EACH YEAR, Hawaii Business selects 20 emerging leaders who have already made major contributions to Hawaii and whom we expect to have an even greater impact over the next two decades. Let us introduce you to Hawaii’s People to Watch, Class of 2016.
VP FOR ASSET MANAGEMENT AT A&B PROPERTIES
WHEN ALEXANDER & BALDWIN’S KIT MILLAN talks asset management, it’s not just about numbers and buildings. He’s as focused on mentoring employees and nurturing a team as he is on securing real estate for one of Hawaii’s largest private landowners.
“I really enjoy helping people understand where they fit in to an organization,” he says. It may be about bolstering a person’s unique trait and finding their ideal role so they can thrive.
After Iolani School, UCLA and graduate school in Florida, Millan started a real estate company on the Mainland. Fifteen years later, he returned to Hawaii as consultant and asset manager with Kamehameha Schools.
“We executed our portfolio plan; we doubled our income. We increased value by over $2 billion,” he says. “And this became the logical time to think about the next step in my career.”
In 2014, Millan moved to A&B, where he is VP for asset management at
A&B Properties Inc., giving him responsibility for all of A&B’s commercial properties: retail, office and industrial.
“What I like about real estate is its tangibility. You can touch it, feel it and see the impact it has on the communities. I love the ability to help create a new interpretation of a community.”
We asked him about A&B’s local role.
“A&B is a kamaaina company,” he says. “We live and breathe Hawaii. We are reinvesting in properties here, improving communities, supporting local business and bringing new service-oriented businesses in.”
“Kit really is a great leader and supporter,” says Jeffrey Mau, director of asset management at Kamehameha Schools. “He understands the market dynamics of real estate investment, and how to project and adapt to changes in the real estate cycle. He’s great at finding opportunities and developing strategies to enhance long-term value.”
Millan gives his team latitude to make decisions and learn from mistakes, Mau says, while pushing them toward stretch goals and career advancement.
Free time for Millan means keeping pace with Andrea, his oceanographer wife, and his sons Jayce, 3, and Beck, 1. He volunteers as president of the board at the Early School in Moiliili, which soaks up “more time than you would think,” he says cheerfully. “But the school is so much fun. I’m passionate about education and grateful for the opportunities I had growing up. I want to pass that on to my family.”
– CHRIS OLIVER
MA RY KIM
PRINCIPAL AND THE DESIGN DIRECTOR FOR GROUP 70 INTERNATIONAL
WHEN MA RY KIM TAUGHT architecture at UH, she’d always start with a question: When is a brick not a brick? The explanation: When it’s a refrigerator. If a brick is packed in snow overnight, its “DNA” will absorb the cold and, by morning, it can help keep food cold, she says.
This is her design philosophy: transform our assumptions about things and human needs – “To look beyond the obvious. … Everything is a puzzle, and sometimes it takes people to put the pieces back together and figure the puzzle out,” she says.
She remembers asking the Honolulu City Council, “When is a bus not a bus?” It was for a pro-bono project called Lift that turned decommissioned buses into shelters and facilities for the homeless.
“What’s beautiful about a bus is that it drives around and it’s hard sometimes to get to people who are the most vulnerable in our society to our facility. So we can take dental offices, sleeping facilities, everything, out to them.”
For 17 years, she worked for Gensler, the world’s largest international design firm, going into emerging markets, like Bulgaria, where she helped build the country’s first multiuse center as a symbol of its new economy when it entered the European Union. Today, she is a principal and the design director for Group 70 International.
She credits her transformational approach to her children, most of whom are dyslexic. “I’ve watched how these like amazing little minds interpret the world and see things beyond the barriers that we usually put upon ourselves.”
Kim was born in Seoul and raised in Kailua. When she returned to Hawaii four years ago, she taught design studio at UH. Because of her international connections, the school was able to send its students to the Middle East for the first time.
She no longer teaches, but one of her goals is still to help guide the next generation and those who know her believe she will succeed. Charles Kaneshiro, president and COO of Group 70, says Kim will lead the next generation of architects in sharing Hawaii’s design sensitivity to culture and environment with the world. “I think she’s the only one in the entire industry, to me, who has had that background and passion and will lead a lot of young architects to work in various places around the world.”
– NOELLE FUJII
GOVERNOR’S COORDINATOR ON HOMELESSNESS
SCOTT MORISHIGE FIRST MET Gov. David Ige in August 2015 and says they had a great conversation. The next day, Morishige got a call: He was Ige’s choice to be the governor’s coordinator on homelessness.
It wasn’t the first momentous call of his life. While studying at Oregon State University, and planning to attend law school, a late-night phone call told him his father had suffered a brain aneurysm. He flew home to say goodbye before his father’s death and, after graduating from Oregon State in 2000, moved back to Hawaii to help his widowed mother and younger brother.
He looked for a job, but found a calling instead: helping poor families and individuals. He started at the Salvation Army, then moved to the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, and later joined state Rep. Hermina “Mina” Morita’s staff as fulltime office manager, working nights on his master’s degree in social work at UH Manoa.
