Small Business , Success Stories – May 4, 2017

The Best of Small Business – SBA Awards and SmallBiz Editor’s Choice 2017

Two dozen local companies and business leaders who won this year’s Hawaii district awards from the federal Small Business Administration (SBA). Hawaii Business also recognizes our Editor’s Choice Winners for 2017.

*Register Now to Celebrate The Best of Small Business on
Thursday May 4, 2017.


(click names to view profile)

05-17-SBA-thumb_MauiBrewing 05-17-SBA-thumb_Mullen 05-17-SBA-thumb_HiSalt
↑ SBA Persons of the Year:
Garrett Marrero &
Melanie Oxley
Maui Brewing Co.
↑ Family-Owned Business:
J. Terry Mullen
John Mullen & Co.
↑ Exporter of the Year:
Laura Andersland
Salty Wahine Gourmet
Hawaiian Sea Salts
05-17-SBA-thumb_Olson 05-17-SBA-thumb_Gesik 05-17-SBA-thumb_Baker
↑ Special Lifetime Award:
Edmund C. Olson
Owner, Edmund Olson
Trust II
↑ Young Entrepreneur
of the Year:

Patrick Gesik
Gesik Physical Therapy
↑ Advocate for
Financial Services:

Reginald E. Baker
Managing Member,
Reg Baker, CPA LLC
05-17-SBA-thumb_Braken 05-17-SBA-thumb_Camp 05-17-SBA-thumb_Etratra
↑ Advocate for Media &
Sherry Bracken
News Reporter,
Mahalo Broadcasting
/ Hawaii Public Radio
↑ Advocate for Business &
Christine Camp
President & CEO,
Avalon Development Co., LLC
↑ Advocate for Minorities:
Maria A.F. Etrata
President & CEO,
Preferred Home and Community
Based Services, LLC



05-17-SBA-thumb_CCHNL 05-17-SBA-thumb_Maui
Click above to view
City & County of Honolulu Winners
Click above to view
County of Maui Winners
05-17-SBA-thumb_Kauai 05-17-SBA-thumb_HAWAIIISLE
Click above to view
County of Kauai Winners
Click above to view
County of Hawaii Winners


05-17-SBEC-thumb_HEADER (click names to view profile)
05-17-SBEC-thumb_LEONG 05-17-SBEC-thumb_INKINEN
John Leong, President/CEO
Kathryn Inkinen, President
05-17-SBEC-thumb_TULU 05-17-SBEC-thumb_DORAN
Habibur “Francis” Tulu, President/CEO
James Doran, President/CEO
Jessica Kamanao, Owner/Manager


Photo by David Croxford.
Photo by David Croxford.



Sponsor: Greg Knue, Bank of Hawaii

Years ago, when San Diego native Garrett Marrero traveled to Hawaii for the first time, he was stunned to learn the Aloha State lacked a local craft beer, he says.

“I thought that was a great disservice to the community,” says Marrero, who hails from a city famous for its craft breweries. “So we came to Hawaii and we started brewing a simple version of a world-class beer that’s authentic to Hawaii. Sticking to that has made us become the largest craft brewery in the state.”

Founded in 2005, Maui Brewing Co. has grown from a 320-barrel business into an enterprise with global sales that brewed 39,600 barrels in 2016. The company, operated by Marrero and his wife, Melanie Marrero Oxley, is on pace to brew 53,000 barrels in 2017, with ambitious plans for restaurants across the state.

Maui Brewing has a 2-year-old flagship brewpub in Kihei on Maui, and opened its first Oahu restaurant in February on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. A Kailua brewpub is scheduled to open next year.

Maui Brewing now has 360 employees, Garrett Marrero says, but expansion will more than double the workforce within the next 18 months. He says that being able to offer jobs to so many locals is one of the best aspects of the business.

“It’s important to not discount the simple points of what we do,” Marrero says. “We make beer in Hawaii, we make it for the community and for the visitors, and we make it to bring attention to local agriculture. We’re not curing cancer. It’s beer. But what we do is special because craft beer has a direct impact on community and a direct impact on agriculture. Our goal is not to be Budweiser and not to be the biggest, but to be the best. We choose authenticity over growth. The reason we started is the local nature of the business, and that is what’s most important to me.”

Maui Brewing’s reach extends beyond Hawaii, with its four flagship beers – Bikini Blonde Lager, Big Swell IPA, Pineapple Mana Wheat and Coconut Hiwa Porter – now available in 20 states and more than a dozen countries. But, Marrero says, the company is still guided by a commitment to local agriculture and the local community.

