What’s it Going to Take?
Forums on Making Life Better in Hawaiʻi

What's it Going to Take? Forums on making life better in Hawaiʻi

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI: What’s it Going to Take?
Hawaiʻi’s Resilience Through the Pandemic


On this week’s INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI What’s it Going to Take?, we’ll discuss Hawaiʻi’s Resilience Through the Pandemic. Like the rest of the world, our state has had to pause and hit the reset button due to the novel coronavirus. While much uncertainty remains, there’s optimism that we will emerge from this crisis in a strong position to face the future. Communities across Hawaiʻi are helping those in need. But there’s still much work to do as we figure out a new normal. You can join the conversation by phoning in, or leave us a comment on Facebook or Twitter.


Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.




Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.


Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights






We’re proud to present a brand-new episode of NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG featuring the all-wāhine Hawaiian music trio Ahumanu, from Maui. Members Kekai Robinson, Marja Lehua Apisaloma and Liz Morales say their work in the community outside the entertainment realm brings to their music a dimension of authenticity, service and responsibility. The trio, whose name translates to “a gathering of birds,” performs songs including “E ʻAno ʻAno Ē” and “Kahi Aloha.” Guitarist Josh Kahula and steel guitarist Casey Olsen are also featured, with Leinaʻala Kuloloio Vedder providing hula accompaniment.




Ed Greevy


As a young man, Ed Greevy followed his passion for surf from his native Los Angeles to Honolulu. He arrived as the Save Our Surf movement was just ramping up, and it made him aware of threats to surfing breaks on the south shore. Waikīkī land development became his gateway to environmental, land use and sovereignty activism in Hawaiʻi. For more than 40 years, Greevy photographed political struggles and the modern Hawaiian Sovereignty movement. He talks about capturing more than 100,000 images in his archive, many of them documenting land development conflicts, starting in the tumultuous 1970s in Hawaiʻi.


This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 14, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.








Tuesday, June 30 at 7:30 pm


The Mākaha Sons of Niʻihau released nearly two-dozen music albums, reconfigured their band member lineup multiple times, and endured a string of personal tragedies. Through most of the band’s history, Louis “Moon” Kauakahi was its backbone.


Kauakahi played a vital role with the Mākaha Sons as business manager, composer and guitarist, from the band’s beginnings in 1976 until his retirement in 2014.


Born and raised in Nānākuli on Oʻahu’s Leeward Coast, Kauakahi discovered his lifelong passion for music at Nānāikapono Elementary School, where he put together his first music arrangement in the sixth grade. His nickname is a tribute to Peter Moon, the late ʻukulele and slack-key master. “I tried to do everything that Peter Moon did,” Kauakahi says.


The Mākaha Sons perform on NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG in 2004. From left: John Koko, Jerome “Boogie” Koko, Louis “Moon” Kauakahi

The Mākaha Sons perform on NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG in 2004. From left: John Koko, Jerome “Boogie” Koko, Louis “Moon” Kauakahi


The late Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwoʻole is perhaps the most recognized former member of the band. Iz’s brother Skippy, Sam Gray, Sonny Lim, Melvin Amina, Abraham Nahulu, and brothers Jerome and John Koko were also in the band through the years. Iz and Skippy both died during the course of the band’s history, along with Kauakahi’s in-laws, sister-in-law and wife. “How do you get beyond the hurt?” he asks. “Each person is very unique in that sense. I kept doing something. In my doing numerous things, I managed to decompress.”


Kauakahi maintained a day job during the four decades he was with the band, and now works for the Liliʻuokalani Trust as a youth development specialist in the Waiʻanae area. “I retired twice, but I work hard now even after two retirements,” he says with a laugh. “A lot of times, friends would ask me, ‘Can you perform with us?’ I’d say, ‘Sure.’ ‘Can you do it, like, every week?’ I went, ‘Uh, then I wouldn’t be in retirement, would I?’”




Jordan and Aaron Kandell


Jordan and Aaron Kandell are twin brothers who are best friends and Mānoa neighbors. As children, they were so close that they would finish each other’s sentences. As young adults, the brothers teamed up in a career in which they completed each other’s creative ideas: screenwriting. The ʻIolani School grads and college poetry majors are best known, so far, for their work as part of the writing team behind Moana, the 2016 Disney animated film. They hit it big after a solid decade of hard work, grinding out script proposals and receiving a litany of rejection letters. Says Jordan: “If you’re gonna take every ‘no’ personally, I don’t know how you move forward.”


This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 7, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.


Jordan and Aaron Kandell Audio


Download the Transcript




It takes a lot of energy and effort to sail across the vast oceans of life to get to where you want to go, and if your worry and fear are energy trains from the focus that you need for the energy of that voyage, you have to go after what you love.  What your curiosity leads you to, wherever that’s going to take you as courageously as you can. And that’s the only way you give yourself a chance of reaching that goal, even if it seems kind of impossible or not even crystallized for you.


Together, these Hawai’i born twin brothers continue to pursue their shared dream of making Hollywood movies. Aaron and Jordan Kandell next on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short, one on one engaging conversations with some of Hawaii’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.


Aloha mai kākou I’m Leslie Wilcox. I found it transfixing to listen to twin brothers Aaron and Jordan Kandell of Honolulu when they’re in spirited conversation they are very much in sync and that’s even when they don’t completely agree. You don’t know which one is going to finish the sentence. The brothers are almost inseparable in both their professional and personal lives. They joined the screenwriting team for the 2016 hit Disney animated film Moana, which features the voice of Dwayne The Rock Johnson. And they continue to write together as a dynamic duo and have recently begun producing Hollywood movies such as Adrift, which was released in 2018. Both twins have young families and they even live next door to each other in Mānoa Valley. Aaron and Jordan say their parents, Lloyd and Sherri Kandell, were hippies, originally from the U.S. mainland who once lived on the north shore of Kaua‘i, a near Taylor camp, which was a clothing optional alternative community of people living in tree houses. The couple later moved to O‘ahu and settled down in Kaimuki, and they were surprised when not one baby, but two babies arrived.


Being the hippie parents, they didn’t do an ultrasound. They had sort of a natural doctor who just did a stethoscope, and Aaron, had we found out later he’d gotten sort of pushed up, probably kicked by me under my mom’s rib. So that when they did the stethoscope, her heartbeat overpowered the sound of his. It was so close that they only heard one here and one here. So the doctor for her entire pregnancy said, you’ve got one.


But everybody, she was huge. I mean, we were like six pounds each. So she had this giant beach ball belly. And their joke was everybody but them and their doctor knew that they had twins.


Like, you know, o-


Aunties would come up to her at the beach or in the market and touch her belly and go twin when they actually had the births. She tried to do a home birth and it turned into an emergency. Rushed to C-section. And they pulled him out first. And their doctors were getting ready to stitch her back. They said, wait, we have another pair of feet in here.




Imagine not knowing that there is suddenly the doctor saying we see an extra pair of feet in there after they pulled me out. And so fortunately, it was him and he was healthy and they pulled him out. And for the first two weeks, we were baby A and baby B because they didn’t know that, they didn’t have names picked out. They had to get all of these se- new crib, new sets of clothes. It was just all a surprise.


Are you identical twins?


We don’t know-


–Because of the surprise birth.




We never had the all of the you know, there’s varying kinds of tests that you can do with the placenta or DNA when you’re born that identify if you’re identical or fraternal that we never had done in the rush of the emergency uhh, delivery. So we never actually verified-


Yeah, we don’t know.


-to confirm if we’re identical or fraternal. I assume we’re identical.


Well, how do the dynamics work between the two of you? Was there a time when you didn’t get along or that you I mean, how-


I mean, we’re kind-


-has your relationship evolved?


I mean we’re kind of Peter Pan and his shadow. Like if one of us gets too far away, the other chases them down and stitches them back to their feet. Uhh, we’ve always been that way. I mean, we’ve- We- all we know is collaboration. We’ve just had to share everything from the same room until we were 18. I think, you know, we were roommates in college. Uhh, we wished we had been able to take the same classes in school. Umm, and the first chance we got, we did. We’ve always been interested in the same everything. Same sports, same books, same girls, same career.


Ohh that sounds dangerous.


That was dangerous.


Same girls.




Sounds like that’s the real story.


Yeah, well we had a- we’ve been, because everything’s been collaborative. We’ve never really fought. It’s just been like having a best friend all the time who thinks like you and looks like you, which you know could be narcissistic, but-




it’s outside of you. So it’s not.


