Tag Archives: Mufi Hannemann

Nurturing Hawaii’s Future Leaders



Photo: David Croxford
This year’s cohort of Pacific Century Fellows includes, from left,
Jon Nouchi, James Duca, Alan Schlissel, Ian Fitz-Patrick and
Kawika Kane.

Deep beneath the Koolau Mountains, 30 of Hawaii’s future leaders shuffle in the gloom of the Unfinished Tunnel, a test bore from the construction of H-3’s Harano Tunnels. The tunnel is crude and seldom visited, and the procession of young government officials, business executives, nonprofit directors and military officers has the air of an expedition. Gravel crunches underfoot. Slender stalactites poke through the rough ceiling.

It’s Transportation Day for the Pacific Century Fellows. Founded in 1995 by Mufi Hannemann, PCF is the largest and best known of an increasingly important collection of local leadership training programs. These programs represent a remarkable shift in the way Hawaii produces its leaders. Much as the MBA has largely replaced in-house training in today’s corporations, these leadership-training programs seem to be gradually supplanting the old models of mentoring and personal example. Their alumni include hundreds of Hawaii’s leaders, ranging from CEOs of major corporations, to senior politicians and government officials, to the executive directors of critical nonprofits. But each program has its own approach to creating leaders.

For this year’s fellows, Transportation Day offers a unique perspective on the challenges that face Hawaii’s transportation systems. And the Unfinished Tunnel is just one part of a tour of the engineering marvels of H-3, including the control room from which state technicians monitor Oahu’s entire freeway system. But Transportation Day is much more. Fellows also enjoy a breakfast roundtable with a General Motors executive, the executive director of the Hawaii Auto Dealers Association, and a representative from an electric car company. Over lunch, the CEO of Hawaiian Airlines describes the future of air transportation in the Islands. And in the afternoon, they have a long discussion about Honolulu’s rail system with Hannemann and key transportation aides. All these conversations are remarkable for their candor.

The PCF program is composed of days like this – Education Day, Public Safety Day and Military Day – leaving the fellows with a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing Hawaii.

Building a Network

Ag-Leadership alumni hold key posts throughout the state,
says Eric Tanouye of Green Point Nurseries.

More important than the fieldtrips is the network of contacts that PCF fellows develop, including prestigious fellow fellows from their own class, and from prior and subsequent years. Access to that black book, which includes powerful leaders in every sector of the state, is the real prize of being a Pacific Century Fellow. (Creating it, more than one fellow notes, was a stroke of genius for a politician like Hannemann.)

Of course, the objective of many of these programs is not simply to create a network of leaders, but to give them the tools to create change. For example, Hawaii’s oldest leadership training program, the Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawaii, has put 12 classes of young leaders through its 18-month course. In addition to visiting agricultural companies across the state, each class spends a week touring agricultural operations in another state, several days at the state Capitol and a week in Washington, D.C.

“The learning objective,” says Kim Coffee-Isaak, executive director of Ag-Leadership, “is to see the bigger picture. They go from understanding their own business or situation, to understanding their own island, to understanding the whole state. And then they go to the national level.”

Eric Tanouye, general manager of Green Point Nurseries, and an Ag-Leadership alumnus and board member, says the alumni are now leaders in almost every corner of the agriculture sector. They own or manage many of Hawaii’s farms, ranches and other ag-businesses on every island. They’re in the Farm Bureau, the USDA, the state Legislature, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and nearly every commodity board.

A Matter of Confidence

Richard Yust of the Food Bank of Maui says he learned different
skills in the Weinberg Fellows and PONO programs.

Although some people are born leaders, most have leadership thrust upon them. That’s particularly true among nonprofit executive directors, says Holly Henderson, who directs two leadership-training programs – the Weinberg Fellows and Castle Colleagues – aimed at the nonprofit sector.

