Pono Shim

Air date: Tues., Feb. 7, 7:30 pm


Original air date: Tues., Feb. 7, 2012


Part 1 Through A Child’s Eyes


Pono Shim is CEO of Oahu’s economic development board, Enterprise Honolulu. The son of political visionaries Alvin and Marion Heen Shim, Pono was exposed to many conversations with high-profile figures at a young age. In Through a Child’s Eyes, Leslie Wilcox sits down with Pono as he shares some of those conversations that helped shape who he is today.


Pono Shim, Through A Child’s Eyes Audio


Download: Pono Shim, Through A Child’s Eyes Transcript



Original air date: Tues., Feb. 14, 2012


Part 2 ALOHA Moments


At a young age, Pono learned the deeper meanings of aloha from none other than Aunty Pilahi Paki – the woman who shared her prophecy of aloha for life in the 21st century. In ALOHA Moments, Leslie Wilcox sits down with Pono as he explains aloha and other values from his kupuna that guide him today.


Pono Shim, ALOHA Moments Audio


Download: Pono Shim, ALOHA Moments Transcript




Part 1: Through A Child’s Eyes


I became very idealistic in my early adulthood, but it wasn’t until his final months that I reconciled and I said, Wow, maybe we are much more similar than we are different.


Pono Shim, leader of a nonprofit economic development organization, and son of labor attorney, Alvin Shim, next on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this episode of Long Story Short, we’ll talk with Pono Shim, President and CEO of Oahu’s Economic Development Board, Enterprise Honolulu. Pono often helps Hawaii’s top executives break out of silos and traditional thinking to find common ground and collaborate. And as you’ll find out, he often uses stories as a tool. Pono is the son of political strategists and visionaries. His father, the late labor attorney Alvin Shim, tried to keep a low profile, but he had a reputation as a community power broker and mediator. He was involved in the 1954 Democratic revolution of Hawaii. Pono’s mother,

Marion Heen Shim, sister of retired judge and lawmaker Walter Heen, is from a long line of public servants. Growing up, Pono always seemed to be at his father’s side. Alvin exposed his son to many conversations and stories that helped shape Pono’s values; values he shares today with the local business community. But first, let’s talk with Pono about his name, a Hawaiian value in and of itself.


To be legally named Pono, meaning righteousness, that itself seems like it could be a burden.


Yeah. People ask me, What’s your real name, what’s your legal name? In our family, there are seven of us, and I’m the only one who has a given Hawaiian first name. And I’m second to the last. My mom was always very, very sensitive, and is still, to not devaluating anybody. That’s something that I learned so much from my mom. I also learned that a mother’s love is like no other love in this world. Her ability to forgive, to want to just maintain a relationship with her children is unbelievable, when we’ve messed up. [CHUCKLE] And a mother’s forgiveness is something special. But, when people would ask me, I would tell people, not in front of my siblings, that well, it’s probably ‘cause I was the only one who needed to be reminded he was Hawaiian. And I also was told how to behave, ‘cause I probably wasn’t too behaved.


But you were named that when you were born, right, before you had a chance to misbehave.


Yeah, my dad loved that name. Yeah. And I have a cousin who’s named—and this was before Pono was popular as a name.




Just simple. I don’t want to make too much of it, because people often do. They do, and they say, Wow, you’re your name. I don’t know if that’s fair to other people.


You were a public school kid, living in Manoa, and you had a very different experience than I’d say any kid in your ahupuaa. What was your childhood like?


Dad was real busy. Mom, at the time, got to stay home and take care of my kid brother and I, who were the youngest. So, ‘cause we were the youngest, I grew up with Mom at home. And we didn’t know, really, who our father was, I think. He was just Dad. And for me, what I was able to do was, spend a lot of time with him, even though he was as busy as he was. And I remember a friend recently told me that, Your father used to say he’d be out twenty-nine days out of a month in board meetings for dinners. And that’s what it was. But for me, I didn’t notice that, because I remember Dad coming home late, and the treat was, I got to take Dad’s socks off. When he’d come home, he’d sit on the couch, he was tired, and I’d take off his socks. And we’d have dinner. He’d have dinner sometimes late, or just sit down and talk, read the paper. One of the things I remember the most enjoyable in my childhood was, everyone would go to bed, and he and I would be downstairs and we’d listen to music ‘til maybe eleven, twelve, one o’clock. He’d just fall asleep in his chair. And I’d be down there with him, just listening to music. And that’s very, very poignant times. Kind of like just moments of peace and solitude. We’d listen to Hawaiian music, we’d listen to jazz music. He loved music. So growing up, I spent a lot of time on the weekends, and late at night with my father. But, yeah, I had a different type of childhood, I think.