And interestingly, the two girls I think we weren’t both interested in at the same time became our wives like-.


Thats right.


His high school sweetheart is who he married. And I had a high school girlfriend. So I was never interested in her, any other girls at that time. And so that one ended up working out. But before he met his wife in senior year of high school-




Umm, one of our good friends set him up on a date in high school with, who became my wife. And they did not hit it off at all.




They had like the worst date of each of their lives.


So this is good right?


Well, it’d worked out. Yeah-


This is a good thing.


Well, then two years later, when the same friends tried to set him up, I was like, its- whats- it’s oil and vinegar. It’s not going to work. What are you thinking? And then they just sparked-






Wow, who would’ve guessed that.


So it was a weird.




You know, a weird dynamic, how that worked.


This has been such a strength for you to have your friends, your family, you’re professional collaborators. Is it ever a weakness?


Being twins?


The way you are twins,-


-okay, that’s a good question. I-


–Because not all twins are as close.


I- I don’t want to speak for other people that I would say it’s probably more of a weakness, for everybody outside of the weird lynchian twin bubble that is our existence, because for us it’s all we know. So anything that’s not sharing and having it- like us going to a movie theater by ourselves to watch a movie feels weird. There was a moment, I think, when I was twenty seven where Jordan moved back here with his wife and I was still living in L.A. and I had uhh, and it was a year and I had a year of oh, this is what the human condition is, is being by yourself and having to find community. And like a deep sense of loneliness because I didn’t have this like shadow attachment to me that I’d always had of everything is a shared experience. So anytime you’re sitting and eating a meal, that’s with somebody else.




Umm, And- and so I think for other people to- Not y’know for our wives at first, like dating and having to get used to the fact that we were already born with our soulmates, so finding a second soulmate and bringing that into the mix is a weird alchemy. Uhh, that becomes, I think, challenging.


They’re probably cringing hearing you call me your soulmate




From a young age. Aaron and Jordan Kandell were very close and shared friends, sports and activities. But what influenced them the most was their shared love of reading and writing.


Whenever we had free time, whether it was at recess or a lunch or a soon as-




we got home after school, we were just like this.


Yeah. Umm, We- I think we read a book a day and-


-And did ‘Iolani homework?


Well, we didn’t have homework until like fourth, fifth grade.




So those first y’know four grades was just our bookshelf literally collapsed from the weight of all the blocks we were reading. It was a lo-


Yeah, we’d read like 300 bucks a year.


It was crazy.


So you spent your early years reading, reading, reading, reading. At what point did that turn to writing?


Early too. Yeah.


Pretty early, I think from like second, third grade.


We have- I have a memory of getting an assignment that was write a three page, double spaced, huge kid print story that would take, you know, 15 minutes when you got home. And we each separate of each other went and just started writing and both turned in like a 30 page single spaced story the next day, because we just got lost in the world that we started to-


-And also we couldn’t charge. So it was easier for words.


We still can draw. But umm, and so I have a very distinct memory of going, oh, like that was fun. And I just go where did the time go? And that was second or third grade. And ever since then, we-


What did your teacher say?


They were like, oh, wow, cool.


Future screenwriters and film producers Jordan and Aaron Kandell of Honolulu both pursued their love of literature and studied creative writing at the University of Southern California. However, they did not start off working together on screenplays.


Over the course of college, we discovered uhh, something you would think you would have known right off the bat, which is we loved writing- both of us. We wanted to work together. We both majored in poetry.


Which is not very collaborative.


No it is not.


We discovered very quickly that poetry is probably really the least collaborative form-




-of poetry you can do unless you’re like- your entire [INDISTINCT] of work is Renzos. Which is a form training lines back and forth. Uhh, but there’s very limited styles of poetry that are collaborative.




Screenwriting and TV writing especially are the most collaborative form of writing I can think of. Umm, and so we were studying those as well and started to write our first screenplay in college together and thought, this is- this is so much fun and this is so natural-




-and combines kind of the best of what we loved in reading growing up. All these novels and these long form umm, stories-




-with what we’ve been trained and are pulled towards in poetry, which is saying as much as you can in as few words as possible, which is very much the limitations uhh, that the screenplay form has about things with which words often are, you know, struggle to capture. And that’s the visual medium of- of film and TV.




And so it kind of combined everything we loved into one form.


What did you do after you left USC? Having decided to become screenwriters, which is an almost impossible job-




–to get in Hollywood if that’s where you’re heading.


We ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches.


Yeah. No. We came straight home and became teachers. Yeah.


That is true.


It is what we did. Umm, so we taught at Punahou and ‘Iolani. Umm-


What did you teach?


I taught tenth grade English uhh, for a year.


And I taught ninth grade Spanish.


And then in the summers we taught and- and that was the first year. And then we started substitute teaching pretty much every subject you can think of.


Every grade, everything from kindergarten to like conducting the full orchestra without any orchestra experience.


And- but a lot of moviemaking and a lot of S.A.T. prep.




You’re saving money, I’m taking it with all these teaching jobs.


Yeah. So we were- We- We would teach all day that first year and then write all afternoon when we were done grading and lesson planning and all weekend. Uhh, and then when we went to substitute teaching, we would try to maybe-


Just enough to survive. So like teach one or two days a week and then write the rest of it.


So we very much saw from the beginning writing as our full time job and teaching was something we loved and we’re very passionate about. But our first and foremost uhh, pursuit was writing, and so that was allowing us to do the writing.


And were you also looking for those all important contacts to get you to the screen?






-Because we were here. I mean, there wasn’t- We didn’t- We were not guys born into it, connected in any way, had any uhh, knowledge or access for who to talk to to get there.


Even USC couldn’t say, hey, lets- lets-


-I mean, USC was-


–Lets reach out for you.


-USC was great in giving us sort of the launch pad for what the screen writing format looked like. Umm, you know, but most of your teachers at USC were like, don’t become screenwriters because that’s what we want to do-


It’s so hard. Yeah.


–And it’s so hard. And, you know, if you love anything else and do that. That was their advice. Umm, so you- you had a sense of how daunting the mountain you had to climb was ahead. But you also, you know when you’re 22 to 26, you have that sort of naive, I’m going to climb Everest and I can do it without oxygen or ropes. And here we go, which you need. And it’s important to have that. And if we knew better, looking back, you know, in the 10 year climb, it took us to get to the top of Everest uhh, and the frostbite fingers that we have as a result. Like, we probably wouldn’t have done it. But, you know, it’s good to have that.


How many years exactly, teaching and writing?


The first screenplay we sold was after four years of writing and we sold it, like we got the call. We just started an S.A.T. quiz and there was a summer course we were teaching at Punahou. And we gave the kids the quiz and then we got a phone call and it was Fox and Disney were both bidding on our first screenplay and we had to go out and close the deal in the 15 minutes they were taking this quiz and come back in feeling like very both excited and like we were maybe going to throw up-


-Panicked. Panicked.


–And then had to run the class as though nothing had happened and finish out the day.


After four years of working as teachers in Honolulu and writing screenplays eight to ten hours a day, Aaron and Jordan Kandell sold their first screenplay to a Hollywood studio. But that show was never produced and it would be another six years and several other un-produced screenplays before the Kandell twins finally saw their work on the big screen with the 2016 release of Disney’s Moana.


As anyone who’s done anything creative, countless rejection for years and years, thousands of no’s before someone says yes. And if you’re gonna take every no personally, it’s how- I don’t know how you move forward.


How many rejections did you receive?


So many.


A lot. It was so- It took four years to sell our first thing. We’re like we made it. And then it took another four years till we sold anything else. Umm, and it took ten till Moana, which was the first thing that actually got produced and made, umm, came onto the screen. And so all of that, that whole ten year journey uhh, was informative and challenging, umm, before you kind of figure out how to read the swells and- and steer the canoe. Umm, it took that long to figure that out.


Do you think that that period of discipline and- and without a lot of- uhh, a lot of inst- no instant gratification there right?




Do you think that helped you make it for the long term?


I think we would have honestly-


-Preferred getting instant gratification.


Yeah, I wouldn’t care. I would’ve loved-


And you can still do-


I would’ve loved the rocket launch straight into-




–the stratosphere.