“People don’t generally say, ‘Hey, I want to become the executive director of a not-for-profit,’ ” Henderson points out. “What they say is, ‘I want to help people.’ But if they’re good at that – helping people on the program side – they get kicked upstairs, and kicked upstairs, and kicked upstairs. And suddenly they’re staring at a blue computer screen and they’re responsible for making sure that the organization’s governance and operations functions are working, that the human resources functions are working, that the finance and the fundraising functions are working, and that the community relations and the mission are on track.

“One of the first things that I say to a Weinberg Fellows class is, ‘Relax. It’s not a doable job,’ because you tell me the person who’s equally good at all those jobs. In the corporate world, there are whole departments staffed to pick up the pieces of that.”

Programs like the Weinberg Fellows and the Hawaii Community Foundation’s PONO program exist largely to increase the skills and confidence of executive directors faced with these challenges.

There are many similarities between the Weinberg Fellows and PONO: Both work at increasing the competence of nonprofit executives in strategic planning, human resources and leadership. Interestingly, both also stress the value of the Meyers-Briggs personality test as a leadership tool. Despite the similarities, a surprising number of nonprofit executive directors have been through both programs. “There’s actually quite a bit of difference,” says dual alumnus Richard Yust, executive director of the Food Bank of Maui. “PONO was much more about management and leadership style. It taught me a better method for a lot of situations: How to handle different situations with my staff and my board.

“Weinberg seems to be more mechanics, more concrete answers about things like how to approach funders, budgets, employee issues, conflict issues – more of a nuts-and-bolts approach, which is all stuff we need.”

Leadership Potential

Clearly, the success of leadership training programs depends as much on carefully selecting the participants as it does on the seminars and field trips. Most have such stringent requirements that it’s sometimes difficult to find enough qualified candidates. All have elaborate application processes, including essays and multiple interviews. Most ask for several references, who are often also interviewed. Some insist on letters of support from employers and spouses, or board resolutions that demonstrate the candidate’s organization understands the commitment required. Some, like Ag-Leadership and PCF, charge a substantial tuition, though the fees are often paid by employers or offset by grants.

For those who run these programs, there’s often another consideration. Because each class works together closely for weeks or months, some programs pay close attention to the mix of fellows. Neil Hannahs, a founder of First Nations Futures Program, which develops Native Hawaiian land managers, points out how delicate that can be. “We’re interested in things like, ‘What’s their demonstrated leadership ability? Why do they want to be in the program?’ And we operate at a pretty high level, so can they understand the material? But just as important is, ‘How will they operate as a team?’ Because I’m not just selecting individuals, I’m selecting a cohort. And that’s more art than science.”

The Role of Culture

Each group of First Nations fellows is given a real issue to
tackle. “They’re like an MBA SWAT team,” says Neil Hannahs
of Kamehameha Schools.

First Nations, a partnership of Kamehameha Schools, Stanford University, the University of Hawaii and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu of New Zealand, is one of the newest and most specialized of Hawaii’s leadership training programs. It grew out of Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate’s changing philosophy in land management.

“It’s well known that, after being in business over 100 years, we had a leadership meltdown in the 1990s,” Hannahs says. Out of that controversy, and the resulting change in leadership, emerged a much greater focus at KSBE on serving the broader Native Hawaiian community. “One of the things that was said by our stakeholders was we should not just maximize economic returns, but find the optimum balance of cultural, educational, environmental and community returns. It’s not just the money anymore.”

For the state’s largest private landowner, that change calls for a different kind of land manager. Before, Hannahs acknowledges, KSBE could simply hire good real estate professionals. The new philosophy requires land managers rooted in what Hannahs calls “leadership in an indigenous context.”

“How do you make that paradigm shift?” he asks. “I can sit here and hope those leaders come to me, or I can try to create a pipeline of leaders.”

Like the other programs, First Nations uses a hybrid of field trips, seminars and networking to achieve its ends. After an orientation here, each cohort – which includes participants from both Hawaii and New Zealand – spends two weeks at Stanford. Afterward, they perform culturally related projects in both New Zealand and Hawaii.