He returned to the Salvation Army to do his practicum, then moved to Alu Like, a social service program for Hawaiians at risk. In 2008, he was hired by Helping Hands Hawaii executive director Brian Schatz to head HHH’s human services division and fund development, then worked closely with Schatz’s successor, Jan Harada, whose “collaborative style of leadership” he liked.
Harada praises Morishige’s “good leadership qualities, in the sense that he’s humble, he works very hard and has a lot of integrity. He’s a social worker by nature … really cares about the people he is trying to help.” She says he is also open to feedback: “It’s never his way or the highway.”
After HHH, he worked for a year at Hawaii Community Foundation, but missed “hands on, helping people find solutions.” So he left to lead Phocused, a coalition of nonprofits of which he was the only employee. “When I asked (about biggest needs), the issue of housing always came up. All the organizations had the same challenge, affordable housing,” Morishige says. The job as the governor’s homelessness coordinator was a logical next step.
He talks exuberantly about changes he’s helped bring about, the landscape of homelessness shifting, and about educating landlords. He also takes pride in nurturing partnerships among businesses, nonprofits and governments.
From his years of helping others, he knows firsthand that “A lot of homeless are no different from anyone else. They are people experiencing problems like anyone else.”
– LEE ANN BOWMAN
CARRINGTON MANAOLA YAP
FOUNDER AND DESIGNER, MANAOLA HAWAII
WHILE IT MAY SEEM as though designer Carrington Manaola Yap, known simply as Manaola, had a meteoric rise in Hawaii’s fashion world, the truth is he has been working toward a life in fashion since he was a toddler.
Manaola’s creations are grounded in Hawaiian spiritual values. Growing up in the musical Lim Family of Kohala, he began dancing hula at age 3. His family taught him kapa arts, natural dyeing and creating prints with ohe kapala, or hand-carved bamboo stamps. By 7, he was “Playing with textiles, drafting patterns, cutting and sewing costumes” for family performances, says Manaola, now 29.
He made his first runway appearance at MAMo Wearable Art Show in 2009. In 2014, on the MAMo stage at the Hawaii Theatre, he debuted his limited edition men’s underwear collection. Also in 2014, he introduced his first collection of hand-dyed, hand-printed canvas accessories and pillows to great acclaim. At the 2015 Merrie Monarch Festival, he released his first ready-to-wear collection. It sold out.
In July 2015, Manaola opened a 2,000-square-foot store in Ala Moana Center, but they had trouble manufacturing enough stock for the shelves. Now Manaola offers more than 400 designs, including men’s wear, women’s wear, accessories and even the first collection of Hawaiian print stilettos. He plans to open two new stores on Oahu this year, plus stores in Australia and Japan.
Big Island designer Sig Zane is not surprised by Manaola’s success. “The spiritual essence of Manaola’s designs come from a deep place, from ancient chants,” Zane says. “That tangible interpretation is simple but powerful in its use of the fabrics. Like the winds of Kohala, each piece reflects motion and the pulse of his ancestors.” He adds, “I see him as an incredible force of nature. Manaola has been doing this art and designing for all his life already, so there should be many more decades of his visual narratives.”
Maile Meyer, founder of Na Mea Hawaii, the Native Hawaiian bookstore and cultural resource center at Ward Warehouse, says Manaola is “quite extraordinary.”
“He’s culturally grounded, kind, generous, a smart businessman, an evolved person. He embodies it all,” she says. “He is the distillation of the best of Hawaiians evolving into grounded business community people.”
– PAULA RATH
CFO, EXECUTIVE VP OF HAWAIIAN AIRLINES
WHEN SHANNON Okinaka joined Hawaiian Airlines’ accounting department in 2005, the airline was just coming out of bankruptcy and still facing fierce competition from Aloha Airlines.
Since then, Okinaka, a graduate of Waiakea High School in Hilo and UH-Manoa, has worked her way up to CFO and Hawaiian has doubled in size, becoming the largest airline in the state. “It is quite different. We went from being very homegrown, and that’s what people were used to,” she says, pointing out that Hawaiian has expanded its international routes in recent years and now has about 5,500 employees. “People have had to adjust. We don’t all know each other, but we’re still trying to keep the feel of working in a small business in Hawaii.”
As CFO, “I oversee almost everything financial in the company, from accounting to making sure our historical transactions are appropriate, as well as forward-looking planning,” she says. That includes making sure that the airline, which is adding 16 Airbus A321 airplanes to its fleet this year, has money for new initiatives and growth.
Peter Ingram, executive VP and chief commercial officer at Hawaiian, says, “One thing that impresses me most about Shannon is her ability to learn and willingness to accept challenges. When Shannon stepped into the CFO job, one of the roles she assumed was being the public face of the company with the investment community. This required her to quickly come up to speed on some aspects of the business that she hadn’t been directly involved in before. Rather than deferring to others she sought out the expertise she needed from elsewhere in the company and developed the knowledge base to take on the role.”
To accomplish this, Okinaka deliberately surrounded herself with smart people. “I spent a lot of time building teams,” she describes. “I can only be good if the team I work with is really good.”