Yeah. That would have been great. I think we would have done it anyway. I think we were succ- The success or financial success or any kind of recognition was never our motivation. Uhh, getting it is nice because it allows us to continue to do what we loved and not have to second guess and question how are we going to feed our families? Umm, because we are now getting paid to do what we always loved and were doing since second or third grade. Umm, but we would have done it anyway. For Moana we felt uhh, as fortunate to be called to it because it was not our idea. It was a project that existed for years, three years before we got the call to come and be a part of it.


Were you- Were you there to rescue it, to do trouble fixing?


Yes. So they had and it’s not just the- it’s typical of the Disney Pixar process, is that over the course of three to five years, usually four to five, they’ll put the movie together anywhere from eight to ten times internally before it’s shown to an audience, and-


All hand drawn.


-Hand drawn and all, you know, every- every three months. They’re basically rewriting, re scoring, rerecording, redrawing and editing up a version of the film, not as animated as you see. It’s sort of your old school sketch, flip book animation where Mickey’s hand will move like this as you put the pages, but a whole rough cut of the movie. And so they’ve done that for three years and the story had lost its way. And so they needed to find new writers to help them steer a course towards what the story was. And they had a lot of the tent poles- we’ll call ’em- of the story. They had the girl named Moana. They knew that she lived on Motu Nui. They had all the characters kind of drawn and animated. Umm, so we knew that cast. Uhh, she was going to meet Maui. She was going to sail out and try to restore- Spoiler alert- Teka, Teka into Tefiti. But they didn’t know why she wanted to leave. They didn’t know why Tefiti had become Teka, and what would turn her back? They didn’t know what the relationship with Moana would- and Maui would be or where she would find him or what they were sailing out to do. All of that was up in the air. And so we had to come in and help create all the story to connect those dots.


Isn’t it interesting the storyline got lost along the way?






After all that technical work and artistic work?


Well, a lot of animation is that same- They’re all amazing artists, like the best artists you’ve seen. You’ll be sitting talking story like this and they’ll be drawing a caricature of you and showing it to you or you’ll be talking about we’ll say, well, what if they encounter these little coconut pirates? We’ll call them the Kakamora and they’ll be like, well, will they look like this? We’re like, uhh maybe a..




-And they’ll, more like this? Yes. And they’ll just be tossing photos behind them. They’ll be just sheets of paper-


Drawing. Drawing.


–and drawing. And throwing, which is amazing because we can’t draw. So for us. That was like magic of Disney come true before our eyes. Uhh, but-


-But yeah it’s [INDISTINCT]-


–they start- they start with the visuals because they’re all artists. So they get really excited about visual ideas. And then it’s trying to find… We almost had to come in and be the story way finders and the navigators of the story to connect what these visual motifs and ideas could be through the character work, through the thematics and through the values of the experiences that we had growing up on the islands.


And this wasn’t a Hawaiian movie.




It’s Polynesian.




But you really had a role to play in terms of making it authentic and not putting in the wicky, wacky cellophane hula skirts and- and language.


We tried. Umm, yeah. Uhh, we came in hoping to- There were characters that existed in earlier versions that we will not mention uhh, that were culturally insensitive, if not offensive, that we- we threw out. We said, you- you can’t do this for- for these specific reasons. Umm, and we then tried to bring in kupuna and advisers like Nainoa Thompson to make the way finding elements as accurate as possible uhh, and to speak towards some of the cultural values we just grew up with that might drive Moana through her journey and in her interactions with Maui. And so, yeah, we played that small part as- as we weren’t the only ones. They had uhh, a board, an oceanic adviser trust from all different island cultures of professors and performers who helped advise. But we did come in as-


-We banged the cultural-


–story tellers, yes.


We banged the cultural drums very loudly.


Do you think in words or pictures when you’re a screenwriter?


That’s a-


–That’s a really good question. Uhh, both. I mean, I think-


-It starts with pictures.


It starts with pictures-


We have to see the movie in our head in order to put it on the page. And then basically the process of writing for us-


–Is recording. It’s almost, you have to visual- you almost have to sit in the audience. You have to direct the movie and then you have to be able to edit it, and watch it. And once you can see a whole sequence or a scene, then you’re just essentially reporting what you’re seeing. But you have to go through that process-


So you have a story that you-


-Then you have to visualize it.


–But the pictures have to- you have to lead with pictures.


Yeah. I mean, it’s such a- we’re such uhh, visual creatures as humans. And the world has become so much more, like visual focus. There’s so much media.


You know, you said you’re collaborative. I assume that each of you has a role. Do your roles remain constant in terms of putting together a screenplay?


Uhh, it’s pretty fluid. Yin Yang, We have different strengths. I’d say as writers and that depends on the day. Sometimes one of us is stronger at one thing than the other.


And you both recognize that that day one is stronger than the other at something?










And in general, we have different strengths uhh, and- and weaknesses. I think Aaron is stronger with character and dialog and getting into kind of the core of how somebody expresses themself in a unique, interesting, believable… Just getting at who those characters are and what they want. And my strength is sort of seeing the bigger picture of a story and structuring out what’s going to happen and how we get there. And then writing-


-He’s more of the architect. I’m more the interior designer.


Uhh, sorry, everyone who’s not a twin. But it helps us be objective-




Because we’re constantly questioning each other’s work, uhh, storytelling choices, quality of what we were putting out and just saying, can we make it better. We’re poking at it.


And why are we doing this-


-That’s right.


–And what do we want to get out of it?


And if you’re by yourself, it would help to find somebody who can serve that role.


We’ll break out a whole story. We’ll sit and we’ll talk or we’ll go hiking through the forest and just talk and talk and talk and talk and figure out how we both see what the grand vision of it is. And then it’ll usually be architecting it out, which he’s very good at in terms of breaking an outline and detail. And then I’ll come in and be, well, let’s make this is kind of a cliché. Let’s make this more original or fresh or have somebody say something in a way you wouldn’t think. And so and then it becomes sort of breaking out and tackling sequences or scenes on the page.


Aaron and Jordan Kandell remain close in their everyday lives. If they aren’t working on their next screenplay together, they’re together surfing, hiking, watching a movie. We’re spending time with their extended family.


It works. I mean, you both are married. Each of you has a child.




And then how do you- and you live next door to each other?




Next door.


Very close, walking distance of-




-back back fence kind of thing?




Back fence.


Share. Share the same boundary line.






So how does it work? I mean, because you’re working together every day. And even if you weren’t working, you’d be seeing each other every day.


Yeah. We’re together almost all the time.




All day. We’re usually together most of the day working, writing, meetings. Umm, and then at night we’ll either all go to his house or he’ll come to my house with his family to have dinner. We kind of trade back and forth. We trade taking the kids to school and picking them up.


They go to the same schools?


They don’t yet because one, his is-




–too young, umm, but hopefully they will. Umm, and they very much are like sibling-cousins, we call them. They’re so close.


And I’ve heard that the children call each of you uncle daddy.




Daddy. And then Uncle Daddy.




That’s right.


That’s funny.




So what happens when a spouse wants to do something different than what you two want to do?


They usually win.


They win.


Oh they win?




Oh, yeah.




You defer.


Yes, definitely.




Yeah. Because we’re together so often-




-that it’s only fair.




So you figured-




–a way to make all of it.




They’ll win the battle because the war, they already, know is lost.


Kind of seems too good to be true that you know, the wives would be happy and- and get this relationship and then- and then you two would get along so well.


That we would get along so well?






–Yeah, I mean, I- I don’t know. I would attribute that to nature and nurture. I think-


Yeah, ’cause our parents were very uhh, they created an environment. We never really fought with our older brother. He was always super supportive and loving. And we just kind of-


-Closed it with him. Yup.


They just created a dynamic where it was you were all, y’know, on the same canoe paddling together.


As of this conversation in the spring of 2019, Aaron and Jordan Kandell are involved in a multitude of screenplays and film projects, including their dream project called The Golden Record, The True Story of Carl Sagan and his Creation of a Record of Life on Earth for 1976 NASA’s Space Mission. Mahalo to Aaron and Jordan Kandall of Mānoa, O’ahu. And thank you for joining us for this edition of LONG STORY SHORT on PBS Hawai’i. I’m Leslie Wilcox, Aloha Nui.


Our mom has just followed her curiosity wherever it’s led her for her entire life. So she’s been really like-


The jack of all trades.




She’s had- she had a different career every three to five years most of our lives.


And would you put that under the fearless category?