And your father, of course, was a visionary, a political strategist, a labor lawyer. He was active in the Democratic revolution of 1954. He gave advice to top leaders in the community.


He would say he didn’t, but yeah, he did.


Did you see some of those meetings take place?


Many; because I was with him on weekends. And it wasn’t like he needed to entertain me. I mean, I was eight years old, and I’d just go with Dad to the office. I’d be in lunches with he and Blackie Fujikawa, and Norma Moon, political leaders. I remember when my dad interviewed John Waihee to be a member of the firm. I remember it was a Sunday evening. I was eleven years old, I was sitting on the floor reading a National Geographic, and he was interviewing John. And hired John that night.


Do you remember what was discussed?


No. I don’t remember necessarily the content, but it was the context of the conversations. I remember the day after a prominent labor leader was murdered in Hawaii, and being at lunch with Norma Moon, and that conversation.


And who was Norma Moon?


Norma, I think, was with the Carpenters Union at that time. I think. But she was very heavy in the labor movement, and a good confidante of my dad’s too.


And what happened with the labor leader was killed?


He was a real close friend of my dad’s, and his son actually was one of my close friends at Stevenson Middle School. My recollection is that, okay, Mom gets a phone call, and she looks at me, and she said, Joe Lii was just murdered.


This is Josiah Lii of the—




It was the Seamen’s Union? Yes; I think Seafarers. Seafarers; okay.


And then a lot of tears, but a lot of fear and anger. What caused this to happen? And so, the next day, I remember going to lunch with my dad and Norma, and just talking about what had happened, and trying to calm things down. Because he has a big family, comes from Papakolea, there was a lot of hurt. And really, how do we stop anything else from happening. And so, I was there when those discussions were going on. Yeah.


Pono Shim absorbed and learned from the many discussions his father Alvin Shim had with union leaders and other Hawaii figures. As a child, Alvin also was an observer who became a doer. He served in the Merchant Marine, earned economics and law degrees at UH Manoa and George Washington University, and picked up nuances of labor and union issues at the Wage Stabilization Board. He returned to Honolulu in 1953 and began practicing law, and two decades later, started the law firm now know as Shim & Chang. His father’s journey, which included a revealing lunch meeting between Alvin and a certain billionaire taught Pono lessons in determination, relationship building, and influence.


What did you learn from your dad?


Oh, gosh.


I take it he didn’t sit down and tell you, Son, here’s the way it is. This is stuff you just learned through osmosis?


What did I learn from Dad … so much. Guardianship … lot of guardianship. Here was a man who was born very, very poor, whose parents were divorced really young. And so, he would tell me that he really was raised like an orphan. And then he came to Kamehameha from Maui, and when he came, he was so poor. I remember Uncle Bill Amona when my dad died, he was my dad’s classmate. He said, Pono, when did your dad make his decisions that his life would be committed to making a difference for people, to serving people? You see, he never really talked about that. And Uncle Bill said, When we were at Kamehameha, all of the students were boarders. This was at Bishop Museum. And he said, I have these pictures of watching your dad almost like his handsare under his chin on the fence. Because all of us from Oahu would get visitors on weekends, and they’d come, and they’d sometimes take us home, but they’d always bring food and gifts. And he says, I can just see your dad kinda just watching us. Nobody ever came for him. And he had this smile on his face. He didn’t hold it in a negative light, but he would just observe. And he said, Something keeps taking me back to those moments.


So, he went from being essentially a loner at the fence, kind of dreaming, with nobody coming to see him, to having friends from many walks of life, and a big family.


Yeah. Well, I wouldn’t say he was a loner, ‘cause my dad was kolohe. I mean, really, really kolohe. His oldest and best friend was Uncle David Peters. And Uncle David tells a story, and he’ll still tell you the story of how the two of ‘em got arrested at age five.




Yeah. He said, Officer Hanohano arrested these two boys who weren’t in school. So vagrancy. And, they would blame each other. Yeah, your father got me arrested. And, I don’t think anybody who knows Uncle David and my dad would say it was Uncle David. My dad was kolohe. But yes, he had a lot of friends. Very, very engaging, very well connected.


What was the secret to his forging so many tight relationships?


When I was in kindergarten, my first day of school, I came home and he said, How many friends did you make today? And I said, None. And he said, Weren’t there other kids there? I said, Yeah. So he said, Let me teach you how to make a friend. And he stuck out his hand and he said, Hi, my name is Pono, what’s your name? And so, he practiced with me. And probably the most significant thing ever taught to me in life was that, if there’s one thing I look back at. The first day of school, came home, Dad said, How many friends did you make today? And so, I’d like to believe that’s what he was doing, and he’d make friends. But then, how do you keep friends? That’s the thing. And I think it’s because he was able to really focus in on the relationship, and put a priority on the relationship.


