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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

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
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

 

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.

 

Some…

 

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.

 

[END]

 

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Paula Kerger

 

As the longest-serving President and CEO of PBS national, Paula Kerger oversees media content that’s distributed to more than 330 public television stations. Growing up in rural Maryland, Kerger had dreams of becoming a veterinarian, but in adulthood, found her calling in the nonprofit sector. In addition to reflecting on her childhood and career, Kerger shares her thoughts on leadership, finding your path in life, and navigating an ever-changing media landscape.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Mar. 29, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Paula Kerger Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

   

The greatest opportunities in life are when you take the risk. And I always say it’s, you know, akin to jumping out of an airplane. I’ve never done that by the way. But, you know, you don’t have to jump out of an airplane. You know, you can live a very happy life without doing that. But if you want the exhilaration of an experience, then you’ve got to be willing to lean forward and let go.

   

She’s the President and CEO of the national Public Broadcasting Service, PBS. Meet Paula Kerger, visiting from Virginia, 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. My guest is a fellow President and Chief Executive Officer in public television – on a much larger scale. Paula Kerger heads the Public Broadcasting Service, PBS. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, the national nonprofit media organization provides wide-ranging, high-quality programming for more than 330 locally owned public television stations, including PBS Hawai‘i. During Kerger’s tenure, PBS has markedly grown its audience and brought to American homes the blockbuster television series Downton Abbey on MASTERPIECE, The Vietnam War film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, and the educational children’s series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Kerger has headed PBS since 2006, making her the longest-serving CEO in the organization’s history. Before her grown-up ventures in public-service fundraising and educational media, Kerger spent her childhood in a country town outside Baltimore, Maryland. There, a special family member taught her a thing or two about responsibility and serving others.

   

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was a kid. I loved being outside. I loved animals. So actually, my first idea was that I wanted to be a veterinarian because I loved, you know, working with animals. We had dogs and cats. I had a horse when I was little.

   

How old were you when you had a horse? And that’s every – I mean this is a stereotype, but many, many girls dream of having a horse.

   

I think most girls dream of having a horse. And, you know, the thing was, my aunt had horses and I was very close with her. She and I are only about twelve years apart. So she in many ways was more like a sister to me. And, you know, so I rode from the time I was little. I have pictures of me probably, you know, a year or two sort of propped up on the horse behind her. And so every year, like for Christmas Horse was my Christmas list. That was actually all I asked for. And so I think I was like eleven or twelve, twelve maybe when I got the horse and I got the horse at that age because my parents felt that I was old enough that I would be responsible for taking care of it. And it was I think that, you know, I’m not suggesting every parent go out and buy their child a horse. And we lived in the country. I kept the horse at home. But every morning before I went to school, I had to carry heavy water buckets down to the barn and feed the horse, put the horse out, you know, bring it back at night, brush it and take care of it. And I think that kind of responsibility, I mean, you can do this with goldfish as well.

   

But I think, you know, whatever it is, I think that there’s something about having that kind of responsibility, particularly when you’re young. The other thing about horses that are interesting is that they’re really large animals. And there is – I think that especially for girls, it’s empowering. Girls develop deep bonds with their horses. I certainly did with mine. And both the freedom of being able to ride and, you know, to have this relationship with an animal that you’re not controlling in the same way that I think sometimes you might be tempted to try to control other things in your life. You develop mutual respect. And that’s what I think is also was really important in my relationship with my horse.

   

Did you name your horse?

   

My horse came with the name and his name was Raven. This was before the football team. But he was… he was really wonderful.

   

Can you see how that discipline and that relationship translated to your later life?

   

Yeah. I mean, I think I’m a highly responsible person. And I think part of that is you learn those lessons early when you have the responsibility of a horse or a dog or an animal or I mean, I don’t mean to put children in the same bucket, but when you have the responsibility for someone or something else, that has to come before you. And so, there were many afternoons that I would want to do something with my friends or maybe just stay inside and read or whatever. But when someone is counting on you or something is counting on you, that has to come first. And I think that’s a really important lesson to learn at a young age. That sense of something larger than me.

   

One of the biggest human influences in Paula Kerger’s life was her grandfather, who lived next door to her childhood home in rural Maryland. His diverse interests and skills set the stage for what would come much later for Kerger.

   

Grandfather was a professor. And so he was a scientist, but he was also a great artist. And I think that those two pieces of him really influenced me a lot.

   

Right brain, left brain.