Oh, for sure. Yeah.


I think the two things we learned from our mom more than anything, is she always said growing up, the only thing you can control in your life is your attitude. Just everything else is a variable that you can’t predict or control.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org to download free podcasts of Long StorySshort with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store or visit pbshawaii.org






Sherry Menor-McNamara


Sherry Menor-McNamara is the youngest President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii and the first woman. She’s a high-energy fitness buff who sometimes opens and closes a long, full workday by hitting the road, running. Menor-McNamara, of Filipino and Japanese ancestry, grew up on Hawaiʻi Island, the daughter of an influential elected official, Barney Menor, and the niece of Ben Menor, Hawaiʻi State Supreme Court Associate Justice. After working in Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo, Menor-McNamara returned to Hawaiʻi and earned post-graduate degrees in law and business. Her interests in public service and business converge in her current role at the local Chamber, which has won national recognition under her leadership.


This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 31, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.


Download the Transcript




Well, I wake up around 3:45 in the morning, I enjoy working out and so, uh, I actually would go to the yoga class every morning and after that, work out by the gym on the treadmill or with weights. I know, it’s kinda crazy, they call me crazy. I also enjoy it, because mentally, physically, it just helps me uh, focus, and also it helps me prepare for the day.


She’s focused, determined, and enjoys a challenge. Meet the super energetic CEO next on Long Story Short.


One on one engaging conversations with some of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people, Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.


Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Sherry Menor-McNamara is the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaiʻi. When she took the top position in 2013 at the age of 42, she became the youngest leader in the Chamber’s 165 year plus history in Hawaiʻi, and the first female leader. Menor-McNamara continues to advocate business legislation and initiatives for the Chamber’s twenty-one hundred business members in Hawaiʻi. Sherry was born in Tokyo, Japan, but was raised on Hawaiʻi Island where her father, the late State lawmaker and Hawaiʻi County executive, Barney Menor, had family roots.


But one thing that I’m so proud about and I always like to talk about, is the fact that I’m from Hilo. I went to public school, Hilo Union, Waiakea Intermediate, Waiakea High School, and lot of people don’t know that or they automatically assume I’m from Honolulu or went to private school, but I’m a proud public school graduate, uh, love going back home, something about walking off the plane and the air in Hilo is just so different, uh so, I’m just most proud about that. So, Grandpa and Grandma Menor, they immigrated from the Phillipines, uh, so first it was my grandpa who came to Hawaiʻi Island to work in the sugarcane fields…uh, then he brought his uh, wife, Grandma Paulina, and the oldest son, my Uncle Ben, and oldest daughter, Aunty Ella, and they moved…they came to Hawaiʻi Island, moved to Pāhoa, and four kids later, uh, they established roots in Pāhoa and all the kids were raised in Pāhoa as well. Uh, they were raised on a farm, so they had everything there from tangerines, mountain apples, vegetables, uh, pigs, anthuriums, macadamia nuts, uh, so everything was on the farm and that’s how they fed themselves.


And so your father was part of that family and also uh, Ben Menor, who would grow up to become a…Associate State Supreme Court Justice.


Yes, the first Filipino Associate State uh, Supreme Court Justice in the nation. He was also a State Senator. And so, for the Menor family, grandpa and grandma always emphasized public service and always to help others. My dad, uh, actually, was also in public service. He was in the House of Representatives. At that time, he represented Makiki, uh, and after that, he was asked by the Mayor of County of Hawaiʻi, Mayor Matayoshi, to work for him and so that’s how we ended up moving to Hilo, when I was four years old, and so that’s where I was practically raised.


However, it’s complicated, you actually were born in Japan, how did that happen?


Yeah, so my mom, uh, she was born and raised in Japan and so uh, then she moved to Honolulu and at that time, her parents, her grand…uh, her father, was not doing well. So, she decided, when she’s pregnant, to go back to Japan and I ended up being born there.


So how did your father and your mother meet? Because she’s a Japanese national and he’s a Filipino-American uh, Senator, or was he at the time a politician?


Yes, uh, so at that time, uh, my mom was a single mother, my older sister, and my dad is campaigning for the seat, the House of Rep seat, and he knocked on doors and he ended up knocking on the right door and if he had not knocked on the right door, I wouldn’t be here. [LAUGHS] That’s how they met.


I never knew love was born going door-to-door.


Right? [LAUGHS] One of the plus of campaigning.


So, they met and that was…but then you were born…did they move to Japan?


No, so they…they met and so that’s when my mom had to go back to Japan, while she was pregnant, and then I was born there. But she came right back, and so, although I was born in Japan, I wasn’t raised there. My whole life, my whole childhood life I was raised in Hilo.


And were you an American citizen?


Now that’s where it gets complicated. [LAUGHS]


Ok, what happened? How does that work?


So, my mom and dad were not married, uh, when they had me, and so, because they were not married, I was just a Japanese citizen. So funny story is, I was going through some photo albums, their wedding album, and I’m all like, why am I in your wedding? [LAUGHS] And…


They had not mentioned that to you?


They did not until I was 16, and that’s when I realized that, ok, I’m just a…I’m applying to college scholarships and one of the requirements was to be a U.S. citizen. So, it wasn’t until I was 16 years old that I became a U.S. citizen.


You went through the citizenship class?


I did. I had to go through the process…yeah.


Oh, did you feel badly that your parents hadn’t told you?


No, I thought it…they thought it was going to have a serious impact and I would be impacted by it, but I thought it was kinda funny.


Can people guess your ethnicity? I bet they can’t.




It’s an unusual combo in Hawaiʻi. And probably many places.


Yeah, other places, I get everything. I get everything. Not necessarily just Filipino and Japanese. But here, some people say I pull more Japanese and others say I pull more Filipino, so I get both sides, uh, some…there’s a lot though, they’ll realize I have both Japanese and Filipino in me.


They can tell.


They don’t.


Oh, they don’t at all.


They don’t. It’s one or the other.


And you had already become…at 16, were you already the student body president or the class president at uh, Waiakea High?


I was. I really, uh, enjoyed student government. So, from 6th grade, actually, I served as uh, I was student government president.


I take it you were a good student, you were a student leader, where did that come from, do you think?


I think it was my dad’s uh, my dad’s side of the…well, my mom and dad, it’s that strong work ethic and also the value of helping each other out. Uh, public service was really important, especially my dad’s side.


And you enjoyed it, it wasn’t…you’re saying, aw, I gotta go do this because my parents want me to…


No, I actually enjoyed it, I really did. Uh, I don’t know, something about civic engagement, something about public service, uh, it was in me and I grew up with it and I think in a way, it’s still in me. From my mom, who struggled, uh, living, coming to the US, living in Hawaii, without even knowing any English and starting up her own business, she recognized the importance of good education and studying hard. Her term was always gambate, gambate, try your best, never give up. My dad’s side is more about public service and giving back to others, helping each other out, so I think it’s a marriage of both of them.


Now, after high school, and there’s something about your bio that makes me think that it wasn’t a straight shot for you, that you didn’t pursue a goal…and this is so true of many successful people, their trajectory is not straight, they, you know, there are different places they stop off along the way. What happened between high school and becoming the head of…the first female President of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaiʻiand the youngest president ever…what happened in-between?


Wow, yes, I was not a straight shooter [LAUGHS]. I thought ok, in high school, I’m going to be an attorney, uh, and my mom, for her, it was important for her kids to go to college on the mainland. She didn’t want us to stay in Hawaiʻi,not because Hawai’i didn’t have good schools, it was more for us to be independent, explore, and meet different people, learn different cultures, uh, so, ended up going to UCLA, and I think I just got lost. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do because it was just an entirely different environment, uh, from small town to a big city, and so, uh, every city I went or moved to, my idea of what I wanted to be changed. So, in L.A., of course, I wanted…the entertainment capital, I wanted to be in the entertainment industry. I remember one time I wanted to be an actor. [LAUGHS] Because I appeared on 9-0—Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place as an extra, and I realized, ok, now, this is not…this is not me, this is not me. No speaking parts, but…uh, and of course, my mom said, if you do that, I’m going to disown you [LAUGHS]. Uh, so, yeah, and then I moved to New York and New York is all about finance and…


What did you do in New York?