She also encourages those on her team to express their thoughts and opinions, and she tries to be forthcoming in return. Looking ahead, ”I definitely want to continue to see Hawaiian grow profitably and to continue supporting people who provide the critical infrastructure for the state,” she says, adding, “I want to play a positive role in developing people and making Hawaiian Airlines an attractive place for people to work.”
– TREENA SHAPIRO
CFO, TREASURER AND EXECUTIVE VP, AT FIRST HAWAIIAN BANK
MIKE CHING IS SO COMMITTED to raising his family in Hawaii that when he was asked to relocate to San Francisco for work a few years ago, he chose to commute between the Islands and the Bay Area every week so his wife and children could remain at home.
“I think Hawaii is such a special place, with such a sense of community and willingness to help each other,” says Ching, a graduate of Iolani School and Santa Clara University.
Today, as CFO at FHB, Ching can focus on his home state. He joined the bank on June 1, 2015, after 22 years at Ernst & Young, which he left as managing partner of the Honolulu office.
As an auditor and consultant, Ching had a number of banks as clients. “You’re kind of a backseat driver sometimes,” he describes. “(Auditors) come back and tell you what you did and what you didn’t do right.”
A diverse client base in Hawaii and on the Mainland allowed Ching to see how other banks and financial institutions operate. Now, at FHB, he says, “I’m helping to really run and drive the organization forward.”
It’s an interesting time to be in banking, when technology is forcing the industry to evolve while consumers expect services like e-banking, peer-to-peer lending and shadow banking. “We want to continue to ensure that we meet the needs of our customers in the broader community, stay on the curve and be responsive to the needs of our customers,” he says.
Lawrence Rodriguez, former Hawaii managing partner at Ernst & Young, has been a mentor to Ching throughout his career. “He’s a very intelligent individual and he has a high degree of integrity,” he says.
Over the years, Rodriguez has watched Ching become a mentor himself. “He spends a lot of time with his people. I think he takes great pride in mentoring individuals to see how he can complement and assist them,” he says.
Ching says FHB’s working environment and community spirit are part of what attracted him to the company, as it fits in with his own beliefs about community service. He currently serves on the local boards of the American Diabetes Association, Boy Scouts of America, Hawaii Theatre, Hawaiian Humane Society and Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
“I think that’s the type of person you want to have as a leader in your community,” Rodriguez says.
– TREENA SHAPIRO
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE KOHALA INSTITUTE
WHEN NOELANI KALIPI was five, she stood by the side of the road in Hilo with her grandfather, a community leader and baseball coach, waving her tiny hands and shaking political signs at cars. In the years since, Kalipi has never been far from political action and efforts driving community connectedness or progressive change.
She was involved in federal policymaking on Sen. Dan Akaka’s staff, served as a Democratic staff director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, defended soldiers as an Army jag lawyer, helped develop wind-power and green-energy projects for First Wind, and championed indigenous rights as president of the nonprofit TiLeaf Group.
Now, as executive director of the Kohala Institute, she is using her experience and visionary thinking to transform the nonprofit’s 2,400 acres on Hawaii Island, a veritable blank slate encompassing an entire North Kohala mauka to makai ahupuaa called Iole.
“When I worked for Sen. Akaka, the whole office was like being in Hawaii: No one wore shoes, there were grandchildren running all over the place, and we tackled every issue with Aloha. Not just ‘kiss you on the cheek and give you a lei’ Aloha, but being in a different headspace and resolving conflicts with aloha to find the win-win – and it was a big epiphany for me,” says Kalipi. “Growing up professionally in that environment, (the Kohala Institute) wasn’t a huge change for me, where our core values of GRACE are essentially the English version of that.” (GRACE stands for gratitude, respect, accountability, courage and engagement.)
The institute’s land housed some collaborations before her tenure, which began in early 2014, but now its own projects are taking root and are as diverse as Kalipi’s background: an educational and meeting retreat center with 10 cabins and six other buildings, a sustainably conscious tilapia farm willing to share its lessons learned with local fish farmers, and a partial restoration of Kamehameha’s loi.
“She understands Hawaiian culture and values … (and) she’s well connected to the Hawaii community in a big picture way,” says Richard Ha, owner of Hamakua Farms, Kalipi’s longtime mentor and a fellow member of the Big Island Community Coalition’s steering committee. “She’s very aware of people’s sensibilities … you can see how comfortable she is with high level and high-ranking people. But in the neighborhood you wouldn’t know the difference. It’s the same Noe.”
– MEGHAN MINER
FOUNDER OF THE PIG AND THE LADY
IN 2011, ANDREW LE had a few options, including being chef de cuisine at Chef Mavro, one of Hawaii’s finest restaurants, or joining a colleague in the kitchen at Halekulani.
Instead, after nearly six years at Chef Mavro, he struck out on his own. “I just left Mavro’s and started the pop-up,” Le recalls. “I was too young and too inexperienced to know how worried I should have been.”
At the time, pop-up restaurants were a new trend, and The Pig and the Lady helped introduce these temporary restaurants to Hawaii as Le and his partner, Martha Cheng, served unique dishes with Vietnamese flavors out of Hank’s Haute Dogs location in Kakaako.