For their Hawaii project, Hannahs has each cohort address a real issue facing KSBE. “They’re like an MBA SWAT team,” he says. Cohorts have looked at cultural heritage tourism, sustainable agriculture and geothermal energy. “I want us to think this through and face up to what the cultural issues are. Let’s create a rubric of analysis. Let’s look at the environmental impacts, look at the economics, look at the community benefits and impacts.”

Hannahs hopes that the leaders who come out of the First Nations program will be better equipped to deal with the challenges of bringing a Native Hawaiian perspective to land management. Several of his own staff have gone through the program. But Hannahs says he has greater ambitions for First Nations. “Hopefully OHA folks, TNC (The Nature Conservancy), maybe DLNR will start coming to us. And we’d love to start seeing young Hawaiians at Fish and Wildlife who are really committed to our belief that, here in Hawaii, we would definitely benefit from a strong cultural foundation.”

Does It Work?

It’s not entirely clear whether these leadership training programs actually create leaders, or simply recognize them. Programs like PCF and Ag-Leadership have been around for years and have hundreds of alumni, yet people still complain that the Islands still suffer from a crippling shortage of leadership.

Can you create leaders? “That’s a question that still persists,” says Mahinapoepoe Paishon Duarte, an alumna from First Nations’ second cohort. “I definitely wrestle with the whole idea of selecting leaders.” Like almost all the fellows from these programs, Duarte quickly acknowledges that the First Nations experience has benefited her personally. She notes the value of the network of people she met and the exposure to different models of leadership. But has the program brought about the change it sought?

“Broadly speaking, I would say the program is on its way to success,” Duarte says. “But the proof is in the pudding. When I can visibly see the impact that we have had on the health and well-being of our community, when I can say that we have, indeed, contributed in some significant way to the betterment of the Hawaiian people, then maybe we can call it a success.

“Until then, I’ll just say that it holds a lot of promise.”

Some Leadership Training Alumni

Pacific Century Fellows
Contact: Charlyn Dote,
Some Alumni:

Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawaii
Contact: Kim Coffee-Isaak,
Some Alumni: Diane Ley, executive director, Farm Service Agency; Clyde Tamaru, UH Sea Grant; Melvin Matsuda, Matsuda-Fukuyama Farms

Weinberg Fellows
Contact: Holly Henderson,
Some Alumni: Michael Gleason, executive director, ARC of Hilo; L. Jani Sheppard, executive director Maui Family Services; Richard Yust, executive director,
Maui Food Bank

Contact: Christine van Bergeijk,
Some Alumni: Leslie Wilcox, executive director, Hawaii Public Television; Matthew Hamabata, executive director, The Kohala Center; Judith Lenthall, executive director Kauai Food Bank

First Nations Futures Program
Contact: Neil Hannahs,
Some Alumni: Noa Lincoln, education coordinator, Amy Greenwell Gardens; Esther Puakela Kiaaina, land assets manager, Kamehameha Schools; Leslie Kaiu Kimura, associate director, Imiloa Astronomy Center


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Hawaii’s Power Vacuum


Today, it is probably Mufi Hannemann who most closely resembles 
Hawaii’s earlier generation of power brokers. Although he advocates 
collaboration and consensus, he says that’s not enough. “It’s 
important to listen; but, in my opinion, listening also requires action.” 
Photo: Kevin Blitz

If Hawaii is to answer the major questions confronting the state – How do we create a healthy economy while preserving what makes Hawaii special? How do we improve our public schools? How do we sustain effective government? – we first need to deal with the fundamental issue: What has happened to power?

In 1964, the story goes, when Gov. Jack Burns became concerned about the effectiveness of Hawaii’s most important charity, the Community Chest, he didn’t hold hearings or try to drum up public support in the media. Instead, he summoned two community leaders to his office — labor activist Jack Hall and Lowell Dillingham, dean of the Bishop Street crowd — to remind them of their civic responsibilities.