I ended up working for Estee Lauder companies in the PR department, yeah. So that was interesting. Um, it was nice because you get to test all the different scents coming out. Uh, and so, I lived in New York about three or four months, and then at the end they decided to offer me a full-time, permanent job, but at that time they offered…uh, Sony was, Corporation in Tokyo was looking for someone. So, I moved to Japan and worked for Sony Corporation and my project was the Sony Open because Sony had just acquired the title sponsorship, uh, so, but it required me to live in Japan, and I said, why not? And again, because I understood the culture, uh, we used to spend some time there and visit there often, uh, but working for a corporation, uh, in Japan, is much different than working here, and so there were some challenges, because back then, there weren’t that many women in leadership positions or even in managerial positions, there was only a handful, so women were treated differently in their roles, so that was, that was a challenge, and something that I couldn’t quite adapt to.


Because women weren’t seen as coming along in the pipeline, there was no pipeline for them, I presume.


At that time.


At that time.


Right, right, it’s very limited, uh, and that was not a priority, uh, and so, that’s when I decided, ok, I think two years…


Two years sounds like a long time to stick with it, if you felt that way.


Yeah, fortunately I got to come back and forth, because my project was based in Honolulu, so I got to come back and forth to Honolulu, so kind of get away from it. Every time I said, ok, I’m gonna try, I’m gonna stick it out, I’m gonna stick it out. Uh, but after two years, I said that’s it. I don’t regret it though, because it allowed me to uh, it helped me realize a lot that we do offer…a lot that being a US citizen and being here, and growing up in Hawaii, uh, that’s so different in Japan, but also recognize the importance to understand different cultures.


After working in different industries in Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo, Sherry Menor-McNamara returned to Hawaiʻi and enrolled at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in not one, but two, post-graduate schools.


I decided to go back to school…went back to law school and business school, and it was during that time that I worked at the State Legislature.


Now, when you say law school and business school, you took advantage of that…didn’t they have a dual-program where you get your law degree and an executive Masters in Business?


Yeah, so the first day in law school, I realized I did not want to practice.


Why? Why did you decide you didn’t want to practice?


I don’t know, it just wasn’t me. It just wasn’t me. I could feel that I didn’t want to be a litigator, I didn’t want to be an attorney doing contracts, it just…but it felt that this could be helpful.


Was it because you wanted to pick your client?


Uh [LAUGHS], I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was all the readings. [LAUGHS] And the cases. But I just knew that it wasn’t for me, so that’s when I decided to join the JD/MBA program.


But you…but you decided to finish law school?


I did decide to finish. I figured one year down, why not two more years? And then that’s when I learned about the joint program, uh, so I decided to invest one more year.


How much work is that? I just can’t imagine, because you also were doing jobs on the side, too, right? Weren’t you picking up jobs?


Yeah, so, for my final year, I went to law school, law classes in the morning and business classes in the evening. So in-between, I actually had two jobs.


What were the jobs?


So, one was working at the State Capitol and the other was working for ESPN Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.


You don’t have any trouble getting jobs, do you?


Uh, I wouldn’t say that. [LAUGHS] But I’ve been fortunate to be able to work these different jobs that provided great opportunities, I got to meet wonderful people.


And one of those people was future husband, John McNamara, who was then an Associate Athletics Director for the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. However, their first evening together got off to a rocky start.


We had an event at Murphy’s Bar and Grill, and he walked in, late, I wasn’t too happy about that because I was running that event, so…we walked to the…he came to the registration desk and I immediately said, you’re late. And he knew I was not happy, but throughout the night, we ended up talking with each other and one by one people were offering me a ride home and he kept saying, I’ll take her home, I’ll give her a ride home. Uh, in the end it was just the two of us and so, he said, ok, well, I guess it’s time to go, and he tells me, uh, there’s something I have to tell you, and I went, okay, no, what is he going to tell me? Everything…all these thoughts were coming through my…going through my head…and he goes, I don’t have a car. [LAUGHS] I’m like, great, he’s lucky I didn’t live on the other side of the island, that would’ve been expensive taxi fare, and I lived right down the street, so yeah, and the rest is history. Twelve years later, in fact we make twelve years uh, in a couple of days.


You didn’t hold that against him.


I did not, yeah.


What was it about him that made you think he’s the one?


I think it was his laid-back style. He was more mature [LAUGHS] and just a generally sincerely nice person, and so…sometimes you just know and we just hit it off and he’s been the most supportive person of my career.


It was also during this period of completing law school and business school at UH Mānoa, that Sherry Menor-McNamara found her professional passion.


I found my passion when I worked at the Legislature, I found my passion, I knew that based on all the other experiences, this is what I wanted to do.


How did you know that? What did you feel? What happened?


I think it goes back to my childhood and the values of public service and helping others and when I work at the State Capitol, you just see how policy can impact the livelihoods of people and I enjoy the public policy making process and different stakeholders coming to the Legislature expressing their points of view. And so, I knew I wanted to do something in that arena, but obviously had law school loans, so…


There’s a lot of persuasion, because essentially, government relations, is it being a lobbyist? In this case?


Essen…it’s being an advocate, essentially, yes, a lobbyist advocate. And uh, so, I knew I wanted to do something in that arena and I graduated and applied to different firms that had government affairs posit…departments, but none had positions available, but this one firm did. One of the persons called me up and just wanted to meet, uh, and we did, and she said, oh, by the way, there’s a government affairs position at the Chamber of Commerce. So I thought, ok.


But you were looking for a law firm, right?


Well, because for their government affairs, um, positions, but none were available.


So there you go.


There you go…


You get…you have a government affairs position for the Chamber…


Chamber…and had no idea what the Chamber’s all about.


And you had a business degree as well.


I did.


A Masters.


Mm hmm…and then once I learned what the Chamber’s role was, uh, I decided, ok, I’m going to take this. I had no idea what lobbying was all about.


Isn’t that interesting? So, the Chamber of Commerce wasn’t on your radar, but you had…coincidentally trained to be…trained in legal and business matters and that’s exactly the skillsets, you know, that’re helpful for the job that you have.


Right, so it worked out perfectly.


But it wasn’t a plan?


It wasn’t a plan. No, it was not a plan at all, it just came up by a-a-a coincidental meeting with someone who did work at a law firm and who told me about the opportunity. And my mom is a small business owner and so, she…I knew what she had to do to run a small business in Hilo, and she still has it, for more than 40 years already, and growing up, we saw her struggle, we saw the struggles of running a small businesses…the challenge, the trials, the tribulations and so, uh, to be able to…uh, represent, be part of an organization that represents businesses of all sizes, but especially the small business community, uh, it’s very gratifying.


You did break a glass ceiling, there had been no female President of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaiʻi, uh, and there had been no one as young as you. How did that happen?


The Board was very supportive of having me as the next President CEO. I don’t think they saw it as a first female CEO. I don’t think some of them even knew that…but I think it was more of a recognition that they needed a succession plan, and uh, groomed me to be the next President and CEO of the Chamber.


Was your, um, your gender ever an issue for you? Or for anyone else?


Yeah, in Hawaii it has not…it’s a very supportive business community and so I’ve been very fortunate in that way. Being…leading the business organization here, we’re involved on the national level too, so I sit on different boards, and there’s still a lot of work to do in the Chamber community. Uh, for example, the Council of State Chambers, State Chambers CEO, there’s only five female women who are CEOs.


Nationwide, five?


Yes, and I’m the only Asian. So, there’s a lot more work to be done on the national level, but they’re recognizing that diversity and inclusion are critical to ensure that we can create a positive climate, uh, climate


When you’re one of the few women on these national, nationally oriented Chamber organizations, do you feel as listened to as the men on the panels?


Not necessarily a type-A where I’m on the go, like to talk, uh, go to the meetings there, there’s a lot of talking. My style is more just listen, I like to listen more than talking, and so, but when I do talk, I hope that I bring another perspective, coming to Hawaii, we’re unique, we have a um, I think I have a different voice that is…important in conversations, and so when I do go to these meetings on the mainland, uh, I do speak up when I need to and I…my colleagues have appreciated that, so far.


Have you had a mentor in navigating your way in this different culture? I mean, in Hawaiʻi you knew the landscape after working there for a few years but once you were President you were in another ecosystem, too.