The Pig and the Lady pop-ups were an instant success. In addition, The Pig and The Lady tents became a fixture at Oahu farmers markets, so, in 2013, Le opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant on King Street in Chinatown.
Le credits his “Mama Le” with inspiring his cuisine, which is reminiscent of the Vietnamese food he grew up eating. His mother, Loan Le – the Lady to Le’s Pig – remains a strong influence in the restaurant. “She’s the in-house gangster,” says Le, describing her as a diehard traditionalist compared to his more free-form style.
Together, they create dishes that start with traditional flavors, then head in a unique direction. “We want to be excited about what we put out, and also to challenge our diners. Even if it’s a simple bowl of noodles, we want to change their perception of what a bowl of noodles is.”
Cheng first tasted Le family cooking at a Thanksgiving dinner, where she was impressed by the delicious food and the “dedication and attention to detail.” She attributes The Pig and The Lady’s success to hard work and family. “When I was doing the pop-up with them, Andrew – along with his brother Alex – would never say no to doing more dinners, accommodating more diners. Even if it meant they had to work on two hours of sleep a night,” she recalls. “When they first opened The Pig and The Lady brick-and-mortar location, it was like that times 100.” (Disclosure: Cheng is an occasional writer for Hawaii Business.)
While the popular Chinatown restaurant has provided stability, Le is looking to grow: “We want to look for a (second) space this year, so we’ve been on the hunt for it.”
SENIOR VP, HAWAII FOR COLLIERS INTERNATIONAL
ARRIVING IN HAWAII with a few duffel bags and an incredible work ethic, William Froelich did what most guys from Seattle would do upon reporting to work: He wore a suit and tie.
His boss, Andrew Friedlander, founder of Monroe and Friedlander (later acquired by Colliers International) told him in no uncertain terms to buy some aloha shirts. “He was so green, he was barely green,” recalls Friedlander, now the principal broker at Colliers’ Hawaii office. “However, his thirst for education is unrivaled by anyone I’ve ever met.”
Ten years later, Froelich is senior VP, Hawaii for Colliers and a specialist in industrial and investment real estate. He’s in the top 10 percent of the Colliers advisors in North America, and has been the company’s top local industrial division producer for multiple years, even though Oahu is a relatively small market. “We have 40 million square feet of industry warehouse space on Oahu,” Froelich says. “For comparison, San Jose, California, has a population of a million and has 400 million square feet.”
He’s proud to work with small businesses. “I don’t see myself as a broker so much as a real estate consultant,” he says. “That’s what drives me. I get to help in other people’s business success. Industrial real estate isn’t sexy. It’s food distribution, manufacturing. It’s the stuff that makes the world go around.”
When working with clients, “Bill helps them go through the understanding of the right location,” says Friedlander. “Where do your employees live? Do your clients come to you? Many people don’t think that through. If you’re industrial and you stack things high, you need a high ceiling. If you have heavy equipment, you need a concrete floor instead of asphalt. You might need a certain type of wiring. Bill understands all these things.”
You may recognize Froelich from a commercial that airs for Big Brothers Big Sisters with Bill and his little brother, Garrett, whom he mentored from 2009 to 2012. Froelich is now on the organization’s board and serves as chair of the governance committee.
Dennis Brown, the president and CEO of BBBS Hawaii, says Froelich helped turn the organization’s signature fundraiser, Bowl For Kids’ Sake, from a $50,000 event into one that regularly raises $300,000 a year. Says Brown, “Bill is a star in our community.”
– KATHRYN DRURY WAGNER
CEO OF IKE HAWAII
EARLY MOST MORNINGS when the surf is pounding, you’ll find Creighton Arita among the waves. “Waves come at different times, you can’t plan it. I wish you could,” says Arita, the CEO of ike Hawaii, an umbrella of Hawaii technology companies.
ike Hawaii’s more than 300 employees enjoy a “work lifestyle” that Arita says embraces team accountability and personal work/life balance management. “Our goal is to attract leaders, attract innovation and soft-land them into Hawaii, or into their passion and their gifts, and to be able to create a leadership culture of great people … who create great impacts.”
Arita got his professional start as a Wall Street investor, rising over eight years from intern to executive VP of local firm Cadinha & Co. Then he joined his father, Dan Arita, at Datahouse, now a 40-year-old company that Dan Arita founded after foreseeing the importance of technology in streamlining Hawaii workplaces.
“In his wisdom, the way I joined him was by starting up TeamPraxis,” says Arita. But, “The first five years were really humbling for me … I realized that being an entrepreneur was way harder than it looks … you see yourself through your own limitations.” Now, 23 years later, Arita says, TeamPraxis is the largest physician service organization in the state and the largest of ike Hawaii’s seven companies.
“You realize that the culture you build among the employees is a reflection of the joy or the humility or the anger or the control or the fear you have. You realize you need to really value people for who they are and who they can become and not just what they can do for you,” Arita says.
