment, but we are accountable in all the same ways as any other business.”

Previous to the creation of Hawaii Health Systems Corp. by the Legislature in July of 1996, the state’s 12 acute, long term and rural health care facilities were run by the Dept. of Health as separate entities. Today, the facilities, which stretch from Kau Hospital on the Big Island to the Garden Isle’s Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital, fall under one entity under the guidance of one CEO.

“We have been able to reduce the losses of the organization,” says Driskill. “In fiscal 1997 the hospitals lost $46 million. Once operational Hawaii Health Systems Corp. has been able to cut that figure down to just over $11 million and that doesn’t account for the state subsidies. We are maintaining ourselves and that is a big deal in today’s health care environment.”


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