It is, yeah, and so, one of the mentors I look up to is Connie Lau, CEO of Hawaiian Electric, who broke many ceilings, and I remember sitting down with her and asking her…because at that time, I was just trying to find my voice, and asking her, are there times when you just feel like…what we just talked about, about speaking up and uh, with work and being the only woman in many different environments, because she sits on a lot of national boards, she goes to a lot of national meetings, and she just said, Sherry, you just gotta remember: who you work for, what organization you work for, what’s it’s role, and if you’re willing to do that, if you believe in the mission, then you need to step up and you need to be ensured that your voice is heard.


Is there anything on this…on your strategic plan horizon that you see might represent a U-turn or a shift of some kind or dropping projects? Big, something big?


Yeah, so one of the initiatives, and that’s something that I am going to roll out at our annual luncheon, but just to give you a hint is, again, to play a more…ah, and this is nothing new, to play a more proactive, uh, role, and one of the areas or pillars that we’re focusing on is on education work force development…and to help students recognize that there’s various careers out there and not every student will go to college, um, some may go directly to careers, and that’s ok, but if the business community can play a role in connecting education to a career path, then I think that’s exciting because the work force is changing, the skill-sets required is changing, and business community needs to play a role in ensuring that uh, the talent pipeline is there and our future work-force is prepared for these constantly changing jobs.


Sometimes the challenges get very um, that word again, complicated, because of um, because of relationships that have built up and uh, uh, people who are intractable in certain ways, have you ever faced that?


Yes, definitely in our line of work, uh, I remember my dad and I having breakfast, at that time Sunrise Café is no longer there in Hilo…


I know, too bad.


I know, they had the best fried rice, uh, and I remember he ran into someone and I knew that they’re both on opposite sides and I asked him, how can you still talk to this person? They don’t agree with you. And he said, look, there’s gonna be disagreements, but in the end, if you can still shake hands, give them a hug, that’s all that matters, because you can agree to disagree, and so, while they’re…not everyone may agree with our position, as long as we listen and hear what their positions are, understand their perspectives and respect them for their perspectives. We need that kind of constructive conversations, but equally important to have that kind of respect and then in the end, be able to shake hands or give each others a hug.


You know, there’s a long-time friend of yours who’s been quoted as saying, you know, we know, we know what she’s going to do eventually, but right now she loves the Chamber, eventually she is going to run for office.


Oh [LAUGHS], well, you put me on the spot with that one.


Well, election year is coming up, so I thought I would ask.


I truly enjoy my job at the Chamber right now, um, I’m not to say that I haven’t not thought about it, I think growing up in a public service family, it’s something that I’ve always thought about and I know that at some point, I want to enter public service in some capacity, whether it’s running for office or working for uh, a department, I don’t know what that looks like, but…definitely…


So, you’re not thinking about certain public offices?


Uh, we’ll see, we’ll see…


Under Sherry Menor-McNamara’s leadership, the Chamber of Commerce Hawaiʻi won national recognition as State Chamber of the Year in 2018. One of Sherry’s on-going initiatives is Hawaiʻi On the Hill, a two-day event in Washington D.C., that showcases Hawaiʻi businesses and products to members of Congress and the Washington community. At the time of this conversation in 2019, representatives of 120 Hawaiʻibusinesses had attended the annual event, which is a partnership between the Chamber of Commerce Hawaiʻi and U.S. Senator Maizie Hirono. Mahalo to Sherry Menor-McNamara of Kakaʻako, Oʻahu, and thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaiʻi. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.


For some, they know what they want and that’s…it’s a straight path, and that’s perfectly fine. But for those who think, well, I don’t know what I wanna do and I’m already 20-something or now 30-something, or even 40-something, for that matter, it’s ok, it’s ok not to be on a straight path because along the way, no matter how crooked, curvy, circular, or whatever shape that path is, uh, every step there’s something to learn from.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org, to download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store or visit PBSHawaii.org.







What’s it Going to Take? Managing Tourism in Hawaiʻi


This week’s INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI is a special edition, expanded to 90 minutes, asking What’s it Going to Take? Managing Tourism in Hawaiʻi. The tourism industry is one of the State’s largest employers and has been the driving force of our economy. But there are costs to the arrival of more than 10 million visitors each year, including overcrowded beaches, traffic and the wear and tear on natural treasures. The coronavirus pandemic is now crippling the visitor industry. This could be a rare opportunity to reshape the future of tourism in Hawaiʻi. You can join the conversation by phoning in, or leave us a comment on Facebook or Twitter.


Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.




Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.


Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights




Mark Fukunaga


As a child growing up in Honolulu, Mark Fukunaga said he was certain he would never join the family business. He now serves as the third generation Chairman and CEO of Servco Pacific, a company whose mantra, he says, has always been “to follow the customer.” Learn how he continues to grow and diversify the multi-billion dollar business by embracing risk and reinvention.


This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 24, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.


Mark Fukunaga Audio


Download the Transcript




Do you consider yourself a, a big risk-taker?


In business, you either grow or you die. I like to think even in life, you either grow or you die. You expand your knowledge, you, um, learn more about yourself, you try new things, or you die. And so…um, because everybody else is growing, so you’re receding if you don’t grow. And I think that is true of our business. So, you have to take risks. Anytime you grow, growth is risk-taking.


He continues to grow and innovate his family business, now in its third generation. Meet this Hawaiʻi executive next on Long Story Short.


One on one engaging conversations with some of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short, with Leslie Wilcox.


Aloha māi kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Mark Fukunaga of Honolulu is the third generation Chairman and CEO of Servco Pacific. The family-owned business celebrated its 100th year anniversary in two thousand nineteen. It has grown into one of Hawai’i’s largest privately-owned companies, with revenues in two thousand eighteen reported at 1.8 billion dollars. Servco Pacific is known in Hawai‘i, Guam, and more recently, Australia, for its auto dealerships, with brands including Toyota and Lexus, and its home appliance sales. Consider the business’s humble start: Mark Fukunaga’s grandfather, Peter, an immigrant from Japan, put down a twenty five dollar down payment on a two-stall auto repair shop in the rural town of Waialua on O‘ahu’s North Shore. Mark Fukunaga was just four years old when his grandfather passed away in nineteen sixty. He learned about his grandfather’s life when he read the transcript of a nineteen forties radio show that was recently discovered tucked away in a family safe.


My grandfather was Peter Fukunaga, and um, really an amazing guy. I mean, I….and I-I-I realize this belatedly, but he was just, um, an extraordinary, um, risk-taker, resilient, um, far-sighted, um, just an amazing guy.


Was he an immigrant?


Yeah, so he came over from Japan. Uh, he, uh, uh, was from the Hiroshima area. His father, my great-grandfather, apparently, uh, started off with some money. He apparently owned something like nine mountains up in the hills, and uh, uh, unfortunately also liked gambling, so he blew it all, and uh, I think the sons were, uh, sent away to make money. So he emigrated at the age of seventeen, um, and came to Hawai‘i, and-actually the Big Island, and um, took a job with one of the plantations; uh, a place called Kukuehaele Plantation up on the North side. So he was doing that, and then he got a job at Parker Ranch as a cook…I think probably a dishwasher and a cook, uh, and, and did that for a bit. And then he, um…I guess because he was sort of engineering-oriented, he, um, became what’s called a powder, a powder man. He basically was the guy to blow up dynamite charges to create the flues…irrigation flues through the mountain. I think he was being paid twenty dollars a month, of which he would send ten back to Japan in those days.


And was he intending to go back?


He was hoping to. he was hoping to become an engineer. I think at a certain point he said, “You know, I-I-I really need to strike out on my own.” So he moved to Honolulu after about five years on the Big Island. And all the time he, he used to carry a little English dictionary in his back pocket, so he was always trying to learn English. Um, he knew he had to learn English. He knew he had to learn about America, so um, he enrolled in Trinity Mission School. So he did odd jobs. He worked, uh, I think as a house boy, uh, and when he could he went to Trinity Mission School first grade ‘cause he didn’t know anything more than that level.


So he was willing to humble himself…




And, and risk a big move?


Right. At the age of twenty-two, he was in the first grade, first grade class, and…but he was a smart guy. So after a month, they promoted him to the second grade; a month later, third grade. So he went through six grades in, uh, in about, uh, six months, and then he, um, went to ‘Iolani, and unfortunately, um, because he was so, I guess you would have to say driven, he drove himself, I’m sure he wasn’t eating well or whatever, um, he ended up getting, um, tuberculosis. So he spent a year in Lē‘ahi hospital. Before that when he was a dynamite guy in the Big Island, he had a…he fell, like, thirty feet. Almost died, broke both arms, so he was in the hospital there once. He caught scarlet fever on the Big Island. That put him in the hospital. So he, he was, um, you know, he had all these setbacks but somehow he always came back.


