Hawaii Business’ SmallBiz 2013 Editor’s Choice Awards

Winning companies in five categories: Green Business, Innovation, New Business, Woman-Owned, and Long-Term


Best Green Business

KYA Sustainability Studio

Nominator: Scott Cooney, The GBO Group

KYA Sustainability Studio is a think tank that specializes in environmentally friendly and culturally sensitive design, development and architecture. Full of young and energetic associates, the studio is the brainchild of architect Ross Yamasaki and an offshoot of the KYA Design Group.

The studio started about six years ago, when Yamasaki decided to simultaneously address the brain drain of smart young people from Hawaii and the need for strategic sustainability planning by businesses and communities.

“My passion and vision existed beyond architecture,” Yamasaki says. Accordingly, the employees of KYA Sustainability Studio hold degrees ranging from environmental studies and anthropology to political science, law and architecture. This multifaceted approach was partly a response to organizations working in separate niches without sufficient cooperation.

Tamara Armstrong, director of client relations at the studio, has a BA in sustainability from UH-Manoa. “When I was going to school,” she says, “people still needed an explanation of what my major meant. Now the challenge is to elaborate and talk about sustainability on a deeper level.”

The KYA crew believes that ecological and cultural sustainability can be merged with economic efficiency and financial benefit. While Armstrong and director of analytics Vance Arakaki contribute their technical expertise on, respectively, reducing waste and improving organizational efficiency, the team says another fundamental facet of their work is preserving Hawaii’s sense of place and uniqueness. Director of policy Amy Brinker finds inspiration in the pluralism and fluidity of traditional Hawaiian culture. Thus, according to the studio, the most respectful homage that could be paid to local traditions is in embracing innovation and progress with a clear awareness of historical continuity. The team strives to pay equal attention to both local geographical factors and culture, including Hawaiian and immigrant traditions.

“My favorite example of work where we implement this set of values is our renovation of the (Honolulu International) Airport,” says Armstrong. KYA says it was instrumental in the Department of Transportation’s new sustainability program and that it designed guidelines for future development, addressing issues such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste and carbon management, along with cultural appropriateness.

KYA’s modernization of HNL’s lobbies 2 and 3 won a distinguished entry at the 2012 Honolulu Awards of the American Institute of Architects. “The airport is important,” Brinker says, “because it’s the first place most people see when they come to Hawaii. It is also the last before they leave. At the same time, we don’t want it to be just another airport – it’s the Hawaii airport.”



Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods

Jeffrey Dunster & Darrell Fox

Nominator: Irvin Wong, First Hawaiian Bank

Since its founding in 2005, Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods has steadily reforested cattle pastureland with koa and other trees. Now, the company says, more than 150,000 koa trees line a 1,000-acre sloping parcel on the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii Island, re-creating what the area was like about a century ago.

“We are creating a whole ecosystem,” says CEO Jeffrey Dunster. Besides koa, which Dunster calls the pioneer species, the company is planting about 10 other types of trees, including ohia and sandalwood.

HLH has both for-profit and nonprofit sides. The for-profit side plants trees for harvest, while the nonprofit side plants trees for permanent reforestation.
Irvin Wong, VP and branch manager of First Hawaiian Bank’s Liliha branch, says that, in 2008, Dunster and Fox shared with him their vision for saving and restoring tropical hardwood forests. “I was intrigued by the concept,” says Wong.

“Other benefits include protecting wildlife and replenishing the watershed. It is not just planting and restoring the ecosystem, but also deploying a different type of forestry model,” he explains.

Many people purchase a legacy tree in memory of a loved one, Dunster says. That costs $60, $20 of which goes to a charity of the customer’s choice and $1 to The Nature Conservancy.

Among the company’s partners in reforestation are The Nature Conservancy, Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, American Lung Association, MOA of Hawaii and the American Cancer Society. Overall, the company’s reforestation initiative currently supports more than 100 charities and organizations worldwide.

On the for-profit side, investment trees are sold in lots of 100. The one-time cost is $8,841 for the 2013-14 planting season. The minimum order allows for pruning and thinning so only the best trees grow to maturity.

All trees have radio-frequency identification tags that track ownership, growth and other information. Owners can locate their individual trees on a GPS map or, eventually, by satellite imagery.

A large carbon market is operating in Europe and the state of California created a carbon market this year, though it is unclear how or if such “cap and trade” laws will be created elsewhere in the United States. “(B)ut there is little doubt that carbon markets are coming,” the company’s website says.

On this point, Wong says, HLH is “actually creating a new carbon-credit market here in Hawaii, which is an exciting development for the future.”


Best New Business

Hawaii Human Resources

CEO: Matthew Delaney

Nominator: Scott LaRue, Atlas Insurance

There’s hardly a moment Matt Delaney isn’t working. With a portfolio of companies – six at last count and two more coming onboard in the next few months – he doesn’t have time to be idle. Nor does he like to be.

“I love work, I’m excited about it, but I’m working 18 hours a day,” he says. “I’m at that point now where I need to clone myself or find my mini-me.”

Delaney and his business partner Scott Meichtry launched HiHR in 2009 with a single client – an air-conditioning contractor with 21 employees – and support 368 companies today. In the same time frame, the company went from two employees to 37. The growth, he says, puts HiHR within range of the two largest HR companies in the state and Delaney plans for that growth to continue.