More than 75 percent of Maui Brewing’s product is sold in Hawaii and 100 percent of its beer is produced on Maui. Whenever possible, local ingredients are used. For example, the Lorenzini Double IPA, a seasonal beer available in cans and on draft at Maui Brewing’s tap room, is brewed with Hawaii citrus and Maui cane sugar, while the DoppelShot DoubleBock is infused with Maui-grown coffee from a Kaanapali farm. The company also donates its spent grain to local ranchers for feed.

Maui Brewing has benefited from rising popularity for beer infused with natural fruit flavors. Sales of the company’s coconut porter and pineapple wheat brews have skyrocketed in the last two years, Marrero says, prompting limited editions of beers infused with local blood orange, passion fruit, guava and lemongrass.

Maui Brewing is one of the first craft brewers to use aluminum cans and purchases all of its cans from a manufacturer on Oahu. Marrero says he chose aluminum because the beer stays fresher longer and the cans reduce the shipping footprint. Marrero says the company is also working to become the first craft brewery to use solar energy so that it can operate 100 percent off-the-grid by the end of 2017.

Greg Knue, VP and commercial banking officer at Bank of Hawaii, nominated the Marreros for their SBA award. “Garrett and Melanie remain steadfast in maintaining 100 percent of their craft beer production locally, using local ingredients whenever possible for their premium products, while striving to become totally energy independent,” he says. “Garrett and Melanie are also champions of the craft-beer industry, leading the way to change legislation that benefits all alcohol-beverage manufacturers, such as the local wineries, spirit manufacturers and the growing number of Hawaii craft-beer producers.”

The Marreros have been instrumental in lobbying to change Hawaii liquor laws to allow the sale of growlers, portable containers filled with craft beer that patrons can buy and take home. The Marreros also persuaded Hawaii lawmakers to eliminate a longstanding cap on local beer production that stifled the growth of the craft-beer industry.

U.S. Sen. Mazie K. Hirono gives another example of how Garrett W. Marrero has helped other businesses in Hawaii.

“When Garrett was denied a Small Business Administration loan that would allow him to expand his business and build a new brewery in Kihei, he was not deterred,” Hirono says. “He came to my office and, together, we worked with the SBA for over a year to correct the specific issue, which was based on an interpretation of Hawaii’s land tenure system.”

In the end, Marrero received the loan and opened the way for other Hawaii business owners to get similar loans. “Garrett is an example of how one person can make a difference,” Hirono says.

Greg Koch, co-founder of San Diego-based Stone Brewing, has known the Marreros since 2009 and is impressed by their passion and focus on craft beer.

“I can remember visiting their Lahaina production facility later that year, and when Garrett showed me around he was able to explain every last detail about the brewery, down to pump sizes and fermentation specs,” Koch says. “He knew every last detail about every last detail, and it’s that level of attention that’s helped them get where they are today.”

As Maui Brewing grows, Melanie Marrero Oxley says, the business is even better poised to maintain its commitment to staying local and environmentally friendly.

“It is actually easier now than in the beginning to stay local and take on larger green projects,” she says. “Our profitability has grown with our success, and we have chosen to use a great deal of that money for sustainability projects to produce 100 percent of our energy, clean energy, on site. We have never intended to become so large we had to take production outside of Hawaii. We also maintained ownership and control, so investors could never force us to produce a Maui Brewing Co. beer on the Mainland, so they could make more money. Our pride and authenticity is worth too much.”




Sponsor: Russell O. Shogren Jr., First Hawaiian Bank

Photo by Aaron K. Yoshino.
Photo by Aaron K. Yoshino.

Founded in California by John and Margaret Mullen in 1956, John Mullen & Co. moved to Hawaii three years later, making a name for itself as the largest independent multiline insurance adjusting firm in the Islands.

“We’ve tried to maintain the company feel and the company vision that my mother and father put through,” says J. Terry Mullen, 64, the company’s current president. “My dad was the heart of the company. He was a great salesperson and manager, and my mom was the soul. She was the bookkeeper until the day she died. It was payroll day and she was very pleased that we had made payroll, and she passed away about a half hour after that, at home.

“She and my dad both had that strong feeling that you can really do good for the people we represent, and you can do well by them and you can do well by yourself in return. That’s been the key to our longevity and our size. My dad called it, ‘Adjusting with aloha.’ ”

For decades, John Mullen & Co. has handled investigations for insurance claims on automobile, bodily injury, general liability, property, workers’ compensation, marine, travel accident and temporary disability. With nearly 100 employees, including adjusters on Maui, Kauai, Hawaii Island and Oahu, the business services claims throughout Hawaii and the Pacific Basin, including Johnston Island, Kwajalein and American Samoa.