Even though he had all kinds of other things going on?


All kinds of things.


How’d he do it?


Here’s an example, a story of a friend. He used to sit across the table and just battle with Harry Weinberg. HRT, and my father was fighting for labor. And he would tell us that he would be fighting for a dime for the employees.


A dime per hour, or a dime per year?


Dime per hour.




And, he was just fighting, and fighting. And my dad thought everything that I shouldn’t mention on the air about Harry. [CHUCKLE] And including his ethnicity and the whole bit. Right? And it was six months before Harry dies, and my dad gets a call from him. And he said, Alvin, I’d like to take you to lunch. And so, they went to Halekulani, and my dad said they ate hotdogs.




And he said Harry asked him, Alvin, if you had my wealth, Jeanette is gone, you’ve been given six months to live, your son is gonna be taking care of, what would you do with it? So my dad started to describe how he would establish a trust. Take care of the poor people, establish programs, matching funds, do it all over the world, education, housing, food. And he just designed this entire structure of what he would do with Harry’s wealth. And at the end of the conversation, Harry just listened, and then he looked at my dad and he said, I just wanted to make sure, because that’s what I’ve done.




And my dad said he almost fell off his chair.


Because he saw Harry Weinberg as somebody who was a grasping money guy, not somebody who gave it away. And to that point, Mr. Weinberg had not.


Right. And so, my dad just was in shock, because he didn’t realize that he had become a conscience for this man over the years and years of battling, that at the end, Harry needed my dad’s approval.


Because Mr. Weinberg knew that your dad cared about the common person.


I guess.


Everyday worker.


I guess, because you look at what he’s done, what Harry’s done. And so, one of the things I see when I drive around town, and I see Harry and Jeanette Weinberg up on buildings, I see a name that other people don’t see.


Your father’s.


Because if not for that name, these buildings might not be here. And he would never want his name on a building.


You spent your childhood sort of at your dad’s knee, just sort of immersed in what he was doing, or the tone of what he was doing.




And he was your friend, and your father.


M-hm; for most of my life. [CHUCKLE] We had our serious battles.


Over what?


I became very dogmatic.


About what?


Religion, politics, business, and I became very idealistic in my early adulthood. But it wasn’t until his final months that I reconciled and I said, Wow, maybe we are much more similar than we are different. [CHUCKLE] And I think other people would recognize there is something to that.


And you started at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. You didn’t finish.




And that kind of surprises me.


[CHUCKLE] It was funny, because at one point, I said, Dad, can I go back to


Japan? I just want to work. He says, No, you gotta finish school. And at the time, I was also dancing in hula, so I was dancing for Frank Kahala and the the Gentlemen of Maluikeao, and we were very competitive in the Merrie Monarch. And it was gonna be my second Merrie Monarch, I think this was 1985, and I just said, Dad, I’m gonna take a semester off from school, so I can finish up hula, and then I can go back to school, and I’ll become a lawyer. And he said, Okay. So I took a semester off. And they haven’t seen me for twenty-seven years. [CHUCKLE]


For much of that twenty-seven-year period, Pono Shim worked in the restaurant and marketing industries. Then, by a twist of fate, Pono met with a former State Senator from Maui, Nadao Yoshinaga, better known as Najo, who led Pono to his career as a CEO. Back then, Enterprise Honolulu was being led by a consummate economic development expert, Mike Fitzgerald.


When you were named to head Enterprise Honolulu, which represents some of the top companies in Hawaii, you were considered an unconventional choice. Now, why is that? Look at yourself and say, Now, why would I be an unconventional choice?


Honestly, I have no economic development background. I’ve tampered in business, but really, economic knowledge, background, traditional, no. I have no degree to stand on, no graduate degree or undergrad degree. So, I really was an outsider. The other thing is, I guess for the most part, even though I had all these relationships, I didn’t play downtown. I wasn’t at the Capitol. Knew a lot of people, but for some odd reason, for forty-five years, I’ve kind of just not been down there.


What have you been doing?


I was husband, being in business, dad, son.


What kind of business?