   

Yeah, exactly. He really helped kindle my interest in science. He was a physics professor. And so he did a lot of work in microwave technology. In fact, he started the public radio station in Baltimore. And so I think my path into public media was perhaps destined because of his influence. But he also was involved with the local theater, and he was involved in all the tech work. But he was a great storyteller. Some of my greatest memories when I was a kid was sitting with him and he would just spin these amazing stories about make-believe stories about animals in the woods and all these other kind of things. And it’s just, I think it was probably one of the most fundamental formational things for me is growing up with someone that had that great creativity that shared that with.

   

I’m sure grandparents who hear this will be very pleased.

   

Yeah.

   

And your parents, what were they like?

   

My mother worked out of the home and my father was an engineer. And so, he also was very science-based. He was more of an authoritarian type. He went to the Citadel, which is the West Point of the South, for those that don’t know what that is.

   

Hardcore discipline.

   

Very hardcore discipline. And so I think that’s also where my grandparents actually then came in.

   

They were the refuge.

   

As I think is often with kids. You know, the parents are the ones that set all the rules and the grandparents are ones that bend them a little bit. But I grew up in a house where music was really important. We had a lot of Broadway show albums and we listened to music a lot and we were very engaged in the community. Both of my parents were very big volunteers. And so from the time that I was little, I was involved in everything from going door to door to raise money for the heart fund, to – my father was a football coach. And so, you know, I would – probably the most mortifying thing I ever did when I was a kid is when practice was canceled because of the weather, he would give me a list of all the boys to call to tell them they didn’t have to show up for practice. And most of them were about my age. And it was just mortifying to have to go through and call everybody at home and say, you know, to come to practice, goodbye.

   

That’s funny. Now, speaking of the make-believe stories your grandfather told, the schools you attended in that rural area also sound like a make-believe land.

   

I know.

   

Featherbed Lane Elementary?

   

I went to Featherbed Lane Elementary. It’s like, where did you go to school? I went to Featherbed Lane Elementary. And then Johnnycake Junior High.

   

Johnnycakes? Where does that name come from? Johnnycake Junior High.

   

Johnnycakes oh, or something – this all goes back actually to the – in the case of Featherbed Lane, I think that’s probably more Revolutionary War. But Civil War, you know, and Johnnycakes were something that were made that actually soldiers carried in their packs. And I think that, you know, people find them so unusual. But I think it’s a reminder that that part of the country, Maryland is one of the original colonies, has a very different history than Hawai‘i. And so I think part of even the names of those schools are reflective of a different culture.

   

And what was high school?

   

High school was a normal named high school.

   

Okay.

   

So I went to Randallstown High School, and Randallstown was the adjacent town. So that’s like a regular school name.

   

After high school, Paula Kerger’s love of science and animals inspired her to work toward becoming a veterinarian. But things didn’t quite pan out the way she wanted.

   

Veterinarian school, at least now – it’s harder to get into than med school.

   

Well, that is what happened when I entered college because I realized as I was applying to college that how difficult it was gonna be uhh, to become a veterinarian. So when I applied to college, I actually applied for pre-med. And I have an uncle that’s a pediatrician and I have a great, I think she must be a great aunt, who was a very early doctor. So I also had a little bit of that in my family and I thought, okay, I may not be able to get into veterinary school, but maybe I can get into medical school. I mean, how weird does that sound?

   

But anyway, so I started pre-med and I really loved it until I hit organic chemistry, which I failed. And I, you know, it’s the great leveler I’ve come to find out.

   

That’s so true. How many people have said that?

   

Yeah, organic chemistry. And then suddenly I was in an existential discussion in my head about my future. And I decided that I would take a lot of humanities classes because I was really interested. I loved from the time I was little, I’ve loved to read. And in fact, one of my earliest memories was getting my library card and my town was small. We didn’t even have a library. We had the bookmobile. And I remember going to the bookmobile. And you had to be able to sign your name to get a library card and practicing and practicing –

   

Ohh..