J. Terry Mullen joined the family business as a part-time field adjustor assistant in 1974, working his way up through the workers-compensation department before taking the top job when his father stepped down in 1989.

The company has retained clients from the 1960s, while also attracting new business. Its employee retention rate is impressively high. The average claims staff member has been with the company for more than 17 years.

“People want to work for us because they know they aren’t going to get the corporate runaround,” Mullen says. “I really do believe that our people have been key to any successes we’ve had.”

First Hawaiian Bank VP Russell O. Shogren Jr. says John Mullen & Co. is simply the best.

“I feel it’s important Terry Mullen and his team receive recognition for their continued service to the local Hawaii community and consistent financial performance,” he says.



Photo by Mike Coots.
Photo by Mike Coots.


Sponsor: Julie Kim, First Hawaiian Bank

Laura Andersland was a new retiree looking for extra income in 2008 when she finally got serious about selling her Hawaiian sea salt blends. She had been making them since age 11, when she discovered she could turn a good meal into something great by infusing salt crystals with the tropical fruits and spices growing in her backyard.

What began as a modest farmers market stand has grown in nine years into a global business. Exports to Japan, Germany, Australia, Canada and the U.S. Mainland make up about a quarter of Andersland’s Salty Wahine Gourmet Hawaiian Sea Salts business.

“People around the world always have a love affair with Hawaii, so I can’t take full credit for the growth of our exports,” Andersland says. “Just the fact that it’s from Hawaii and it’s made in Hawaii is a huge part of it. The rest is having a good product to back it up.”

Salty Wahine’s infused salt blends come in 18 varieties, ranging from guava garlic to a fiery dragonfruit java rub made with Hawaiian chili pepper, dragonfruit, Kauai Coffee grounds and Hawaiian sea salt. In addition to exports, Salty Wahine sells its product in bulk to chefs around the world.

“We are just having a blast doing what we do,” says Andersland, who is 56. “We are very outside the box as far as our flavor profiles, which I think is very attractive to the chefs, because, if their menus are innovative, then that attracts people to come. We choose all the fruits that we infuse into our salt crystals because they do something for you, whether it’s tenderizing your food or delivering vitamins and minerals or adding some color to the food. Our products look good, taste good and smell good.”

Salty Wahine also takes custom orders. At Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina on Oahu, the prime rib and turkey derive a pop of flavor from a custom Salty Wahine blend, Andersland says.

“Laura started her business in 2008 with just $800, and I was impressed with her ability to grow the business from such humble beginnings into the success story it is today,” says Julie Kim, a branch manager for First Hawaiian Bank. “Her mission of ‘making eating healthy fun’ using locally available products, such as fruits, herbs and spices, for her premixed gourmet seasonings, takes creativity, stamina and passion.”




Sponsor: Judi Mellon, Hawaii Small Business Development Center Network

Photo by Aaron K. Yoshino.
Photo by Aaron K. Yoshino.

Edmund Olson’s first priority when he started as an entrepreneur was to provide for his family and generations to come. He is ending his career by helping an even larger group of people.

Olson founded A-American Storage Management Co. in 1972 and built it into the seventh-largest storage company in the country. Before he sold it in 2008, it averaged more than $72 million in revenue annually.

“My kids didn’t want to continue with it, so, when I sold it, that left me with a pile of money,” Olson says. “With my kids and dependents already taken care of, I turned my attention to saving the land on the Big Island and Hawaii.”

Judi Mellon, director of East Hawaii for the Hawaii Small Business Development Center Network, says Olson’s impact on Hawaii Island and statewide can’t be overstated.

“He’s an incredible man who has made huge contributions to our community that many people don’t even know about,” she says. “What’s beautiful is the way he empowers people. He trains them, counsels them on how to run a business and lets them go run it. He gives money to help kids with school projects and other community needs.”

Olson’s trust entails nine companies and employs 100 people on the Hawaii Island and Oahu. His goal is to keep the trust going forward and to employ as many people as possible.

“I’m at the age where I could be sitting in a rocker in a nursing home,” he says. “Keeping busy has kept me healthy, but I can’t do it forever. We’re actively looking for a successor who can work by my side for a year or two and then take over.”