The last business I had was the concierge services at Ward, so I had a concierge service in the largest cinema in Hawaii, and a VIP system that we had developed, or I was in the restaurant industry for twenty years. I was just doing things. So when I showed up, it was different. And the only reason why I did show up was because I was starting to write a book, and I went to interview Najo Yoshinaga. And at the end of the interview, Najo asked me, Pono, do you know my predecessor? And I said, No. He says, He’s a good guy, really cares about Hawaii, one of the top economists brought to Hawaii to help us diversify. But he’s having a hard time. So, I went to meet Mike, and I said, Mike, tell me your story. And he shared with me how he had come to Hawaii, what he found, where he had been, the success that he had, the studies that they did, the third party confirmations that proved what his strategies were would work. I felt like he was a pretty sincere guy. So I just asked him, when he was done, Mike, who are your storytellers? And when I asked him that question, it was a real shock to him, because that’s not an economic question.


Yeah. And he was basically telling you that he felt stymied and boxed in, like he had the right idea, but he just couldn’t make things happen.


Correct. And that’s why I asked him, Who are your storytellers? And he thought about it, and he says, I guess I’ve been so busy since I got here, I didn’t take time to find storytellers. M-hm. And then, he said, I don’t think we’ve been telling the right story. In fact, we’ve done a very poor job telling the story. And I said, I know. And I made a statement, Mike, if you have a vision as big as you have, you have to find those individuals who can tell the story so large,

everyone fits. And today, most people have no idea how to do that anymore. They can tell it from their sectors, they can tell it from their silos, but they don’t know how to tell the story so large that everyone fits. And he looked at me, really intrigued. And so, I shared with him five stories. And at the end of the fifth story—and these were stories that when things were fractured, I would tell a story and things would just shift. And it’s not an argument, it was just a reflection, almost like a parable. And at the end of the fifth story, he looked at me and he said, Pono, I don’t think I’m supposed to be running this company, I think you are. I said, I didn’t come here to take your company. So, Najo just asked me to help you, and I’m gonna help you however I can. And, started to just donate my time, and started to work with the organization. And then, right before the end of the year—this was in 2008, right at the heat, the beginning of the crash. And it was the week before the end of the year, and Mike came to me and said, Pono, we’re gonna put you on staff. And I said, Okay, what are you gonna hire me as? He says, We’re gonna hire you as our organizational kahu. And I said, You know what you’re doing? And he said, Yeah. You realize that you’re probably the only economic development board or organization in the country hiring somebody to be their guardian? He said, Yeah. Okay; just as long as you know what you’re doing. So, I was hired as the kahu for Enterprise Honolulu. And then a few weeks later, the board had a meeting and I was appointed vice president and kahu. And then, within five months, Mike had left Hawaii, and I was asked to become the CEO.


And so, you’re the executive director of this organization that has titans of industry supporting it, and you don’t have the same kind of business experience as they do. Does it matter?


At first, I think it mattered. I don’t think it matters anymore. And it’s a lot of that


foundational stuff that I grew up with. Part of that childhood that you had referred to, there were things imparted on me throughout my life, through my childhood, that I wouldn’t realize were so profound and important that they would be needed at this time. For example, Auntie Pilahi Paki, who was known as the keeper of the secrets of Hawaii. Auntie Pilahi was someone who introduced the world to the concept that aloha was the answer in 1970. She gave that prophecy.


And she wasn’t a Pollyanna, Mary Poppins kind of person. She was real.


Auntie Pilahi was real. She was a Maui girl, born in Lahaina. And she was given a gift from this man, Luahine. Before he passed, he breathed his ha into her. And he called for her. She flew to the Big Island, and he passed this knowledge, this wisdom, these values on to her. And now, she became the keeper of the secrets. And so imagine it’s 1970, and the Governor has called a Governor’s conference. Where are we gonna be in the 21st century, in thirty years? And it’s a difficult time. There’s the Vietnam War, there’s the Hawaiian Renaissance going on, there’s civil rights, women’s rights, what was happening at Kent State, Cal Berkeley.


A lot of ragged edges, everywhere.


I mean, it was kinda like now. Deaths on our college campuses. Well, they’re not shooting, they’re just praying now. But there were a lot of strife. And out of the side, this kupuna starts walking up on stage, amongst all of the strife. And she’s wearing a red and white muu, and she walks up on stage and grabs the microphone. And a friend of mine, Colbert Matsumoto, was sixteen years old, a student delegate from Lanai in there. And he said, We thought that this lady was a crackpot, because she wasn’t on the agenda, but she’s walking up to the microphone. Imagine these arguments going on, and she’s walking up. And, out of your corner of your eye, I would imagine most people stopped arguing, because they’re watching this lady heading for the microphone. And she introduced Hawaii to the deeper meanings of aloha, as an acronym.