   

– so I could get my library card and then the whole world opened. And so I’ve always loved to read. So I took a lot of literature classes. I took some comparative religion classes and so forth. And it was, you know, it was just great. But then I thought, I’m going to live in my parents’ house for the rest of my life because there’s no jobs I’m preparing myself for. So, I went into business school and I’d been working. I started working when I was 16. My first job was at McDonald’s. And I’d worked through college and I’d worked for a group of banks. And I didn’t really think I wanted to work in finance. But I knew that if I had a business degree – I was really interested in marketing. And I thought, you know, maybe there’s some path and there’s some way. Graduated from school with my business degree, not a clue what I was going to do with my life. And I tell kids this all the time because I think a lot of kids think that you need to have your life planned out. And I was, you know, I had this now-checkered college career. All of my really difficult science courses at all colleges, electives. I had this, you know, I’d taken other classes that I think ultimately it’s funny, when I back up and look at my college life, I actually have a pretty well-rounded, you know, generalist degree based on all the things I did. But I started looking for a job. And at the time in the want ads and I mostly was looking for marketing jobs and I went on some pretty terrible interviews. And one day, I stumbled on an ad in the newspaper for a job working for UNICEF in Baltimore, which is where I’d grown up. And I went and interviewed for the job, was completely unqualified for a job. It was running their office in Baltimore. But the guy who interviewed me called me back and he said, you know, you’re not qualified for this job, but would you be interested in coming to Washington and working for UNICEF in our office there? And I took that job and it was just an amazing moment because I never realized you could work in the nonprofit sector. I thought that’s just something you did. I thought that you volunteered and you did these things to pay back. But it just never – I’d never really put the pieces together. There were actually people in those organizations that actually managed them and did the work.

   

Paula Kerger’s nonprofit career would take her to New York City, where she’d always dreamed of living. After working in fundraising at several nonprofit organizations, including the Metropolitan Opera House, she received a challenging and life-changing job offer – to head fundraising at the New York City flagship PBS station, WNET. At the time, the station was going through financial woes.

   

They had started a big capital campaign. Our station in New York had had a lot of difficulties. They’d gone through a couple layoffs. And I thought, you know, this is gonna be a very difficult job and, you know, all the other jobs I had interviewed, I knew for sure that I was going to be successful in it. And this one, I wasn’t quite sure. They’d had all these financial issues and it wasn’t- I wasn’t really clear that it was gonna be successful. But I think oftentimes the greatest opportunities in life are when you take the risk. And I always say it’s, you know, akin to jumping out of an airplane. I’ve never done that by the way. But, you know, you don’t have to jump out of an airplane. You know, you can live a very happy life without doing that. But if you want the exhilaration of an experience, then you’ve got to be willing to lean forward and let go. And you don’t get there by yourself. A lot of people help you. And I imagine that it has to be the most amazing experience. And you don’t have to ever do it again, by the way. But, you know, it also can change your life. And so for me, it was that job. You know, I took the job and it was really difficult. But it changed my life. I did that work for a few years. We raised a significant amount of money for the station. And then I was starting to think about, oh, I wonder what I might do next? And the then-president said, would you be interested in becoming our station manager? That was the second really risky decision for me because suddenly I was gonna be the boss of people that had been my colleagues. And that’s the hardest, I think, career change when you move into a role where suddenly you’re in a different relationship with people that had been peers. And it was really hard, but it was again, coming into public television was hugely important. That probably was the pivotal move because it was from that position that I actually got the call to come to PBS.

   

Now, there are very few people who run national organizations, especially those with a lot of constituencies. I mean, you have 330 or so public media stations that are members of PBS.

   

Yeah.

   

And then of course, there are politics and there are filmmakers. I mean, it’s daunting. I mean, I can just imagine people saying I could do this part of it, but not that, not this and not all at the same time.

   

It’s complicated. And I always say, you know, if you want a lesson in humility, run a federated organization, because that’s how we’re structured. I think a lot of people don’t understand PBS.

   

Essentially it’s a co-op.

   

Yes, it’s like a co-op we’re a- we’re a federated system. So every station is individual, locally owned, locally operated, locally governed.

   

And many fiercely local.

   

Fiercely local, fiercely independent. And the stations themselves, as you know, formed PBS as an opportunity to bring together the resources and create scale across the entire country to invest in programing and content that would enrich all.

   

So essentially they’re the bosses, but you lead them.

   

Right.

   

That’s unwieldy.

   

So a lot of responsibility, not absolute authority.

   

I mean the mission makes a big difference. But there are a lot of differences in how our 330 stations operate.

   

Right, and as people travel around the country and see different stations, you see that not every public television station is exactly the same, which is what makes it, I think, such an unbelievably important and rich organization because we are absolutely anchored at the local level. And I think of this station in particular, you do so much great work-

   

Thank you.