This year, the trust is launching a hydroelectric plant using the reservoir in Pahala that used to service the sugar-cane plantation. It will produce enough clean energy to easily power the Kau Coffee Mill and other buildings.
“He comes through for the community in so many ways and for so many people,” Mellon says. “I’m so glad he’s being recognized for his efforts.”




Sponsor: Israel Avilla, American Savings Bank

Photo by Aaron K. Yoshino.
Photo by Aaron K. Yoshino.

The son of two physical therapists, Honolulu native Patrick Gesik spent long hours as a child cleaning baseboards and equipment at his family’s Kaimuki clinic. Today, the 32-year-old continues to spend much of his time at the office – but he’s no longer cleaning baseboards.

After graduating from Pacific University in Oregon with an undergraduate degree in exercise science and then receiving a doctorate of physical therapy, Gesik returned to Oahu on a mission to heal the community with hands-on orthopedic therapy. He was 28 in 2013 when he opened his own clinic, Gesik Physical Therapy.

“It just started as me,” Gesik says. “I rented a space in another clinic and started taking patients. I started from ground zero, and then it just organically grew.”

In his first year, Gesik treated an average of 250 patients a month, which prompted him to open his own office the next year and hire more physical therapists. Gesik’s Honolulu clinic now has five therapists who treat more than 900 patients monthly, ranging from student athletes with sports injuries to people with chronic pain.

“It’s really difficult for a small business in Hawaii to succeed, even for folks who have been around for awhile and know the ropes,” says Israel Avilla, a business relationship manager at American Savings Bank. “Looking at what Patrick was able to accomplish at such a young age is just amazing to me.”

Gesik attributes his success to the talented and caring physical therapists he employs, a strong family support system and early lessons in the importance of cultivating a good work ethic. In addition to the clinic operated by his parents, three of Gesik’s grandparents were business owners who demonstrated that entrepreneurship takes time, energy, commitment, integrity and passion.

“It’s definitely different to be young and start a business,” Gesik says. “I have a baby face, too, and patients are always like, ‘You have your own clinic?’ One of the first questions I get is, ‘How long have you been practicing?’ You have to prove that you know what you’re talking about. Once you show your skills, people don’t care how old you are. It’s kind of like getting carded for alcohol; I’ll miss it when people don’t ask it anymore.”




Sponsor: Nominated by Nick Sutton, Central Pacific Bank

Photo by Olivier Koning.
Photo by Olivier Koning.

Reg Baker is done with portfolio building. The former chairman of the executive committee for PKF Pacific Hawaii and executive VP and treasurer of HMAA has downsized to a firm of one.

And he loves it.

“I’m a sole practitioner and I find the one-on-one work much more satisfying and rewarding,” he says. “I don’t worry about making quotas or answering to anyone. I get to work with who I want to do business with. I have a virtual staff to call on when needed, but right now I’m the only one on staff.”

That means Baker wears many hats. He hosts a weekly TV show called “Business in Hawaii with Reg Baker,” has served on the boards of 15 nonprofits, and has helped thousands of small businesses start or turn around during his 26-year career.

“I love helping startups, but I also feel good when I’m called in to help a business in distress,” he says. “Both are rewarding.”

Baker’s passion is helping military veterans. He served in Vietnam in 1974 and 1975 and his goal today is to help military personnel stay in Hawaii once they retire or leave the service.

“We are working on programs that can keep them here and help reduce the teacher shortage and in the medical industry.”




Sponsor: Gregory Ayau, Bank of Hawaii

05-17-SBA-BRACKENSince 1994, Sherry Bracken has had the ultimate platform for a journalist: She writes, hosts and produces “Island Issues,” a clever interview show on the LAVA 105.3 and KKOA 107.7 radio stations with guests who impact the Hawaii Island and beyond.

“It’s such a fun job to meet these people and be able to have a 30-minute discussion to get to know who they are,” Bracken says. “I get to ask them questions and tell their stories.”

Bracken has done more than 500 interviews, including ones with former Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi, five-time space shuttle astronaut Jeff Hoffman and Susan Solomon, the atmospheric chemist who correctly theorized on what was causing the hole in the ozone layer. Other shows have dealt with the Mauna Kea telescope controversy, among many other topics.

Her favorite, she says, may have been an emotional interview with two pilots who survived 20 hours in rough ocean waters after their plane crashed 25 miles off the Kona Coast on July 15, 2016. David McMahon and Sydnie Uemoto were rescued less than 2 miles off the coast after being stung by jellyfish and followed by sharks while McMahon continuously blew air into his faulty lifejacket to avoid sinking. “That’s a story,” she exclaims.