Like his father Alvin, Pono Shim has won kudos behind the scenes as a mediator, helping resolve tough problems in inclusive, respectful ways. He demonst rates how in today’s world our roots in the form of stories and traditional values can break barriers and inspire innovation. We’ve seen how being at his father’s side influenced Pono a great deal. He also credits his mother Marion’s wisdom. And there are other elders, including Auntie Pilahi Paki and Nana Veary, who would also have an impact on Pono. We’ll find out how these, and other cultural icons influenced Pono Shim in an upcoming episode of Long Story Short. For PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.


I’m actually in the process of re-enrolling into school.


In your forties?


Because I’m on the advisory council for University of Hawaii West Oahu. I’m so fortunate Jean Awakuni asked me to join their advisory council, and I think I’m the only one in there without a degree. And maybe if I go back to school, maybe that’ll inspire some kids on the West side and the North side. Here Uncle Pono’s going back to school, he’s in Manoa, he’s coming out to the Ewa side, he’s a CEO; maybe we should go.


Part 2: ALOHA Moments


Who would have known that four years later, I would be talking about Auntie Gladys and that story, almost to the day, to remind people that we all have letters to mail, but you mail them with this.


You mail them with what?


Integrity, compassion, honor, honesty. With the values.


Pono Shim, who works with Oahu’s business community, shares the values he’s learned from his elders, next, on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television programproduced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this episode of Long Story Short, we’ll talk with Pono Shim, the head of Enterprise Honolulu, Oahu’s Economic Development Board. In his work, Pono often uses stories to break through stalled discussions, find common ground, and work towards solutions. His parents, political visionaries Alvin and Marion Heen Shim, had a great influence on Pono. And there were other people, kupuna, who also taught him the values he still practices and shares today. We start off with a key lesson in values that Pono learned young, from his grandaunt, when she surprised people by making her way to the front of the crowd to address the 1970 Governor’s Conference. She was Pilahi Paki, respected teacher and community leader, and she felt conferees really needed to hear something. She told them that in a world of strife, in search of peace, aloha was the answer. Using aloha as an acronym for Hawaiian values, she gave the word more power than a mere greeting or farewell.


The literal translation for the word akahai is kindness. She taught me akahai means grace. And the illustration is with white gloves, that when you engage with people, you engage with white gloves. It’s very clean, you don’t stain, you don’t leave your fingerprints. That is akahai. And so, what most people know about akahai is kindness. She was teaching me always in reference to relationship, of how you engage that relationship, and it was with white gloves. Yeah. And it means grace. The last A, ahonui, people know as patience. And she taught me that ahonui means waiting for the moment.


Which makes it a more active word.




And concept.


And she said, Ahonui means waiting for the moment, because the moment is coming, and it may not come in our lifetime, and it may not come in your lifetime, but the moment will come. And so, you are always prepared now for the moment and for the moments that are coming, because the moment will come, and you’re preparing others for the moment. So it’s very different than just, I’m being patient. It’s, I’m waiting for the moment.


It’s more poised. You’re poised for something rather than [SIGH] waiting.


Yes. And it’s looking for those moments. So these are values that she shared when I was just a kid. But it was so subtle. And like, haahaa, people know as humility. She taught haahaa means to me, to be empty, to go to that place of emptiness. Not humility. And then, she did this with me. She said … [EXHALES] … she said, The moment of emptiness, or patiently humble. Two very different things. She said [EXHALES] … The moment of emptiness. And then you have L, A-L-O-H-A, L, lokahi. People lokahi as unity. When Auntie Pilahi taught me about lokahi, first thing she says, Lokahi doesn’t mean unity. Whoa! Here she’s saying it, but she’s sharing with me this deeper knowledge, right? And she said, Of one mind. Which mind? The Hawaiians believed in three seats of intelligence, our rational, intellectual mind, our emotional mind, and then our naau, our spiritual mind. And so, I said, The naau. And she said, Correct. Whose mind is the naau mind? And I said, Ke Akua, our kupuna, God, my ancestors. She said, Yes, never forget the source of your mind, it’s not your mind, it’s their mind. And then, she said, Ekahi. Kahi.




One. Singular, unique, separate, the ID, the ego, independent. Kahi. And then she said, Hookahi, to make one, hookahi. She said, That’s unity. Everybody trying to hookahi. With whom? With me, trying to make people one with me. She said, That’s unity. And then, alokahi, in the presence of one, alokahi, lokahi. She said, Pono, lokahi doesn’t mean unity, it means unbroken, it means connected. And she said that we all enter this universe lokahi, connected. What happens is, our economic, political, and education system teaches us that we’re broken. I have this type of home, you have that. I have these credentials, you have that. You live here, I live there. You have this ethnicity, you speak this language. All of these things teach us we’re broken, and we spend all of our time trying to hookahi. And I was just young, so I wasn’t paying too good of attention, right? She said, You will be a storyteller, but when you tell your stories it is not for you to deposit in people’s cranium. We want you to develop into a storyteller that speaks in a way that comes up inside, that people experience, Ah, that’s me, because of this. They experience the connection, not the winning. She said, That’s lokahi, unbroken.