Servco Pacific CEO Mark Fukunaga describes how his grandfather, Peter Fukunaga, came back after recovering from tuberculosis. He set his mind on getting into automotive sales and servicing, but he had no experience in this area, so he knocked on the doors of all three Honolulu auto dealerships in nineteen nineteen, hoping to learn the business from the ground up. Finally, one of them decided to give him a try based on his persistence.


So, he works there for about two months. Um, he was working on a car, and it unexpectedly, uh, pins him against the garage wall. Breaks…


Another setback?


Breaks a leg, so he’s back in the hospital; this time I think it’s Queen’s Hospital. So he’s recuperating, badly broken leg is, you know, it’s pretty, apparently a really bad injury. And while he’s in the hospital, he hears about this garage that is for sale in Hale‘iwa, what was then Waialua.


A garage meaning a place where you get your car fixed?


Yeah, yeah. So it was a two-car repair garage; repair any make. And um, um, so he says, “Great.” And he’s got twenty-five dollars in savings. That’s it.


That’s amazing, since he, he was in the hospital for a, twice already.


Yeah, right.


Hmm, so he saved money, too.


So he actually reaches out to the, uh, seller and they strike a deal. And it’s, uh, I think it’s sixteen hundred dollars and twenty-five dollars, all he has in his pocket, is the down payment, and he makes it. So he seals the deal. He limps out of the hospital bed on crutches because not healed, and he goes out to Waialua and starts running this two-car garage, and that’s the start of Servco nineteen nineteen. And uh, and apparently, so he gets this thing up and running, and then I’m reading, um, this transcript, and he says, “Then we faced a really bad depression.” And I’m thinking, “Oh, the Great Depression.” And he goes, “Yeah, the, things got really bad in nineteen twenty-one.” And apparently there was a smaller depression then, and he said, “We were faced with bankruptcy. Everyone wanted to quit.” And he said, “I just said no. We’re gonna continue. I will, I won’t get paid. I’ll do whatever it can, we can to stay alive.” And he struggled through that, and then, and then things got better in the twenties.


Even in nineteen twenty-nine with the, the real Depression?


Then he, he apparently, uh, so, again, a far, uh, sighted guy, and, he saw it coming so he started branching out into appliances. So he, he, he then started this business for, uh, electronics: Easy Radios and Easy Washers.


Mark Fukunaga’s grandfather, Peter, took his two-stall auto repair shop and diversified the business to include home appliances, musical instruments, financial services, and car dealerships in Wahiawa, Waipahu, and later Mapunapuna and Honolulu. He married a local girl, and as his three sons became of age, they joined him in the family business.


They were, uh, led by his three sons, you know, my dad and two uncles, uh, George, Ben, and Tom. Eventually, um, Ben left to do his own thing, and it’s George and Tom. And so they were a partnership that lasted, um, really thirty five years.


That’s pretty amazing, too…



To have family working together, I mean, that can’t be taken for granted.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. It uh, you know, they, like all brothers, you know, they had their ups and downs, but they always, they always found a way to work it out, and um, and they had very different views, you know, on how to run a business, which I think was probably healthy. So they always, I think in some ways challenge each other. And um, and so they, they continue to have the Chevrolet, uh, dealership, but then um, uh, my grandfather, in, uh, really at the tail-end of his life, he decided he needed another franchise, a international, foreign franchise, and he actually, uh, went to, uh, try to get Opal out of Europe, and luckily, in retrospect, uh, he got turned down, thank God. So he then said, “Well I, I gotta…maybe I’ll go to Japan because I know they’re building cars there.” So, um, he, that’s when he went to Japan, and he, um…there’s an expression in Toyota called ‘go to the source.’ Genchi genbutsu, which is find out what you need to find out at the source. Don’t rely on other people’s words. So, he went to talk to the Tokyo cab, cab drivers and said, “Thinking of Nissan or Toyota to approach. Which car is better?” And the Tokyo cabbie said, “No, Toyota has a better clutch.” And he knocked on Toyota’s door, and they said, “Yeah, sure. We’ll give you the distributorship.” So, we actually started…we’re one of the oldest distributors in the world. Toyota really grew from about sixty-five, and that’s when the company really started to take off, but they had inherited sort of these other businesses, the appliance electronics business. My grandfather had started a finance business, became Servco Financial. Um, a music business: Easy Music. The second generation took all of that and they kind of went, you know, with, with this great success with Toyota and Chevrolet, then started really diversifying. So, um, they ended up doing everything. I, I don’t think there is a business we haven’t done. We, we, we built furniture: Hawaiiana Furniture.


What’s the most arcane business they’ve started or got into?


Oh, wow. Cosmetics. Door to door cosmetics. Pola Cosmetics, like the Avon lady. Uh, growing plants in Waimanalo, Evergreen Nursery.


That’s a lot of bookkeeping.


Yeah, yeah.


And a lot of experimentation. Mark Fukunaga is the only child of George and Alice Fukunaga. His father, George, took over as Servco CEO from Mark’s grandfather, Peter Fukunaga, in nineteen sixty. Mark says while growing up in Honolulu, he was sure of one thing.


Uh, one thing I was sure of, which was I was never going to join the family business. So, um, you know, you know, I think it’s just, you know, stubborn.


They did expect you to, right?


Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It wasn’t all that explicit, but it was high…you know, it was heavily implicit that, yeah, you know, etcetera. Everything was presumed that I would do that, and I just kind of said, “Yeah, you know, I pretty much did my own thing.” So, of course I majored in philosophy, political philosophy, which is totally inapplicable. And I kind of like school, so I figured what can I do to sort of prolong this so I don’t really have to face having to like, break with the family and do my own thing, you know, so…out of all the things out there, I, I think being a lawyer would kind of preserve the optionality to do stuff, you know, government, uh, teach, private practice, nonprofit impact litigation. So, and three years of, kind of, law school is kind of…it’s, it’s intellectually interesting, but you can, you know…it’s, it’s not a bad life. So I did that for three years.


In Chicago?




After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, Mark Fukunaga landed a job in New York City at a top-tier corporate law firm on Wall Street. He represented countries, including Brazil and Argentina, which didn’t have the money to pay back their loans to the United States. Mark say he liked law school more than he liked practicing law. In nineteen eighty-eight, he returned to Hawai’i to fulfil family obligations…for a time, not as a career.


So, yeah, I had all this family, uh, expectation and you know, when you get the ripe ol’ age when I, I, I think at that time I was thirties, um, I…Asian guilt, family obligation. I said, “Look.” I told my dad, “Look, I know you always wanted me to work in the family business. I’ll work for five years, and then after that I’m gonna do my own thing.”


Because now you’ve repaid him for all of your raising.


That was the theory. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I came back.


Did you see that you would enjoy it, or did you think it would be an, a total drag obligation?


Uh, a little bit of both. I thought it’d be good. You know, I mean it was, it was the identity of the family, so I thought it would be a good thing to learn that and to work with my dad, who was, you know, frankly kind of a workaholic, so I didn’t really know him that well; as well as I, I, I might’ve on a, on a really personal level. So I thought, “Oh, that’ll be good.” And uh, but then afterwards I’d kind of find something else. So when I came back, uh, from New York, um, I was put in to kind of rotate through the company and do, you know, a bunch of jobs to kind of learn about. And my first job was in the appliance service department, and at that time, um, General Electric, which was our main brand…um, their refrigerators had a defect, and their compressors, the thing that cools it, were failing. So we had thousands of refrigerators that were failing full of food throughout O‘ahu, and, um, I was, um, I was in that department, and it was, we were…


You were taking the calls?


We were taking the calls, and then pretty soon it was like, you know, we were, we were just dealing with this tidal wave of stuff. So, anybody who could do anything was doing anything. So, um…


That must’ve been the family food for the week or more…


Oh, yeah.


So that’s, that was big money people were losing…




Rotting in their homes.


Right, right. So, um, we were taking these refrigerators full of food. Food was bad, and guess who got to clean ‘em out. And…but it was…you know, I loved it. I was supposed to be there for two weeks. I ended up staying for like, four months, and they had to actually yank me out.