Sponsor: Lisa Tomihama, First Hawaiian Bank

Photo by David Croxford.
Photo by David Croxford.

Christine Camp knows the angst of starting a business, and the rewards of following through. She was the head of development and acquisition for A&B Properties when she created the Avalon Group in 1999, a full-service real estate development, consulting and sales company that recently made two additions to its portfolio: 178 acres of industrial land in Kapolei and a $165 million apartment complex in Hawaii Kai.

“We’ve helped four businesses get their start at Kapolei,” Camp says. “I came from a startup background and I know how tough it can be. I think that’s why I enjoy helping small-business owners develop their business plans and understand the process. Real estate is one of the biggest decisions they’ll have to make and most aren’t ready for it, because they don’t deal with it every day. We help with that.”

Camp’s company will also help small-business owners deal with leases, since many landowners prefer to deal with established companies.

“With all the success she’s achieved, she’s never forgotten where she came from,” says Lisa Tomihama, senior VP and Team Leader at First Hawaiian Bank. “She’s so grounded and believes in paying it forward.”




Sponsor: Nedy Pia Directo and Rocky Anguay, First Hawaiian Bank

Photo by David Croxford.
Photo by David Croxford.

When Nedy Pia Directo looks at Maria Etrata, she sees a traditional Filipino woman who people can look up to and admire.

“By traditional, I mean that Filipino women are known to have strong family ties and a strong business sense,” says Directo, VP and business banking officer at First Hawaiian Bank. “All of that is evident the minute you meet Maria. She’s surrounded by her loving children, treats her employees like family and is involved in just about every board in the Filipino community. She knows how to get things done.”

Etrata has turned Preferred Home and Community Based Services into a multimillion-dollar-a-year company that provides daycare services to developmentally and physically disabled adults and their caregivers at a building in Waipahu.

As her success has grown, so has Etrata’s philanthropy and community impact. She and her husband operate the Renato and Maria A.F. Etrata Foundation, a nonprofit that underwrites endowments to the Filipino Community Center and many Filipino-American organizations in Hawaii and the Philippines.

Maria has also served as president of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce. Together, the power couple has won several awards for their public service and philanthropy, and as advocates for caregivers.





Brooke Watson, CEO
Shyrah Maurer, President

SoHa Designs, Inc. dba SoHa Living

Sponsor: Kent Lau, First Hawaiian Bank

With the opening of three stores in 2016, SoHa Designs now has eight and employs 93 people. Watson says the key is offering unique Hawaii products ranging from wooden signs to pillows to diffusers. SoHa also supplies products it manufactures to local boutiques and hotels.


James Chan, GM

Hawaiian Chip Co.

Sponsor: Dennis Ling, DBEDT

Sauce, not chips, is driving Hawaiian Chip Co.’s export success. Most growth is in Japan, where the Kilauea hot sauces and marinades are popular, but another sales hotspot is Minute Maid Stadium, home of baseball’s Houston Astros. The fastest growing item: the new Hawaiian Ketchup.


Marlo R. Vincenti, Office Manager
Kyle I. Okahara, Production Manager
Brandon S. Okahara, Sales Manager

MKB Enterprises, LLC dba Oka’s Auto Body

Sponsor: Martha Camacho, First Hawaiian Bank

Taking care of both the planet and people has kept the Okahara family business running for 48 years. Solar power saves $36,000 annually, and the shop uses environmentally friendly water-based paints to make rebuilt cars look like new.


Phillip S. Hasha, Principal/CEO

The Redmont Group LLC

Sponsor: Nick Sutton, Central Pacific Bank

Nick Sutton calls Phillip Hasha and his firm “progressive thinkers” and adds, “This is a company succeeding more and more every year.” Among its moves in 2016, Redmont Group purchased a leasehold office building in Kakaako, where much of its real estate business is done.


Helen N. Wai, Owner

Helen N. Wai LLC

Sponsor: Naomi Masuno, Bank of Hawaii

Wai, a Native Hawaiian and lifelong Nanakuli resident, uses her experience in becoming a successful businesswoman to inspire other women and Native Hawaiians to become homeowners and business owners. She has helped more than 12,000 customers with home-buyer education, foreclosure prevention and energy-efficiency workshops.




Mark Harmer, President

Harmer Radio and Electronics, Inc.

Sponsor: Bill Russell, American Savings Bank

When strong winds knocked out all other cell phone towers on Lanai in early February, all feeds were directed through Mark Harmer’s tower. “We’re growing bigger than I ever thought we’d be,” he says. The company has five towers in Maui County and is building four on Hawaii Island and three on Oahu.