He also serves as executive pastor of the Christ Centered Community Church (C4), which he helped found in 2004. “Creighton has always been a strategic guy,” says Fernando Castillo, C4 co-founder and lead pastor. “He’s very passionate about helping people realize their calling and he’s always [supporting] people to find what they’re best suited for.”
As part of his role with the church, Arita founded a nonprofit that offers administrative services to other Hawaii churches and leads C4’s international mission work.
“I don’t know anyone who is more disciplined than he is,” says Castillo. “He finds the right people, builds the right teams and brings his energy to make it much better and bigger.”
– MEGHAN MINER
NALANI FUJIMORI KAINA
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE LEGAL AID SOCIETY OF HAWAII
SINCE SHE WAS A COLLEGE STUDENT at Macalester College in Minnesota, Nalani Fujimori Kaina knew she wanted to give back. And not just as a volunteer, but in her day-to-day work as a public-interest attorney.
“I’m a graduate of Kamehameha Schools and I received significant financial support for both undergraduate and law school,” she says. “I got involved in community issues with other students of color in college and one of the questions people would always ask me is, ‘What are you going to do to give back to your community?’ ” She answered that question by joining the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii in 1999 after receiving her law degree.
It’s where Kaina has worked for the past 17 years. “There’s no place else to go for civil legal assistance if you’re poor,” she says.
She began as a staff attorney on Molokai and later was a managing attorney on Maui before becoming the society’s executive director in Honolulu in 2009. Kaina says her role and that of her staff of 100, including 28 attorneys, is to advise and assist people navigating the complex legal system. They serve up to 10,000 people a year with offices on the six main islands.
“There’s always a huge demand for family law services, about 35 to 40 percent of our cases,” says Kaina. The organization does everything, including providing counsel in parental custody disputes, protecting women from domestic violence, helping people get government assistance and preventing them from being wrongfully evicted.
In 2008, the Hawaii Supreme Court created the Access to Justice Commission, which streamlines access to legal aid for poor people.
“She’ll deny it, but she took a substantial lead role in spearheading the Access to Justice Hui, which led to the forming of the commission,” says attorney Derek Kobayashi, who has helped Kaina on family law cases. “Under Nalani’s watch as executive director, there has been a high degree of collaboration and cooperation.”
“The one thing that most of our staff and I take away every day is that we’re doing good,” Kaina says. It’s what she tells new attorneys at the nonprofit called Hawaii Women Lawyers, where she is a director. “Do good. Even in those situations where things might not work out the way we think they should or when we can’t help everyone, we’re still putting up a good fight.”
– TIFFANY HILL
DIRECTOR OF THE PLANNING DEPARTMENT, KAUAI COUNTY
MIKE DAHILIG WORKS HARD, but also knows that having fun helps build strong teams. “His team always wins our Halloween spectacular,” says Nadine Nakamura, the managing director for the county of Kauai. “He had 24 employees dressed up as Disney characters. Last year it was Star Trek. He lights a fire under them.”
He does a great job building teamwork the other 364 days a year, too, says Nakamura, who oversees 14 departments, including Dahilig’s Planning Department. “He’s a committed public servant and very innovative in his thinking.”
“My job is to look at the future and how we build communities with and on the land,” says Dahilig, who grew up in Mililani, attended Punahou School and received a law degree from UH’s Richardson Law School. “How we manage our growth and impact on the land is important, whether for business, culture or housing. I have to best plan for that interaction, and ensure we adhere to the collective vision of the community.”
But caution doesn’t equal inaction. Under his leadership, the department has overhauled many long-range planning documents and policies, many not updated since the 1970s. The South Kauai Community Plan and Form-Based Code done by his department won two 2015 awards from the Hawaii Chapter of the American Planning Association.
“We emphasized a community-based process instead of the government coming in and telling people what to do,” says Dahilig. The department reached out on social media, had booths at county fairs and held a food truck rally. “We had a day at the beach with free hot dogs; people came up to us and drew maps. If you don’t have buy-in from the community, plans just sit on the shelf.”
Bev Brody, the director of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Coalition’s Get Fit Kauai program, says previous leaders did not support access to daily physical activity and healthier foods. “This time the stars are aligned. The mayor and Mike understand the benefits of changing the policies and ways of doing business.”
One example: Dahilig was instrumental in obtaining a federal grant of nearly $14 million to revitalize Lihue’s urban core. “We pitched a streetscape with walking, biking, vehicular traffic and commerce, with a Main Street feel.”
Supporting healthy citizens and healthy businesses, says Dahilig, is “the best of both worlds.”
– KATHRYN DRURY WAGNER
COO OF REVOLUSUN
COLIN YOST’S INTEREST in the environment started in childhood. He grew up in a small cabin with water that came from a stream. “I was an only child and I had no neighbors. There’s a national forest right in the back of our cabin, and I just spent a lot of my time in nature, really learning to appreciate its beauty and significance,” he says.
Before he joined Revolusun, Yost worked as an assistant attorney general in the financial fraud division of the Oregon Department of Justice. He moved to Hawaii in 2003 and worked at a few firms, maintaining his interests in environmental and civil rights cases. When asked to join Revolusun, he says, “I jumped at the opportunity, because I knew I’d be able to do something I believed in 100 percent of the time.”