So the stories are about forging connections?


Correct. And then oluolu, the last letter, is generally known as pleasant. She taught me oluolu means gentle. That when you touch, you touch like you’re touching a baby. You don’t bruise, you don’t scar.


A lot of restraint.


Yes. The perspective of how you engage in an opportunity to connect. So, alo-ha. Alo, in the presence of, in the face of the connection, the ha. So when we look at aloha … in the moment of emptiness, [EXHALES] … we’re connected again, continuously. And so, she shared that, and a few other things, and she didn’t ask me to teach. She just asked me to practice. I was just a kid, and she just said, Practice. And then in 1985, she passed. She transitioned, she passed away, and she didn’t change the charge. So, I really have been just practicing for a long time. And I’m probably not real good at it.


How have you practiced?


In relationships.


Forging the connections, feeling that emptiness and the connection?


Bruce Lee said that he was trying to develop his martial arts, his kung fu, through what he called water. That he wanted to perfect his life so much, his art, that to any action, there would be just a natural flowing reaction that was not premeditated. And I felt that’s what she was asking me to do with what she was sharing. How do you develop an aloha response?


So the idea would be, you wouldn’t formulate your strategy, it would simply be organic.


Yes; I think so. Because it just became a part of what—for me, it was just moments of practice and prayer, consistently for years, just practice and prayer. But it wasn’t something that, you’d go to practice. It’s just life, because you remember these things when you do. Which is not most of the time, except now, it becomes more predominant.


And you’ve seen paradigms shift as you do these, the practice and prayer?


Yeah. Yeah. Here’s a small illustration. On one of the advisory boards that we sat on for the Hawaiian community, we were really talking about—a group of us were assembled as leaders, how do we help this community be a healthy community. And we spent most of our time talking about values. Well, one day, we were sitting in the meeting, and one of the members of this advisory board says, I don’t understand this values conversation because I wasn’t taught these. But I do understand policy and governance, because I work with money. And I understand policy and governance, and you gotta have good policy and governance because we’re dealing with money. So I’m sitting there, and from what I was shared and taught, to me, now we’re starting to head down a trail that is gonna lead to some potentially really destructive things if we just go and work with just policy and governance. But that is the nature for which I was warned to practice these things. Waiting for the moment.


You waited for the moment, and this was the moment.


And the moment was coming up. And so, is there an aloha response to this that was just shared, that doesn’t amputate somebody. And so, I said, policy and governance is vital to the health of a community. You gotta have good policy and governance. However, policy and governance is really low bar, and values are high bar. And I’m so fortunate that I don’t have to look for my values, because Auntie Pilahi shared with me the values of aloha, which encompass all the values. See, policy and governance says, I’ll take this piece of paper, and I throw it in the rubbish can. Aloha says, I will pick up this piece of paper, even though I did not put it there. There’s a big difference between policy and governance, and aloha. Now, if we want to have healthy communities, we absolutely must establish good policy and governance, but we better reestablish our values. Because in the absence of our values, all we have are communities of degradation. And then we wonder why someone picks up a gun and shoots nineteen people. That’s not a policy and governance issue, although we’ll try to control it with policy and governance. It’s a values issue. And so notice the moment had come. I had to go empty. And with white gloves and gentle touch, it’s time to help everybody reconnect.


With the values of aloha, Pono Shim, as President and CEO of Enterprise Honolulu, helps some of Hawaii’s top business executives break log jams in the boardroom. Unobtrusively, he guides debates to a higher level, above head-butting and individual agendas, to that place of connection. And he uses stories to do it. Here, Pono shares one of these stories with us. It’s August of 2001, and his daughter has just been waitlisted for the seventh grade at Kamehameha Schools. Distraught over a possible error in his daughter’s academic records, and in need of reassurance, Pono visits Gladys Brandt, the former Kamehameha Schools principal who later challenged its trustee system. In a series of conversations with Auntie Gladys, we see how leading a life of aloha with grace and dignity can make the seemingly impossible, possible.