Joseph B. Santos, President
Earlette Santos-Vida, Secretary
Reed Santos, Treasurer
Frank Santos, VP

Aina Excavation & Grading, Inc.

Sponsor: Bard Peterson and Agnes Cannon, First Hawaiian Bank

Family members represent half of the 12 employees at this excavation company, which has been in business for 34 years. The four siblings named above each have well-defined roles that ease collaboration within the company.


Brian Bowers, President

Artistic Builders Corp.

Sponsor: Donald K. Mahoe Jr., First Hawaiian Bank

The company completed the Lanai Community Health Center and Maui Leialoha clinic in 2016 and worked on Phase I of Carden Academy of Maui’s campus improvement. This year, there will be work on Phase II and on the nonprofit Laiopua’s community center.


David Daly, Director

Business Development Center, Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc.

Sponsor: Kelli Myers, Central Pacific Bank

Daly’s four-person department holds weeklong classes teaching people how to execute business plans, and about 150 people attend annually. The department also awards loans based on collateral, not credit, and has helped create or keep more than 900 jobs in Maui County.




John C. Ferguson, Owner/Chef
Kristina T. Ferguson, Owner

Kalaheo Coffee Co., Inc.

Sponsor: Larry Dressler, Bank of Hawaii

The community-oriented coffee shop/cafe uses lots of local ingredients and suppliers, and is also a supplier in the San Francisco Bay area for its fair-trade coffees and coffees from Africa. “Our mission statement is fast, fresh and friendly,” John Ferguson says.




Brendan Roberts, President/Treasurer
Kela Cosgrave, VP/Secretary

Big Island Booch Inc.

Sponsor: Keene Fujinaka, Bank of Hawaii

Big Island Booch sold more than 700,000 bottles of kombucha in 2016 and expects to double that in 2017 as it becomes more available on other islands. “We got our organic certificate last year and that’s really helped us,” Roberts says.


Shon Pahio, President

HMP Inc. dba Business Services Hawaii

Sponsor: Laurie Correa, First Hawaiian Bank

The waste and recycling company lost its matriarch last year when Margaret Pahio died, but her son Shon says her impact remains. “She instilled her knowledge and values in our key employees. I feel like she is still guiding me from up above,” he says.


Tia Yamanaka, Owner

Tia Yamanaka LLC dba The Boutique Hilo

Sponsor: Irene Yamanaka, First Hawaiian Bank

Tia Yamanaka celebrated her store’s fifth anniversary last year with the launch of her “The Boutique Hilo” clothing line. “It sells out quick,” she says. “In Hilo, you can’t price too high, but you want to offer brands that are sought after and that’s what my boutique is known for.”


Dennis Boyd, Director for West Hawaii

Hawaii Small Business Development Center Network

Sponsor: Ida Ferris, Central Pacific Bank

Dennis Boyd is a hands-on director who runs workshops on how to write business plans and also writes columns for West Hawaii Today on small-business issues. The network’s services include consultation on business strategy and planning, and business skills training.




President/CEO: John Leong

Sponsor: Gregory J. Sitar, First Hawaiian Bank


John Leong’s grandfather was an entrepreneur, and the younger Leong grew up watching him use his companies for a bigger purpose.

“I saw how he used business to make lives better and I wanted to do that, too, and build a different kind of economy that raises the tide for a broader community,” Leong says.

In 2000, Leong founded Pono Pacific at the intersection of his two passions: conservation and business. Pono has grown from a startup with a few people doing grunt work in Oahu’s backcountry to an organization with hundreds of employees working on five islands and impacting 40,000 to 50,000 acres a year.

Pono’s projects include clearing 26 acres of invasive algae in Maunalua Bay, managing more than 10,000 acres of Kamehameha Schools land on Hawaii Island, managing the east Molokai watershed in partnership with the Nature Conservancy and constructing ungulate-proof fencing along Kauai’s Na Pali Coast.

“(Leong) has a vision that’s forward thinking, and he has big-picture ideas as far as where he wants to see the state in three to five years,” says Luke Estes, who runs operations for Pono. But Leong hasn’t lost touch with realistic limitations or been disillusioned by the huge challenges facing conservation in Hawaii. “He’s a practical visionary,” Estes says.

Ulalia Woodside, the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, says Pono’s structure as a for-profit conservation business allows it to innovate and implement faster than a government agency and operate outside the mission statement and funding sources that constrict nonprofits. It can work on conservation projects that a nonprofit or government organization would never be able to find funding for.