The solar industry’s biggest challenge today is navigating Hawaii’s regulatory environment, he says, and much of his job as Revolusun’s COO is dealing with changes coming from the state Public Utilities Commission and Hawaiian Electric.
“Hawaii is at the cutting edge of integrating renewable energy into a very old and traditional electric grid. We’re kind of leading the way for the rest of the nation, but … really it’s the renewable-energy industry that is pulling everybody forward and we’re being pulled backward by a utility that is very nervous about these new technologies and often times by regulators who are cautious and nervous about having change occur too quickly.”
Yost is committed to improving the state’s infrastructure. “Everywhere you look in Hawaii, something needs to be fixed. We developed Oahu with a kind of Wild West mentality, throwing buildings up here and there. We didn’t design this place well in terms of our transportation infrastructure or our energy infrastructure, even our food infrastructure,” he says.
He also serves on the executive committee of the Sierra Club of Hawaii and helps work on statewide environmental, land-use and energy policies.
Revolusun partner Pamela Joe says Yost always tries to do the right thing. “With policy, for example, he takes our interest out of the picture and starts looking at policy: What is the best answer for Hawaii, given the ambitious renewable-energy goals we set for ourselves? What is the best policy and environment to get us there, our company and our interests aside?”
– NOELLE FUJII
DIRECTOR OF UH’S HAWAII INSTITUTE OF MARINE BIOLOGY
RUTH GATES GREW up in England watching “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” and dreaming of becoming a marine biologist.
On an early diving expedition in the West Indies, she fell in love with corals, and now, with the world’s reefs dying from ocean warming and acidification, Gates has made it her mission to help them survive.
“Coral is essential to our planet’s well being,” she says. “Reefs create habitats for marine life, they guard against shoreline erosion and drive our tourist economies.”
Gates is the director of UH’s Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology on Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay. She and her team are trying to enhance certain corals to better breed them for the future, aided by a $4 million grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
“When coral experiences challenging ocean conditions such as warmer than normal waters, the symbiotic algae that live within it leave and the coral turns white, a process called bleaching,” Gates says. “If corals fail to re-brown and recover, they die. If warming recurs over a number of years, the reefs the corals create will die.”
Her team first identifies individual corals with strong genes. Back in the lab, samples of these corals are slowly exposed to ocean conditions that mimic the warmer and more acidic water of the future in the hope that these stresses will cause the coral to adapt.
“By giving the corals this ‘experience’ and switching on a ‘memory,’ we think this helps them better survive future stress,” she says.
Gates also breeds different strains with one another in the hope of increasing their resilience. She calls the experiments “assisted evolution.”
Erik Franklin, an assistant research professor at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, says Gates is using cutting-edge technologies to gather information. “She possesses a unique blend of vision, ambition and wit that is essential to not only identify and explore the big scientific questions about coral reefs, but also to mobilize and motivate a dynamic group of collaborators to find answers to those questions,” he says.
If corals need a superhero, none is more enthusiastic than Gates.
“Corals reproduce, they clone, they are food factories that use other organisms in a symbiotic way,” she says. “They leave behind an amazing skeletal structure that can be seen from space; they are the genius architects of the natural world.”
– CHRIS OLIVER
DIRECTOR OF DEFENSE PROGRAMS FOR OCEANIT
FROM STEERING SHIPS into port to guiding clients toward new technology, Bill Kearns found leaving the military for the private sector an easy transition.
“There are many similarities,” he says. “The importance of teamwork, high standards and strong leadership. People who understand how their work fits in with a bigger vision and how that empowers them to do great things applies both in uniform and in the private sector.”
Kearns joined Oceanit, the Hawaii-based high-tech company, in 2012 after 28 years as an officer in the Navy, retiring as executive officer to the Pacific Fleet Commander. As Oceanit’s director of defense programs, he helps two very different groups of people work together: the military and the tech wizards.
“What I’m able to do is bring military people from ‘behind the fence’ on base, but also help Oceanit understand how to work best with the Defense Department,” he says.
He gives an example: “Our team on Maui is working with the U.S. Air Force using cutting-edge space-surveillance technology. One of the more interesting problems we’re working on is looking at satellites during the daytime,” not simply at night.
As space grows more congested – and contested – it’s essential to understand what satellites are doing, Kearns says. And as space debris accumulates, it’s harder keeping satellites safe.
On Earth, Oceanit’s work with the Navy includes the development of nano-materials such as Anhydra, a surface treatment for metals that repels water.
“By changing the structure of a metal surface at the nano-level we are able to change the way metal interacts with water, oil or ice, so one application is a hull coating for ships that prevents corrosion and biofouling by algae or crustaceans,” Kearns explains. “Another exciting application is anti-icing technology for use on aircraft.”
The bigger picture is Oceanit’s mission to enlarge the tech sector in Hawaii to offer careers to skilled young locals working on the Mainland who want to come home.
“Bill is a natural leader,” says Jan Sullivan, COO of Oceanit. “He is the rare individual that has made a seamless transition from the military world into the tech world.”