   

–that really talks about this community and the people that are here. And you’re able to do that because you’re from here. And the people that are in the station live here and are committed to making this community as vibrant and important as all the people that live here expect it to be. And that’s what our best public television stations do.

   

Your job right now is pretty much managing change – change in many aspects of the organization as you look at the country and media platforms and what people are interested in, how they communicate.

   

Yeah. We are right now in an extraordinary sea change in media as there’s so much change in the way that people are consuming content. And for those of our stations who have been very happy being just broadcast stations to be pushed to understand that, yes, people will watch programing on their television station, but they’ll also stream and they’ll also be able to acquire content in multiple ways.

   

The whole concept of broadcasting has vastly expanded.

   

It has been completely stretched. And so, to get people to agree that the world has changed and that we’re going to work together is complicated. And you can only do it if you build trust. And that’s why the job — I’ve been in the job 14 years, to be honest, because it has evolved so much. When I first took this job, Apple had announced that they were going to sell episodes of Desperate Housewives for $1.99. And you think about that now and it’s like, oh!

   

That’s just you know, that seems so long ago.

   

It seems so long ago.

   

No Facebook; Netflix was sending you discs in the mail. I mean, the world was completely different. And the fact that it continues to change to me makes this really exciting. And to encourage this whole generation of younger people that are coming into public media to really think widely about what we can be is really exciting.

   

PBS National President and CEO Paula Kerger says that being the head of an organization, especially one that reaches across the country and requires extensive travel, can be lonely. But she has support from a key person in her life.

   

You can’t be a leader and make everyone happy all the time. I mean, that’s the — and again, I talked to young people who are thinking about their careers or actually as I’ve mentored people that are making career decisions. You have to be really honest about what it means to be leader. It’s lonely at times because you- you are very much aware that the buck stops with you. You also need to make the right decisions for the organization. And sometimes those are very hard decisions, particularly when it relates to other people. But you also need to be compassionate. You need to listen really carefully. I think you need to be able to make decisions. I see leaders fumble because they can’t, you know, they need more information, more information. You’re never going to perfect information, but you need to be able to move with deliberate haste and be able to work with your team in charting a direction and provide that leadership.

   

What does it look like to be this national leader with all these constituencies and- and a personal life and you’ve got external stakeholders, you’ve got so many people within the system.

   

Look, I was a first time CEO when I took this job and I looked to people that I trusted, as I have through my entire career. Actually I still do even 14 years into this job, you would think, I know what I’m doing. I do think I know what I’m doing. But we’re always coming into circumstances in our lives that are new and different and challenging. And so I think what has made the biggest difference for me and I think has really also contributed to the richness of my life is that I look to people that I trust that I can talk to. My husband is one. He’s been my biggest proponent. Oftentimes when I’ve looked at jobs and haven’t been sure that —

   

Is he in education or media?

   

Well, he is a — he’s a writer, but- and he worked for Norman Lear years ago. But his advice is really more about me personally. And, you know, I think that many of us and I think unfortunately more women have a tendency to do this, is we hold ourselves back. We wait for someone to tap our shoulder and say, here, we want you to take this opportunity. Or we will tell you all the reasons why we’re probably not the right person.

   

As you did in that job interview.

   

Well I’ve done it at multiple interviews. Let me tell you maybe why I’m not the right person and not recognizing that no one interviews for a job that’s perfect in every way. And he is a, he has been a great supporter of mine, in part because of the way he was brought up. His father died when he was 5 and was left with six kids and her husband, it was a traditional family, didn’t let her work, and suddenly she had six kids and no money. And he tells a story which, you know, again, this is in our lifetime, Leslie. She worked overnights, so she’d be home to put the kids on the bus to go to school. She wanted to get a credit card and she went to the bank and they asked if she had an uncle or brother that could come and co-sign ’cause she was a woman and she was at the bank with her 10 year old son, and the bank officer said, I have an idea. My 10 year old husband cosigned a credit card so she could get her first credit card. He’s had that credit card ever since.

   

He signed as a 10 year old?

   

As a 10 year old.

   

They allowed him to?

   

Because he was a boy.

   

Ohh.

   

And so I think that, you know, when- and so when you come up like in that kind of story and you watch your mother really struggling to put food on the table and to keep the family together, it changes you. And he has been my biggest advocate because he looks at me and he looks at what I’ve accomplished in my life and knows that I don’t always get, even to this day, the benefit. I can’t tell you how many events I go to, and people say, oh let me introduce you to the president of PBS, and they shake my husband’s hand. Still to this day –

   

To this day.