“Private landowners, especially, did not have at their easy disposal expertise and a vendor that could really help them achieve some of the goals they wanted to achieve,” she says. “Pono Pacific fills that gap.”

But Leong also operates in the nonprofit world. In 2007, he started Kupu, a nonprofit that runs the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps and strives to engage young people in conservation work.

Through the growth of his organizations and the challenges of an evolving world, Leong has never lost sight of his goal to show that money and good intentions are not mutually exclusive.

“I’ve always really wanted our nonprofit to be efficient like a for-profit and I’ve always wanted our for-profit to have a mission that reflects the heart of Hawaii,” he says.

– Alexander Deedy





President: Kathryn Inkinen

Photo by David Croxford.
Photo by David Croxford.

Sponsor: Nedy Pia Directo, First Hawaiian Bank

Before starting Inkinen and Associates, Kathy Inkinen worked in human resources at a bank for 15 years and a hotel for nine. During that time, she watched the companies’ leadership and noticed people often started on a career path in a company and then didn’t move much. The result was stagnation both for the individual and the company.

Inkinen realized companies needed more diverse management teams to fully thrive, but had difficulty finding those people. So she started an executive search firm that would be the intermediary between companies and candidates.
“That’s really our mission,” she says. “We help companies grow by introducing them to better human assets and help candidates build their careers.”

Over the past 25 years, Inkinen and her team have facilitated more than 1,000 placements. The key is personal relationships, understanding each company’s culture and drawing on her years of experience. Most clients are small businesses that don’t have the internal structure to build a career ladder and about 80 percent of the candidates she places are from Hawaii.

She also helps nonprofits find board members or directors. She’s currently seeking candidates for the Hawaii Community Foundation, Kamehameha Schools, Molokai Community Center and the Lunalilo Home trust.

Joe Martyak, VP of communications for Hawaii Community Foundation, says that HCF leadership knew Inkinen’s reputation and were confident she could find the best fit for their organization. “We are working with Kathy Inkinen because of her excellent reputation and superlative skills for finding the right person for the right position,” Martyak says.

When Inkinen started the firm in 1992, placing women in executive roles was a challenge, but today she says employers are much more open to women being in upper management. In a recent search for an operations manager for a construction company, the owner specifically told Inkinen not to limit the search to men.

“Girls have a lot more opportunity in business today than they ever have had,” Inkinen says.

As an entrepreneur and executive herself, Inkinen’s advice to young businesswomen is to remember there are no limits. “I would say for women: Your destiny is in your own hands as an entrepreneur. You can make it, but the buck stops with you. You have to be responsible for your employees and your clients, but, if you’re successful, that’s kudos for you because you’ve done it,” she says.

– Alexander Deedy




President/CEO: Habibur “Francis” Tulu

05-17-SBEC-COMPUTANTSponsor: Russell Loo, First Hawaiian Bank

Blind Vendors Ohana approached Francis Tulu and CompuTant in 2007 with a challenge: It needed point-of-sale systems that didn’t require a user to read a screen or see what product was being purchased. Tulu and his company found a solution, which is not surprising, because the company has always been focused on finding individual solutions for its customers.

Tulu founded CompuTant with his wife, Masago Asai, in 1987 as an accounting software consulting firm. As technology advanced, they added hardware. Through a partnership with NCR, CompuTant then began selling POS systems to Hawaii businesses.

Today, customers stretch nationwide, including the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu, a fan manufacturing company in Florida that wholesales to Lowe’s Home Improvement and Home Depot, a network of gift shops in New York City’s Central Park, California’s Sutter Health hospitals, and hundreds of smaller locations.

What makes CompuTant successful? Tulu says his team doesn’t just sell a product, they customize a service to fit the client’s needs.

A vineyard in New York hired CompuTant because the company was willing to develop a system that would track all the sales, preferences and shipments of wine to the vineyard’s wine club. If the system works, Tulu says, there is a line of vineyards waiting to purchase something similar.

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a company that has been so willing to look into more things,” says Stan Emoto, CompuTant’s director of sales. “A lot of times when you go into a selling situation you have a finite way of selling … but, in this scenario, we have more freedom to do a lot more for the customer.”

So when Blind Vendors Ohana approached CompuTant in 2007, Tulu was game. He hired a programmer specifically for the job, then kept that person permanently.

The resulting software is called voice-out point-of-sale system for visually impaired people. When an item is scanned, speakers connected to the POS tell the user what the item is and how much it costs. It narrates the entire transaction. That system is now used by Blind Vendors Ohana in over a dozen concession stands throughout Honolulu Airport and several other locations.