What Kearns enjoys most is connecting scientists and engineers with market needs. “Potential users of a new technology have to find it compelling enough to change their current habits and adopt a new way of thinking. Not everyone is open to the challenge.”
– CHRIS OLIVER
APPRENTICE NAVIGATOR FOR THE POLYNESIAN VOYAGING SOCIETY
AS AN APPRENTICE navigator, Austin Kino is helping keep the skill and practice of Polynesian sailing alive. While in high school at Kamehameha Schools Kapalama, he joined up with PVS as a member of Kapu Na Keiki, a group of young sailors that trained with the crew of Hokulea, and, in May 2014, he sailed on the ship’s first leg to Tahiti.
“To see an island for your first time and kind of pull it out of the sea – that’s the expression of the navigator, ‘We’ll fish an island out of the sea.’ Even though we weren’t doing it by ourselves, we were doing it with a group of four of us, it was a really overwhelming feeling to be completely isolated, surrounded by ocean for 16 days and then, on the 17th day, to see land and to feel a little bit of that success was pretty life changing.”
His teachers tell him that, as a navigator, he’ll make about 1,000 decisions a day, internally and externally, while constantly aware of how fast the ship is traveling, in which direction and from where.
Another accomplishment came about a year later, when he was returning to Hawaii with only fellow apprentice navigators on board. “I think for anyone from Hawaii that’s a really special one because you see the Hawaiian Islands come out at you … like what the first people who settled here saw,” he says.
Miki Tomita, director of the PVS Learning Center, says Kino is trying to use his experience as an apprentice navigator to educate children. “He’s always thinking about community, about how we can help our community to teach young children to really understand the environment they live in and how they can contribute to making it better.”
Kino recently started Huli the Movement, an organization that supports and promotes environmental stewardship and cultural awareness. He says today’s leadership stresses being not just a navigator in the ocean, but also in one’s community. “Starting programs or building networks, whether it’s about navigation or caring for our island Earth, or just learning how to live more sustainably on our island. Whatever I can do that promotes those values and, if I can build a career out of that, those are my goals.”
– NOELLE FUJII
HAWAII SALES AND COMMUNITY MARKETING MANAGER FOR ALASKA AIRLINES
IF YOU’VE EVER attended the Great Aloha Run, the Spam Jam, the Kona Brewers Festival, the Maui Fair or one of dozens of other events, odds are good that you met or were helped by Daniel Chun.
Since 2011, Chun has been the Hawaii sales and community marketing manager for Alaska Airlines. “I wear the brand on my sleeve, and I have no problem doing that,” he says. “If Alaska is involved with anything here, you’ll see me. I’ll be there and I’ll be involved.”
He’s also responsible for building Alaska Airlines’ brand throughout the Islands and is its liaison with governments, tourism agencies and other businesses. The Mililani native has 13 years of tourism and hospitality experience. He started as an event coordinator at the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau and for seven years was executive assistant to the tourism liaison in Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration. That office was a bridge between government and the tourism industry. “It showed me how government works, how the state works, who the major players are, how community is important in every aspect of business.”
Thanks to Chun’s ever-expanding community network, Alaska Airlines now supports about 70 local nonprofits annually. “I enjoy connecting people and trying to find where these connections should or could happen … and connecting them to the community,” he says.
The 36-year-old has become increasingly involved in volunteering on his own time: He sits on the boards of Diamond Head Theatre and Make a Wish Hawaii, and has been a longtime volunteer, past executive director and now board member of the Honolulu Gay & Lesbian Cultural Foundation. He’s also VP for the alumni association of UH’s School of Travel Industry Management, where he was once a student. “One of the things I tell (students) is to get actively involved,” says Chun. “I try to live by example.”
“When you’re a mentor, it’s great to see the person you have mentored go forth and mentor others; he has embraced that. He has paid it forward,” says Marie Kumabe, the principal at Kumabe HR, and who has known Chun since she taught him at the UH TIM school. “When you talk to Daniel, the Aloha spirit and the hospitality of the local industry are a part of his actual being. He exudes them to every person he deals with, whether it’s a visitor or friend.”
– TIFFANY HILL
SENIOR ASSOCIATE AT STARTUP CAPITAL VENTURES
DONAVAN KEALOHA HAS ALWAYS been an entrepreneur. “I remember learning the art of arbitrage at a very early age: Getting something for cheap, then turning around and selling it at an increased price.”
UH law school gave him access to the business world, and he founded his first company while still there. Kealoha counts as his biggest accomplishments starting several companies and organizations that continue to positively affect Hawaii. One is the nonprofit Purple Maia, which he says puts STEM in a Hawaiian context and helps underserved youth in Hawaii.
As a senior associate at Startup Capital Ventures, Kealoha splits his time between Silicon Valley and Hawaii. He describes his work as synergistic in the entrepreneurial world, which he calls a social mobility opportunity for underserved communities.