   

– you and I both know this. And so I think that we’re blessed in our life. We have people that are our “yes.” And he has very much been my “yes.” So that’s probably the most personal story I can tell you.

   

And you’re always traveling or you’re often traveling. You have long work hours, but that still works for you. A longtime marriage.

   

Longtime marriage.

   

With your high school sweetheart.

   

With my high school sweetheart. And, you know, it’s like I prioritize my life. And even as much as I love my job, my husband does come first. And I think that, you know, again, I think about life is all balance. I believe that, you know, you have your professional life, which is important, but it is not your entire life. I think you have your personal life and your personal relationships, friendships, family. That is very important and that has to be cultivated. And it doesn’t just happen. I see a lot of people that get into trouble because they just assume family will always be there. You know, you have to nurture that relationship. Your physical self, I think is really important, and your community self what you give back. But I think that you don’t always have it in the equal balance. But I think all of those pieces are what makes a whole person. And when I finally leave this world, I want to feel like I’ve made this world a little better. Which was the- the “a-ha” moment when I got my very first job and I realized I could earn a paycheck and actually feel like I’ve done something that made a difference. And that’s really the core of me.

   

Paula Kerger, President and CEO of the national PBS, is gamely navigating changes of many kinds in the media industry—including technology and media formats, generational preferences, increasing polarization of opinions, and funding sources. She wants young people who are trying to chart out the rest of their lives to know that there’s no such thing as a straight-and-narrow life path. Life, she says, is truly a journey. In her words, “why would you close any doors?” Mahalo to Paula Kerger, visiting Hawai‘i from the East Coast, for sharing her story with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

   

So I was in umm, International House. I got a call one day umm, from a headhunter asking if I’d be interested in working at the Metropolitan Opera. Now, I love music. Didn’t really know a lot about opera, but I’ve always wanted to work in the arts and almost talked myself out of the job, you know, because when I went to the interview, I said, you know, I don’t really know anything about opera and I’m not sure I’m the best person for you to hire. This is not the way you should conduct an interview.

   

And how old are you at this point?

   

Oh, I was 30, I guess.

   

Okay.

   

And the guy that was interviewing me who was the head of development at the Met said, “Do you like music? Do you like opera?” And I said yes. I said, “I just don’t know as much as I’m sure other people that could be interviewing for this job.” And he said, “We don’t want fans at the stage door. We want people that are really serious and that really are interested in this work.” If one had asked when I was a kid, “What would I have thought my career path?” Working at the Metropolitan Opera? Of course not. I mean, that was just crazy.

   

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

   

 

[END]

   

 

 

FRONTLINE
Amazon Empire: The Rise of Jeff Bezos

 

Examining Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ ascent to power and the global impact of the empire he built. The film also investigates the darker side of the company’s rapid growth, and the challenge of trying to rein in the power of the richest man in the world.

 

 

 

Another “Highest Possible” Four-Star Rating from Charity Navigator!

Another “Highest Possible” Four-Star Rating from Charity Navigator!

CEO Message

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEO

I sometimes feel like Forrest Gump when I open my office mail. It’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.

 

Look inside and there may be notice of a snag in funding, a delay in expected tech equipment, or a demand for the retraction of a statement made on a television program not even carried by this station.

 

The other day, opening the mail was all joy – like finding a dark chocolate truffle, my favorite. Among the notes, viewer P.F. hand-wrote: “You have the best television programming in Hawaiʻi … Keep up the excellent work!” Viewer G.H. wrote, “You rocked my world with that NOVA special!”

 

And the sweetest chocolate of all in the mailbag: a formal letter from the head of the data-driven national nonprofit analyst Charity Navigator, informing us that we’d once again attained the best overall score possible – four out of four stars.

Charity Navigator: Four Star Charity Rating

“Only 32% of the charities
we evaluate have
received at least 2
consecutive 4-star
evaluations, indicating
that PBS Hawaiʻi
outperforms most other
charities in America.”

Michael Thatcher
President and CEO

The company’s President and CEO, Michael Thatcher, let us know that the company had assessed our financial health as strong. And we scored a perfect 100% rating in accountability and transparency.

 

Great news! It’s truly important to us to steward operations and funding, and to make forward-thinking, strategic decisions. I share the four-star news with you, because it is our wonderful donors and supporters who placed PBS Hawai‘i in this solid position. Thank you! We’re mindful that you voluntarily give to support our programming and services, and it fills the heart.