“Boys,” the governor is supposed to have told them, “something’s broken here, and it’s up to you to fix it.” In most versions of this story, these two old antagonists set aside their differences and worked on the problem. By the time they left the governor’s office, they had outlined an organization that would eventually become the Aloha United Way, with Hall serving on the board to secure the support of labor, and Dillingham, with the imprimatur of Big Business, as its chair.

Stories like this, many apocryphal, are parables of a time in Hawaii when power and leadership were exercised much differently than today. In that era, when the Big Five still dominated the business community and the great Democratic political machine was reaching its zenith, it still seemed possible for a governor to lead without equivocation, to decide unilaterally on a course and then act. Perhaps more importantly, it was still possible to identify a core of community leaders, men like Hall and Dillingham, who had the status and force of personality to get things done.

For many of those who lived through that era, there’s a nostalgia for the simplicity of its power structure. It was, of course, a much less democratic age, a time when a few men (and they were all men) made most of the important decisions for the state. But, as David Heenan puts it, “Many people respect an oligarchy.” Heenan, former CEO of Big Five company TheoDavies, and now a trustee for the Campbell Estate, is no apologist for the excesses of that earlier age. But it’s hard to ignore the advantages of concentrated power. “When I was involved in Big Five stuff,” he says, “and with companies like Dillingham and Pacific Resources, the two estates, and the two big banks, back then, there were eight or ten people you could turn to. You could get those guys in the room and get things done. There was gravitas there.”

And it wasn’t just in the business community. “It was the same thing on the political front,” Heenan says. “You had the Burns machine, and then Ariyoshi. There was more of a notion of centralization. And although the unions may have been larger than today, actual power lay in the hands of just a few people, men like Jack Hall, David Trask and Art Rutledge.

“You could identify the players,” Heenan points out. “They all had some real clout. Then that got fragmented by globalization and technology and so forth. Now, you’re trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

Today, that fragmentation of power is the central feature of Hawaii’s political and cultural landscape. It’s blamed for everything from the failure of the Superferry, to the confusing, on-again, off-again saga of Act 221, to the seemingly endless squabbling over Honolulu’s rail project. And, if Hawaii is to answer the major questions confronting the state – How do we create a healthy economy while preserving what makes Hawaii special? How do we improve our public schools? How do we sustain effective government? – we first need to deal with the fundamental issue: What has happened to power?

A Failure of Leadership

“To me, the biggest disappointment has been the leadership,” says Heenan. “And I’m part of it.”

Indeed, one of the great ironies of the current crisis of power is that it’s possible to trace its origins directly to the failures of leadership from the Big Five era. There’s still some nostalgia for the last of these leaders — men like Heenan, Herb Cornuelle of Dillingham and Henry Clark of Castle and Cooke, who presided over not only their own companies, but many of the state’s civic organizations. But it was the inability of these companies, under their leadership, to adapt to the decline of agriculture that spelled the end of the Big Five. One by one, they were gobbled up by offshore corporations or succumbed to piecemeal liquidation. By the mid-1980s, all but A&B were gone.

As these leaders disappeared, they took with them a style of leadership that was both more personal and more willing to acknowledge a debt to their community. One prominent local businessman put it succinctly: “Today, we’re really stuck with a colorless group of leaders.” Although there are still a few business leaders – old-timers like Walter Dods or Jeff Watanabe, whose power and influence crosses into the civic and the political arenas – it’s hard to imagine who their successors will be. Today’s business leaders are much more focused on their own narrow corporate interests. This growing factionalism in the business community is emblematic of what’s happening in the broader society. There’s simply much less communication between different groups. And yet, this reaching across lines is often the sign of real power.

According to Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, getting things done isn’t merely a matter of more negotiations; it also has to be personal. “You’ve got to put a face to the issues,” she says. She likes to use as an example the friendship between the former union leader Art Rutledge and the prickly business magnate Harry Weinberg. She points out that, although they were often on opposite sides of contentious labor negotiations, “They had a great relationship. And when Weinberg was sick, it was Mr. ‘R’ who would go to see him.” It’s a lesson Hanabusa has taken to heart. She mentions her close relationship with Senate Republican Sam Slom. “I don’t think I could tell you that there’s a better colleague, a better friend in the Senate,” she says.