I said, Auntie Gladys, I just want peace. You tell me it’s okay so that I can just let it go. Some ground rules. I don’t want to hurt another Hawaiian family. I just want to know it’s okay. Please tell me what we can do to be better next time. And she said, Okay. So she goes through my daughter’s file and she says, Remarkable, remarkable, remarkable, remarkable. And soon, she closes the file and she says, Pono, I’m disturbed, there’s an injustice here, this child should be going to the school. Now, she’s upset. I don’t know what to do. I gotta call this person, and I’m trying to calm her down. ‘Cause I’m coming for peace, now a kupuna is upset. So, we talked, and eventually, we started to share our dreams and our hopes, our aspirations for a couple of hours. At the end of two hours, she said, Pono, I have to share something with you. So she runs over to her desk, and she picks up five pieces of paper. She says, I’m a cancer survivor. And I said, No, I didn’t. She said, Yeah, I had breast cancer. Because of that, I have this tremendous affinity to the American Cancer Society. And she said, A few years ago, the Weinberg Foundation made a promissory of a million dollars to the American Cancer Society of Hawaii, if they did a matching. And so, she said, About a month ago, I received a call and they said, Gladys, we need your help. We haven’t raised any money, and we’re about to lose a million-dollar endowment. So she says to me, Where am I gonna get a million dollars from? I can’t just pull out my checkbook. And she said, but she felt burdened. So what she did was, she started to meditate. And from that, a face came to her of someone who had passed, and she composed a letter. And so, she wrote this letter asking someone for a million dollars. And then she read it to me. And when she was done reading that letter to me, I said, Auntie Gladys, if I ever write like that, I’m pau. That is the most beautiful literature I have ever heard in my life, asking someone for a million dollars. And she said, Pono, it took me five days to mail it. I went down to the mailbox, and I couldn’t put it in, and I had to run home. Next day, tried again, I couldn’t put the money before the relationship. On the fifth day, she said, Gladys, put it in the mailbox, to herself. She put it in, and she ran home. Two weeks later, she gets a call from England, and this lady says, Gladys, I am in England, my secretary called me and read the letter to me, we need to talk about this, and I’ll be home on this date. So, this was in August of 2001, on a Saturday. So she says, Pono, this past Wednesday, I was at Hee Hing Restaurant, sitting there drinking water, waiting for this lady to come in to speak with me. She walks in the restaurant, she sits down, and she says, Gladys, I read your letter, and here’s your million dollars.




And she slid a check across the table. And Auntie Gladys looks at me and says, Pono, somebody gave me a million dollars! And we started cracking up. She said, I can’t believe it! I can’t tell anybody, because she wants to remain anonymous, but I’ve been dancing on air. I needed to tell somebody.


And that story has become lore around the islands, hasn’t it? And I don’t know who gave the money. Do you know yet?


Yes, I do.


Okay; can you say?


Yeah, she’s gone now.


Who was it?


Barbara Cox.


Oh, Barbara Cox Anthony.


Yeah, Anthony.


The media mogul, media heir.


Yes. And what happened was, she said, I can’t believe somebody gave me a million dollars! So, we laughed and laughed, and then I said, Auntie Gladys, whatever you decide, I’m okay. She said, I don’t know what to do. I said, It’s okay, whatever you decide, I’m okay. And I left her apartment, and I’m driving away, and I called her. And I said, Auntie Gladys, I know why my daughter did not get accepted to Kamehameha. And she said, Oh? Why? I said, Because Ke Akua wanted me to spend three hours with you today. And she says, Wow! And I said, Auntie Gladys, it’s amazing to have a million dollars to give away. And she said, Yes. I said, It’s amazing to need a millions dollars, to receive it. And she said, Yes. But I said, Auntie Gladys, to live your life with so much integrity, so much honor, so much compassion, so much grace, so much dignity, so much promise and aloha, that someone says, I value your word at least at a million dollars, is remarkable.


It was a letter.


And I said, And that’s why my daughter did not get accepted to Kamehameha, because God wanted me to learn that today.


All right. Well, I have to ask you, did your daughter ever get into Kamehameha, ninth grade?


So, what happened is, two years later, she gets into Kamehameha. And during her junior year, this is August of 2005, almost exactly four years later, for whatever circumstances, I am now the president of Kamehameha Schools Association of Teachers and Parents. On one the saddest days in Kamehameha’s history, which is the day that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down our admissions policy, and I’m the president of the Teachers and Parents. So I’m invited to a meeting with all the leaders of the Kamehameha community, and it was tough. It’s a hurtful meeting. You know, it was. Who would have known that four years later, I would be talking about Auntie Gladys and that story, almost to the day, to remind people that we all have letters to mail, but you mail them with this.


You mail them with what?


Integrity, compassion, honor, honesty. With the values.