“What it will do for us is provide additional stability in regard to the industry and the economy,” says Delaney. “Now, we’re so well diversified between construction and retail and hospitality and service that if the economy turns and construction takes a dive, this provides a bit of insulation for whatever is happening in the world.”

HiHR is the original company in his Hawaii Group portfolio; the latest addition is HiNursing, a company with 48 people working in hospitals and assisted-living facilities. He’s also expanding to California, his home state, where he also has a second home and spends weekends.

One of the secrets to HiHR’s success is the company’s ability to inspire employees, treat them well (he still provides free lunch every day) and support their lives. Employees’ children are often there after school, and employees are encouraged to support charities of their choice on company time.

Scott LaRue is an independent Atlas Insurance agent who nominated HiHR for the Best New Business award. LaRue met Delaney a dozen years ago paddling outrigger canoes and figured he was “a beach bum from California.” Today, LaRue sees a talented, driven entrepreneur who attracts top-notch employees and tends to bring them along with him wherever his business goes.

“Everyone in that office seems to genuinely be a good person and it all starts from the top down,” says LaRue. “The true sign of a good leader is to look at the turnover in his company.” Basically, says LaRue, there isn’t any.


Woman-Owned Business

Yuka “Lisa” Nawano

Eggs ’n Things

Nominators: Edie Tanicala and Dean Uyeda, Bank of Hawaii

Yuka “Lisa” Nawano considers herself, more than anything, the No. 1 fan of Eggs ’n Things.

Her love affair with the restaurant began almost 20 years ago, when she visited Hawaii from her native Japan as an 18-year-old and fell in love with the pancakes at the family-owned restaurant on Ena Road in Waikiki.

Nine years later, still obsessed with the food, Nawano approached owner Jan Fukunaga about bringing an Eggs ’n Things location to Japan.

“Jan asked if I had restaurant experience and I said, ‘No, but I’m a great fan of your pancakes, and I really want to do this,’ ” recalls Nawano. The two developed a friendship and kept in touch over the next decade.

In 2008, patience paid off when Fukunaga was ready to retire and asked Nawano if she would be interested in taking over the business. The rest is history.

Dean Uyeda, VP of Hawaii Commercial Banking at Bank of Hawaii, says Nawano has taken a successful restaurant and made it even better.

“It’s easy to be complacent and content with success, but she wasn’t,” says Uyeda. “She took a risk by expanding, took out some debt and now she’s growing.”

Since taking over the business, Nawano has increased sales by more than 600 percent, increased the number of employees from 40 to 150, moved the original restaurant from Ena Road to Saratoga Road, opened two more locations and established a store.

Nawano calls herself a “hands-on” owner and tries to visit each restaurant once a day. She traces her love for the food and concept of Eggs ’n Things to her early childhood in Detroit.

Born in Fujisawa City, in Kanigawa Prefecture, Nawano spent her elementary school years in the Motor City, where her father worked in the automotive industry.

“The first time I came to Eggs ’n Things, I was reminded of the American-type breakfasts my family would have in Detroit on Sunday mornings,” she recalls. “Pancakes, to me, bring thoughts of happy times, family and friends. I like to share with others what I have a passion for. If I experience something really good, I want to share it. That’s the biggest drive for me.”

*Has received an SBA loan


Long-Term Success

Windward Boats

Joe Adams

Nominator: Martin Tadlas, Hawaii National Bank

For almost three decades, Joe Adams has navigated Windward Boatsthrough friendly and stormy economic conditions, and turned it into Hawaii’s largest boat dealer.

With the help and encouragement of friends, Adams started the company out of his home in Enchanted Lake in 1984. Initially, he focused on smaller items. “I would do demonstrations on the dock and in the backyard,” says Adams. “I had one bedroom full of engines, another full of inflatable boats and my garage was an improvised workshop.” After six months, he was able to afford a small facility on Kailua Road.

From those humble beginnings, the business grew almost exponentially and, in 1990, acquired its current one-acre location. Adams attributes his success to introducing local customers to the option of financing, with which Windward Boats was able to add more lines and products, and emerged as Hawaii’s top seller.

Though business dropped by 80 percent over a single month at the onset of the latest recession, Windward Boats stayed afloat with flexible management. As customers preferred to repair what they already had, the firm met the increased demand for service and maintenance. “We had to change with the times,” Adams says, and calls the past four years the most challenging of his company’s history.

A business that sells luxury goods seldom enjoys steady sailing, but Adams has smoothed out the ride by serving government and educational institutions, such as the Navy, Coast Guard, local fire departments and universities. Maintenance contracts with these organizations, explains Adams, are usually less dependent on economic circumstances.

Adams prides himself on being Yamaha’s top seller in the country’s western region for 12 consecutive years. This is remarkable, considering Hawaii’s modest population. What also contributes to his success, Adams says, is that he hires exceptional professionals who are also watersports enthusiasts like himself.

Martin Tadlas, Kailua branch manager of Hawaii National Bank, who nominated Windward Boats for a small-business award, calls it a “flagship business” for Kailua. Tadlas also applauds Adams for his involvement in the community.

Born and raised in Kailua, Adams is a champion for sports-related causes such as the Special Olympics and AccesSurf, which introduces ocean activities to children and veterans with disabilities. “I wish there was more charity to those who really need it: the handicapped, veterans, the homeless, the starving,” he says.

Categories: Lists & Awards, SBA Awards, Small Biz Editor’s Choice Awards