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa says that, then and now,
personal relationships are a big part of getting things done in Hawaii.
Photo courtesy of Colleen Hanabusa

New rules

Hanabusa is also one of the few people mentioned by business and community leaders as an example of an old-fashioned, arm-twisting politician. But it’s a reputation, she says, that has more to do with her argumentative style than the quality of her leadership. In fact, she sees herself at the vanguard of a more collaborative type of legislative leader. “In the old days,” she says, “if you didn’t follow what the leadership wanted, you didn’t get CIP – Community Improvement Projects. The way we operate as a legislative body now, it’s much more of a shared decision-making concept. If there’s anything new, it’s the sense that, unless we have consensus, whatever we do is not going to sustain.”

Even Mayor Mufi Hannemann, whose charismatic and forceful style of leadership most closely resembles the old-time powerbrokers, preaches the twin doctrines of collaboration and consensus. But he gives them a more didactic cast. “Leaders,” he says, “sometimes make the mistake of sitting behind their desk, or hiding behind their cadre of PR doctors, and hoping the public will ‘get it,’ or that the nature and power of their office will win the day. But those days are gone. I don’t think sitting around with four or five power brokers is going to do it anymore. I think you’ve still got to sit with those four or five powerbrokers and get their ideas. But, at the end of the day, you’ve got to go sell it to a Joe Kamaka in Waianae; you’ve got to go sell it to a Helen Suzuki in Manoa; you’ve got to go sell it to a Larry Smith in Hawaii Kai.”

But he points out that the power of consensus doesn’t come from simply listening to what others have to say. “Sometimes, that word is overused,” Hannemann says. “It’s important to listen; but, in my opinion, listening also requires action.” He uses the example of rail: “It’s not my idea. It’s been around for years. But we executed very well to be able to get a tax increase passed in one legislative session – with a Republican governor who wanted to do it three years before, didn’t do it, and then has had second thoughts every step along the way.” As much as anything, it’s been his ability to keep rail moving forward that makes the mayor a touchstone in any discussion of power in Hawaii. And the ultimate success or failure of rail will likely affect Hawaii’s map of power for decades to come.

Offshore ownership

Of course, local leadership is not entirely to blame. Money is power and so much of Hawaii’s money is now controlled from the Mainland and overseas. Look at the growth here of companies that are headquartered elsewhere. In the Hawaii Business Top 250, the number of companies with out-of-state headquarters has changed only modestly since 1983 (up from 26 percent to 30 percent), but those offshore companies’ share of gross revenues jumped from 19 percent to 32 percent. That’s about a 70 percent increase in outside financial control.

Even this number underestimates the power shift, since many large Hawaii corporations with out-of-state ownership did not participate in the Top 250. That includes retailers like WalMart, Costco, Macy’s and Target, and media companies like The Honolulu Advertiser. These and similar companies represent tens of thousands of employees and billions in revenue. If they were local companies, their owners would be major power brokers in the state. Instead, the companies are run by branch managers and have a ghostly, neither-here-nor-there quality.

Offshore ownership means important decisions about Hawaii’s future are often made beyond the influence of Island politicians or community leaders. Projects are planned, funding secured and assets managed from offices in New York, Los Angeles or Tokyo. Because they happen over the horizon, these business decisions are often made with little regard for their impact here.

But the dispersion of power is even more insidious. Traditionally, Hawaii’s powerful business leaders also used their influence and wealth for civic purposes. They served as directors and major funders for most of Hawaii’s nonprofits. They bankrolled and advocated for politicians and social issues. Each generation of leaders incubated its successors. In short, Hawaii’s business leaders and the power they wielded were valuable community assets. But as their power diminished or migrated offshore, it became harder for the community to tap that resource. For example, most CEOs of locally owned companies are well known to local nonprofits and serve as donors and board members. But the local managers of companies headquartered elsewhere rarely have the authority or personal wealth to serve as community leaders. The result is a more anemic civil society.