You liked cleaning gross food out of…


Yeah, it was…well that part wasn’t so much fun. Although I did learn that if you need to take a really bad smell out of a refrigerator, best thing is fresh lemons.


Just squeeze it in there?


Squeeze it, and then wipe it all down with fresh lemon juice, you’re great. Good to go.


After nearly five years of working for Servco, the company that his company founded and his father was running, Mark Fukunaga was at a crossroads with his career. Would he stay in the family business, or move on to a different path?


Sad thing is like on the fifth year, um, so I was already thinking, uh, what I was…whether I was gonna stay, whether I move on. But, um, we were in Guam, and unfortunately, he had a heart attack and died in front of me. Um, we were there on a trip because we had expanded to Guam as part of those forty-two businesses, and, um, unfortunately he died. So, uh, and my uncle, Tom, who was the other brother in the business…


So there were just two at that point?


Two at that point. Had terminal cancer. So, they ended up dying. You know, they’re partners for life, and they were partners ‘til death, to death. I mean, they, um, died within a year of each other. So, all of a sudden you have two people who are totally unqualified, um, my cousin, Eric, who’s Tom’s son; me, being George’s son. We’re like, “What are you gonna do?”


You’re, you’re not gonna leave. You’re gonna stay the course, right?


Of course. Yeah, so, um, we took over.


What changes were made by you and Eric?


Well, uh you know, when we came in, we just, uh, we…we sort of saw what was there. It was like, you know, as I said, some forty odd businesses, um.


And were they doing well?


When they were acquired, or we entered into it, there was some sense because Hawai‘i was, was still its own economy that was separate from the U.S. mainland. And I think, you know, we all saw it in the late eighties when Costco came, K-Mart came, and then the wave of national retailers, national banks, you know, B of A was here, everything. You know, in all kinds of parts of the economy had all of a sudden national and global competitors, and uh, it was no longer local to local, where you could match up.


It was not a time to be selling cosmetics door to door.


Exactly, yeah, so uh, it, it just kind of hit in a wave in that, that…right around nineteen ninety. And…and so when Eric and I took over in ninety-four, it was like, geez, this isn’t gonna work. And um, so we had to do some really tough things, you know, we, we, um….


Let people go.


We let some people go. Um, we shrunk, um, you know, so we sold, spun off, and closed, um, at that time thirty nine out of the forty-two businesses, and it was just one after the other.


And not from a personal standpoint, but from a professional standpoint, you were comfortable with that.


Uh, it was really hard, you know. I mean, uh, Servco is incredibly lucky to have a great board, and one of the board members, um, said to me, Dick Gushman, he said, “You know, if you, um…if you can’t do the tough things, you have no business being a CEO. If you like doing the tough things, you’re not a human.”


And when you operate doing the things you do, you really have to be self-aware. You have to know yourself. What have you discovered along the way?


Oh gosh, um, you have to, you have to be able to forgive yourself for making mistakes, you know. That’s probably the first lesson. You’re gonna make a ton of mistakes. I can…if we had three more hours, I could go through all of them. Uh, but, but it’s, it’s that. It’s being comfortable with making mistakes. I think that’s a big one.


You know, um, when people talk about your company and the family, I mean, they may think, “Oh, they’re in the car business. They’ve been in the car business for years. They’ve got it made.” But it does…it probably doesn’t feel like that, does it? Because the car business has changed so much, and is it a sure thing now? We’re talking about all kinds of new transportation coming online.


Yeah, big time. It’s totally different. I think every business out there is facing disruption.


Is that the biggest disruption for…uh, digital-related, internet-related?


I would say, I mean, it’s particularly bad in the auto business in terms of, uh, the disruption we’re facing, because I think we’re facing four different ones, one is moving from brick and mortar to digital. But in addition to that, there’s autonomous cars that will come here.


Where people wouldn’t need to own a car…




They would just pick up a driverless car and take it.


Right, yeah. You’ve got sharing, Uber, and, and now we’ve launched our own sharing service, called, uh, Hui Car Sharing. So you’ve got sharing, the sharing economy, and you marry that with autonomous vehicles, and all of a sudden, do you need to own a car?



Does that phase you?


It’s fascinating and terrifying because we don’t know how it all is gonna pan out, how, how lucrative, you know, or profitable, you know, sustainably profitable it can be. Um, and…but we know it’s the future. And even though, you know, frankly, some of that stuff disrupts our core business of selling and servicing cars, we know that’s what customers want. So we’re gonna…we…that’s been our mantra for a hundred years. We follow the customer; following the customer, even at the possible expense of some of our business, but we know if we follow the customer, it’s gonna be successful in the long run.


Uh, what’s the fourth generation looking like?


Um, you know, we’re lucky. I think we have some really, really talented, uh, what we call G-4’s. The fourth generations. And, uh…


I didn’t know there was a nickname for it.


Yeah, there’s a whole…yeah, if you’re in the family business world, there is, you know, G-1, G-2’s, etcetera. But, um, no, we’ve got some really talented, um, people out there, and um, I think, you know, again, this was great counsel from another one of our board members, Warren Luke, runs a family business and he said, “You know, everybody in the family always worries about the family business, but you really have to worry about is, um, the business of the family.” You know, how do you make sure that, um, younger generations are constructive, engaged, uh, productive members of society instead of living off dividends.


You mentioned your daughter might be interested in going into the business?


Yeah, I mean, you know, I’m slightly biased here. I think she’s the best thing in the world. Um, and…


And you have one daughter. You’re…an only child, just like yourself?


I have one. Only child; I’m an only child, which, which could be horrible. But she’s actually a well-adjusted, giving, um, thoughtful, uh, unspoiled person. So uh…


And she’s a millennial.


She’s a millennial. Um, she, uh, graduated from b-school, just got out of Columbia, and is now working as a management consultant.


What was parenting her like as a, as a…when she was a child?


It, it, was, uh, uh, you know, um, completely unexpected. I, I didn’t know if I was gonna be a good parent or if even I was going to like parenting, and it turned out, um, that was the best…hands down the best thing I’ve ever done. I love being a father, and uh, and uh, it was incredibly rewarding for me on all kinds of levels, but it was also influential. I mean, I, I became a different person from being, um, from being, uh, an all-in parent. You know, I learn how to be tolerant. I learn how to be patient. I learn how to appreciate curiosity and encourage curiosity, and become more curious myself because of my interactions with her. Um, so she made me a better person, yeah. She’s, uh, she’s terrific. You know, like some other folks in the family, interested in possibly joining the family business.


And what if one of the G’s just could care less about transportation and cars but wants to do business? Then what?


Then I think that’s terrific. I think, you know, every business, you know…any business this long reinvents itself, and we’ve reinvented, you know. We didn’t…we don’t do, we don’t bake muffins anymore. We don’t build furniture. Um, so every business reinvents itself. And um, I’m sure we will do…the next generation will reinvent the business again.


One of the businesses in which Servco Pacific still has the controlling stake is Fender Musical Instruments, makers of legendary guitars used by rock and roll artists like the Rolling Stones and the late Jimmy Hendrix. In two thousand seven, under Mark Fukunaga’s leadership, Servco expanded its Toyota dealerships into Australia, which now account for half of its automotive business and its two thousand plus employee workforce. In two thousand eighteen, Mark was named CEO of the year by Hawaiʻi Business Magazine, and he continues to grow and innovate a sprawling and successful family business, founded for twenty five dollars in Waialua, Oʻahu. Mahalo to Mark Fukunaga of Honolulu for sharing his story, and thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaiʻi. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.


It-it’s about being a custodian, a good custodian. It’s not like, okay, how much dividends can we pull out of it? You know, and, and I think we all take the position that we…our identities are wrapped up in Servco, and that our role in the community is tied to Servco, so we better darn well be sure that Servco is a really good corporate citizen that does good things. Um, and we try to just…try to perpetuate that.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit pbshawaii.org.






COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi 5/21/20


This week’s live televised public affairs discussion about COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi on INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI looks at the re-opening of some businesses, under new guidelines. Is the State safely moving toward a new normal? Join INSIGHTS’ statewide COVID-19 conversation with Lt. Gov. Josh Green; House Speaker Scott Saiki; a representative from the Hawaiʻi Restaurant Association; and an infectious disease expert. You can phone in or leave us a comment on Facebook or Twitter.


More Information on COVID-19
Further Information on COVID-19: Programs, updates and resources


Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.




Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.


Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights




1 2 3 11