“It’s always been our goal to have a little business and support the small businesses in Hawaii,” Tulu says. “We started doing that 30 years ago, we’re still doing that now and we will continue to do that.”

– Alexander Deedy



President/CEO: James Doran

05-17-SBEC-CERAMICTILESponsor: Royle Taogoshi, First Hawaiian Bank

When the economy tanked in 2008, it sounded the death knell for many companies in the building industry. Jim Doran remembers sales at his store plunged almost 50 percent basically overnight.

That didn’t stop Doran.

“We figured out how to find our new normal, and our first priority was our people,” he says. “Our employees are what we invest in and the biggest asset we have. Our priority was to keep them working.”

Doran stopped taking a paycheck to ensure he could keep paying employees. To solve his revenue problem, Doran made a huge gamble: He spent a million dollars purchasing cabinets, a product his store had never stocked before.

“It was a little bit of a tightrope walk for a bit, but it worked out,” he says.

Doran founded Ceramic Tile Plus as a basic in-stock tile store in 1977, during a boom of hotel and condominium construction on Maui. Now, his business has 35 employees who operate in a 40,000-square-foot space that includes a showroom, fabrication facility and warehouse. Ceramic Tile Plus and EY Designs stocks 85 colors of stone, raw-slab granite and a cabinet line.

Ask Doran the key to surviving so long through fluctuating construction cycles, and he’ll point to his employees. He says he strives to hire good people and has been extremely fortunate to find them. His philosophy has resulted in fierce loyalty and long tenures. The showroom manager has worked with Doran for 15 years. The operations manager for the fabrication shop has 20 years under his belt.

Doran has also fostered lengthy relationships with clients. Tom Cook, the president and owner of TMC General Contracting on Maui, has done business with Doran for almost four decades.

Cook says it’s been impressive that Doran has survived and even grown his business despite tough competition from big-box stores like Home Depot.

“There’s a certain grace and elegance to what they do. That’s probably part of what makes them successful,” Cook says. “You may be buying ceramic and stone and material, but when you’re dealing with them, it’s not a commodity. It’s a design product they’re helping you facilitate into your project.”

“We’re 40 years this year. This is our anniversary year,” Doran says. “I see us hopefully here for 40 more years.”

– Alexander Deedy




Owner/Manager: Jessica Kamanao

Sponsor: Terri Funakoshi, Patsy T. Mink Center for Business & Leadership


The problem with acai bowls, Jessica Kamanao figured, was the limited fruit options. So she made her own.

The bowls, topped with choke fruit, were a family favorite and a staple after the beach. One day in October 2013, her mom’s friend tried Kamanao’s home creation and loved it. You need to sell these, she urged.

Using $92 in tip money from her restaurant job, Kamanao bought ingredients and materials for her husband, Kalani, to construct little signs advertising the bowls. That weekend, she started selling out of her Kapolei garage.

“I look back and I laugh,” Kamanao says. “I wouldn’t have even bought from me.”

On her first day, Kamanao made seven sales. Soon, she would open her garage door in the morning and find a line of people waiting. Her clients were neighborhood aunties and children walking home from school. Occasionally, a child would buy a bowl, then return with orders for the whole family.

The customer base kept growing, until she was shut down by an inspector from the state Department of Health. But the inspector gave Kamanao all the information she needed to operate within the law, and she started a crowdfunding campaign to open her first real store. The campaign raised $14,000, and Kamanao was so touched she committed to give back when able.

To date, HI Cravings has closed and opened in a new location three times. Now the company has a popular walk-up window in downtown Honolulu and a flagship location at Kapolei’s Ka Makana Alii Mall. All their acai bowls are fully customizable with toppings such as coconut, honeydew and cookie dough.

Since mid-2016, Kamanao has received help from The Patsy T. Mink Center for Business and Leadership. The director, Terri Funakoshi, says Kamanao first came in seeking basic business advice, then kept coming back.

“We see many entrepreneurs come through our door, but Jessica has that passion and she’s very persistent,” Funakoshi says.

When HI Cravings took off, Kamanao quit school and her restaurant job and Kalani left his construction job. The commitment has paid off so far, and the plan is to expand to a Mainland location in 2018.

No matter how much HI Cravings grows, Kamanao says, she will never forget her roots.

“We are kind of a little staple in this Kapolei community. We keep it close to home because we started in our garage.”

– Alexander Deedy


The Small Biz HR Guide