My Job: Outdoor Jack-of-All-Trades

Gerry Kaho‘okano used to Tahitian dance with John (Leong, CEO of Pono Pacific Land Management) and he needed help. So he went to work for him as a field laborer.

NAME: Gerry Kaho‘okano
AGE: 41
JOB: Operations Manager, Pono Pacific Land Management

BEGINNINGS: “I took up culinary arts (at Kapi‘olani Community College) and worked in production baking for about six years. It was mindless. I figured I’d get replaced by a robot in about a year or two. I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

“I did side stuff like construction, tree trimming, carpet cleaning, anything to make a dollar. I used to Tahitian dance with John (Leong, CEO of Pono Pacific Land Management) and he needed help. So I went to work for him as a field laborer.

“There was only four of us back then. We were doing trail-building projects, trail maintenance, trapping rats for The Nature Conservancy in Wailupe and Kunia. I preferred being outdoors, being in the mountains.”

SCOPE OF WORK: “Even though I’m running operations for the company, I’m still in the field. To me, the only way you’re really going to know what is needed and what to ask of your people is to actually get out there and do the job.

“I do a lot of bidding on projects, managing schedules, coordinating helicopters, communicating with our clients and letting them know what’s going on. Sometimes we fly out on a helicopter on a Monday, camp in the mountains, then fly home on Friday. We install predator-proof fencing, mangrove removal, build snail jails (enclosures to protect native snails), restoration work, help farmers. The job is never the same.

WHAT IT TAKES: “You have to be open-minded and a problem-solver, because things come up and you know what they say, there are 10 million different ways to get to the end. You have to be open to try things.

“When people ask me what I do for a living, I say, ‘What it takes.’ ”

COOLEST EXPERIENCE: “A lot of the areas we go, you pretty much can only access by helicopter, so not everybody gets to see this. There’s this one time on O‘ahu, we were installing fencing on Poamoho Ridge (in Wahiawā). We were in this one spot and the day was clear enough you could actually see Makapu‘u Point and Ka‘ena Point. Being able to see the ends of the island, that was pretty cool.”

CHALLENGES: “The biggest challenge is balancing work and life at home. We’re gone so much and a lot of the work we do is remote and requires us to be away from our families throughout the week. I have to give up everything I love to do on the weekends, like fishing or taking the boat out, and just hang out with my family.”

WHAT’S IN YOUR BACKPACK: “I always have a multi-tool, sometimes spare spark plugs, a chain-saw file, some kind of water filter, foil blankets, a first-aid kit and a headlamp. The snacks change. If I’m going to sleep in the mountains, I’ll bring a Clif Bar or granola bar. But if not, it’s candy.”

PAY RANGE: “We start our field techs at $13 an hour. And depending on whether you move up to field supervisor or project manager, it goes up from there.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Categories: Agriculture, Careers, Natural Environment