“I grew up on Lanai and on the west side of Oahu, so it’s been a pathway for me to achieve a career that I probably wouldn’t have recognized or been able to access had I not been exposed to these kinds of things early on,” he says. “There are underserved communities that don’t have access to empowering technology curriculum and (he started Purple Maia) wanting to see more folks that look like me, talk like me, have the same sort of mindset and values, build companies and do interesting things.”
Purple Maia board member Napali Souza has known Kealoha since their days in the law and MBA programs at UH. He calls Kealoha visionary: “He has this vision of what he wants Purple Maia to be and how he wants to assist the Native Hawaiian community, particularly young people, high schoolers and intermediate students. So they thrive in a technology space where I don’t think there’s a lot of expectation for Native Hawaiian students to thrive in.”
Kealoha is also a founding director with Shifted Energy, which is working to reach underserved communities that typically aren’t able to take advantage of renewable energy. “We’re taking something that is unsexy and making it sexy. Taking electric water heaters and turning them essentially into batteries” that utilities can draw on when needed. He also sits on the board of AreaMetrics, a company with Hawaii roots that helps brick and mortar retailers gain insight into customer engagement.
– NOELLE FUJII
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE SIERRA CLUB OF HAWAII
YOU’D EXPECT THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of the Sierra Club of Hawaii to be committed to environmental protection. What might surprise you is Marti Townsend’s similarly strong commitment to social justice.
Since Townsend, 38, took over the nonprofit’s helm in July, much of her focus has been on energy issues, such as pushing for publicly owned utilities over the proposed NextEra takeover of the Hawaiian Electric companies and trying to prevent Hawaii from making an “unwise” investment in liquefied natural gas. “Our primary concern right now is getting Hawaii to a 100 percent renewable-energy future,” she says.
“We also have spent a lot of effort on water security, which affects the quality of life in our Islands.” She says the Sierra Club has been trying to eliminate cesspools and other injection wells that pollute nearshore waters, get streams restored after decades of diversion for agriculture, and have the military’s Red Hill fuel storage facilities cleaned up and retired.
Townsend says the Sierra Club believes environmental and social justices go hand in hand, like voting rights, public health and working conditions. “All of these things affect our quality of life. We aren’t just pushing for a fossil fuel-free future, but one that is just and inclusive.”
She also mentions that chemical companies and others that produce hazardous waste often locate in low-income neighborhoods or communities where the population is largely people of color.
Hawaii Chapter chairman David “Kimo” Frankel says Townsend’s familiarity with environmental law and her background in environmental issues make her an ideal director. He says her work with Kahea (the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance) and the Outdoor Circle “demonstrated her commitment to environmental protection and social justice.”
Frankel also notes that Townsend’s ability to get things done with few resources makes her someone to keep an eye on. “In 2015, Marti played a key role in organizing the campaign to defeat Carleton Ching as chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources. A couple of years ago, she successfully championed the establishment of the new environmental court system. Before that, she helped to stop industrial spot zoning in Waianae,” he points out.
Townsend says she’s optimistic about the future, as Hawaii rethinks urban planning, invests in affordable housing and better protects agricultural lands. “I’d like to see Hawaii be the model for truly sustainable living where everyone is included in the bounty of our land.”
– TREENA SHAPIRO
PRINCIPAL OF WAIPAHU HIGH SCHOOL
EDUCATOR, INNOVATOR, VISIONARY and cheerleader are words people use to describe Waipahu High principal Keith Hayashi.
An educator for 25 years, Hayashi took the helm at WHS in 2009. Soon after, the school refined and expanded its Career Pathways system, and implemented Early College to focus students on preparing for college and careers.
In Career Pathways, students collaborate with industry and business partners for mentoring and hands-on experience in engineering, business, information technology, law enforcement, health care, culinary arts, hospitality and other fields.
“We help students identify their passions, then provide opportunities and supports for their success. If students are passionate about something, they are focused and not thinking about cutting school or causing trouble,” he says.
The Pathways system meant refocusing traditional teaching and learning, creating student-support systems, emphasizing positive relationships and encouraging innovation. It also reduced suspensions 50 percent and dramatically improved behavior on campus.
“We want to build students who are flexible, creative, communicate well and can problem solve. We do that with real-world opportunities.”
The opportunities are vast: Students have attended the Jeju Youth Forum in Korea, worked on genetic research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and prepped ogo and fresh herbs from the school’s aquaponic system for the school’s Marauder Restaurant.
In 2012, to build students’ momentum for college, the school rolled out its Early College Initiative, a partnership with Leeward Community College and UH-West Oahu that offers students free college-level classes.
The program, funded through the McInerney Foundation, has more than 400 Waipahu students currently enrolled in 14 core classes on campus after the regular school day ends.
“It provides wonderful opportunities for our low-income families’ first-generation college goers,” says program director Mark Silliman.
Reflecting the program’s success, the Class of 2015 amassed more than $15 million in merit-based college scholarships.
“Keith is an extraordinary leader who has the ability to see the nitty-gritty details, while at the same time see the big picture,” Silliman says.
“Many people in education do a good job maintaining programs already in place,” he says. “Keith is transformative. He reinvents ideas and refashions programs to bring them up to date and make them engaging to students.”
– Chris Oliver