Even companies with seemingly impeccable Island pedigrees – firms with local headquarters like Alexander & Baldwin, Bank of Hawaii and Hawaiian Electric – have seen their influence move offshore. Many are publicly traded companies, including seven of the 10 largest for-profit companies in the Hawaii Business Top 250. Their managers may still have strong local commitments, but ownership is dispersed across the country, even the world. The old kamaaina families that founded these companies and, for better or worse, presided over Hawaii civil society for nearly a century, have largely divested their interests in the family businesses. There are no Baldwins left on the board of A&B; no Castles preside over David Murdock’s Castle and Cooke. These families, through trusts and charities, still exert some influence over Hawaii’s future, but their power is largely dispersed.

The power of lawsuits

Perhaps the most obvious change in Hawaii’s power landscape has been the growing clout of environmental, Native Hawaiian and related interest groups. A generation ago, developers scarcely gave them a thought; today, with a mix of grassroots organizing and litigation, nonprofits like the Sierra Club, Kahea and Life of the Land have become gatekeepers for almost every major project in the Islands. This is part of the democratization of power, as control over change has broadened from an elite to more people. But critics point out that almost every time Native Hawaiian or environmental groups have stopped a project, the telling blow has been a lawsuit. This reliance suggests that these interest groups only have the power to stop things, not the power to get things done.

Bill Meheula, an attorney who has worked both as a development litigator and as a pro bono representative for Native Hawaiian groups, acknowledges that the threat of lawsuits has radically changed how business gets done, adding to the cost and time of development in Hawaii. But he points out that litigation is only possible because these groups have been successful at getting laws passed that support their interests. “I think that the lobbying efforts have grown in favor of environmentalists and Native Hawaiians,” he says. That effort, the steady application of the political process, is the true source of power for these groups, he says. In this way, they’re not that different from the Labor Movement in the middle of the 20th century.

Robert Harris, executive director of the Sierra Club, uses the Superferry as an example. “Superferry was very obvious to most lawyers,” he says of the early decision by the Lingle administration to bypass an environmental impact statement. “The decision made by the administration was just wrong. Even the state auditor knew that this was a clear violation of the law,” Harris says. In other words, the demise of Superferry is another example of a failure of leadership, a misguided attempt to circumvent a legal process.

New way to power

But, according to Harris, it doesn’t have to be that way. He points to First Wind’s Kaheawa alternative-energy project on Maui as an example of a company that found a way to get things done. “That was a company that really went out and engaged the community,” Harris says. “And it’s a project that, when they went for their permits, actually had significant environmental issues. It was on conservation land; there were endangered species issues; there were water issues. But they actually had strong community support.”

Hannemann points out that this is simply the new reality of power in Hawaii. “Don’t just come here to sell a project based on ‘It will create jobs,’ ” he says. “That’s not enough anymore. You need to incorporate some community benefits. You need to say why this would be good for this particular community. And you’ve got to sell it. You can’t look to a political person or a fancy PR firm to do it for you. You’ve got to go out and do it yourself. If your idea is a good idea, if your project is a good project, it will stand the test of time and scrutiny.”

But it’s probably not the mayor’s consultative side that gets the attention of Hawaii’s power mavens. It’s his political ability to get things done in the face of strong opposition. “Maybe it’s just me,” says Dave Heenan, “but my own sense is that people respect can-do leaders. I think people are somewhat burned out by all this consensus seeking. It ends up being just meeting after meeting, and all of a sudden, the window of opportunity closes.” So, even some of those who do not like the mayor, or are ambivalent about rail, find themselves quietly rooting for his success.

Heenan notes with dry approval, “Hannemann – for all he is and isn’t – at least had the balls to take on this thing.”


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