At the time of this conversation in 2012, Pono Shim is in his forties. Equipped with the teachings of his elders, he sits on the Advisory Council for the University of Hawaii West Oahu. Hoping to set a positive example for young people, Pono is setting out to earn his own college degree.


It’s interesting that you’re guiding a school, and don’t have the degree. But you look at people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, didn’t have degrees.


Well, those are brilliant people.


But it’s not necessary, it’s just something that you’d like to do.


Alice Holokai shared with me about healing, and to use my gift not to hurt, but to help. Auntie Pilahi, Nana, and others, my Dad, my Uncle Walter … for all the things that I’ll probably never, ever have a chance to get some credentials that will validate what was shared, because I don’t think that there’s a degree or school. Not that I would want one.


Do you think that’s your true education?


I’d like to believe it. I mean, think about what I’m doing, the opportunities that I have. Those guys are tremendous guys, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and you know, they’re brilliant beyond anything that I could ever dream or hope for. I was given a vey special education. They took me on the side and just said, Practice and practice. And two years ago, I received a message that it was time to share.


So you were fortunate enough to receive and listened, smart enough to listen to lost knowledge, and then to practice it so that it could be made part of a life.


I don’t think it was a necessary obvious decision on my part, and I don’t think I was listening too good. It scares me how much I probably wasn’t.


Do you think you missed a lot?


Yeah. Absolutely.


But sometimes, you remember things that make sense to you later.


Things come back.


Come back; right. What did Nana Veary tell you? And I say that, having—I’ve spoken with Emma Veary, her daughter, and she gave me a framed piece of writing from Nana. It says, Guard your thoughts. And it’s all about the discipline of thinking positively, and just being disciplined about what your mind concentrates on.


Nana said, Find the joy. And she also said, Find it inside of us. Because there’s so much noise. But she said, Find the joy, and find it inside of us. That’s powerful stuff. In the movie, The Last Samurai, and Tom Cruise is practicing judo with somebody, and one of the characters runs up to him and he said, Too many mind, mind the people watching, mind the person you’re fighting. Too many mind. No mind. And see, that’s also the charge of haahaa, which is to go to emptiness.


But a lot of people have a hard time being alone, and being empty. They like to be filled with noise, and activity.


I love solitude. I spend a lot of time in it, and even though I’m around a lot of people, and in various situations. My wife will tell people … they’ll say, Does he always watch people? Yeah; that’s him.


So you’re on your own, watching people, observing.


I’ll watch people. It’s almost like I’ll rubberneck, kind of just watching people, just taking it in, just listening. The thing is, I think that what they were sharing with me is to listen for the place of connection, not to listen to the place of disconnection. And so, now, bringing that all together into what I do at Enterprise Honolulu, that’s what I shared with Mike Fitzgerald, that, we’re not telling the one story which includes everyone, we’re telling the stories that disconnect everyone, and how do we find those stories of connection that are above the argument. Another example of an aloha moment. I was on the Statehood Panel for the 50th State. Hawaiian panel, it was on live TV. And I was walking out of the auditorium, and this man, he’s a legislator, says to me, You know, Pono, when you talk about Ke Akua, are you talking about old Ke Akua, or new Ke Akua? And I said, What? Then he said, Are you talking about old Ke Akua, or new Ke Akua? And I said, What in the world are you talking about? He said, Are you talking about old God, or new God? And I said, Okay. There’s one God; okay? And he says, Okay. Same one been here from the beginning, same one going be here at the end; okay? He says, Okay. I said, God has a frequency; okay? And he says, Okay. Same one going be here at the beginning, same one will be here at the end; okay? He says, Okay. I said, You know what the problem is? He said, What? Some people think that the only ones who have the channel. And he looks at me. And I said, And it’s not true. From the beginning of time, people have a channel to that frequency, but because people are fighting for the exclusive right to the channel, we have wars. When we should be asking each other, What in the world are you getting off that channel? Because it’s probably the same thing, and we’ll complement each other. And because I didn’t want to be on the media, I said, I’m sorry, I gotta go. And I just left. But, you see, how do you shift the conversation above the argument. People just stood there, kinda … Okay, what do we do with this? I like to speak in symbolism. You know, find the connection.


Finding the connection is a challenge Pono Shim takes on every day. The values he lives are universal. He’s carrying on Auntie Pilahi Paki’s belief in the power of aloha, with the strengths it encompasses as the search continues for peace in this 21st century. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.


It wasn’t ever a big deal about who we associated with. But I remember after we went back to school after the winter break, and some people were talking about the Fabulous Five. I said, Oh, yeah, they came over for New Year’s dinner. They said, Yeah, right. And we couldn’t prove it. Because we could never talk about it, you know.



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