 

Our Board of Directors and Staff take nothing for granted. After all, each year brings to most nonprofit organizations headwinds of some kind – whether they be economic, programmatic, legal or political.

 

As PBS Hawai‘i greets the new year, we savor this moment in time, and feel profoundly grateful for our fellow Islanders and others who uphold us, as we uphold our non-profit, non-partisan mission.

 

And it’s a mission that’s better than the biggest emporium of the finest chocolates.

 

It speaks to building community and a stronger democracy. With your backing, we convene diverse voices, and share learning and discovery through storytelling that profoundly touches lives.

 

May your 2020 be full of health and happiness,

Leslie signature

 

 

 

What’s it Going to Take? Executive forum

What's it Going to Take? An executive forum on making life better in Hawaiʻi

 

What’s it Going to Take?

What’s it Going to Take? is an n ongoing community forum on making life better in Hawaiʻi. Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email, Twitter or live blogging. You may also email your questions ahead of time to insights@pbshawaii.org.

What’s it Going to Take?
An executive forum on making life better in Hawaiʻi

What's it Going to Take? - An executive forum on making life better in Hawaiʻi


Click the video above to watch What’s it Going to Take? on demand. Join host Leslie Wilcox for a live 2-hour conversation with top Hawaiʻi executives who bring detailed information and influence to help address deep-seated community problems. These executives are using detailed data* commissioned by the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation and combining their problem-solving experiences and influence to engage other sectors in a collaborative resolve to make life in Hawaiʻi better.

 

(Original airdate: Thursday, October 24, 2019)

 

Encore broadcasts of this program will air:
Sunday, October 27, 1 pm – 3 pm
Saturday, November 2, 8 pm – 10 pm

 

Hawaiʻi executives appearing on the program:

• Duane Kurisu, aio Founder, Hawaiʻi Executive Conference Chairman
• Catherine Ngo, President and CEO, Central Pacific Bank
• Bob Harrison, Chairman and CEO, First Hawaiian Bank
• Rich Wacker, President and CEO, American Savings Bank
• Micah Kāne, CEO and President, Hawaiʻi Community Foundation
• Colbert Matsumoto, Chairman, Tradewind Capital Group
• Jack Wong, CEO, Kamehameha Schools
• Elliot Mills, Vice President and General Manager, Aulani, Disney Resort and Spa
• Robert Nobriga, President, Island Holdings
• Ann Botticelli, Senior Vice President Communications and Public Affairs, Hawaiian Airlines

 

Click the link to learn more about the Change Framework: ChangeforHawaii.org

 

What's it Going to Take statistics: • Almost half of Hawaiʻi residents are barely making ends meet. • 6 out of 10 jobs pay less than a living wage. • 3 out of 4 people earning low wages still need housing. Source: Hawaiʻi Community Foundation

 

 

 

Patricia de Stacy Harrison, a National Public Media Leader, Visits Hawaiʻi

 

CEO Message

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEO

Patricia de Stacy Harrison loved growing up in her working-class, family-centered neighborhood in Brooklyn – it was loud and caring, engaged and opinionated. “You would talk,” she told me in her visit to Honolulu last month. “And then you would wait for your next turn to talk.”

That’s one piece of her beloved Brooklyn culture she needed to un-learn in adult life. She became a very good listener – as demonstrated in a successful Washington, D.C. public relations business that she and her husband owned and operated; as a diplomat serving under then-Secretary of State Colin Powell; and for almost 15 years as President and CEO of the private nonprofit Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

 

(Left) Getting ready for GET CAUGHT READING, PBS Hawaiʻi’s new read-aloud program. Her book? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (Right) With Miriam Hellreich, a Board Member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Hawai‘i resident; Leslie; and PBS Hawaiʻi’s Board Chair Joanne Lo Grimes

Getting ready for GET CAUGHT READING, PBS Hawai‘i’s new read-aloud program. Her book? A Tree Grows in BrooklynWith Miriam Hellreich, a Board Member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Hawaiʻi resident; Leslie; and PBS Hawaiʻi’s Board Chair Joanne Lo Grimes

 

She was in the Islands to tour and talk with PBS Hawaiʻi, Hawaiʻi Public Radio and Pacific Islanders in Communications. She also spoke at the East-West Center, and in Kona, Hawaiʻi Island, at the Hawaiʻi Executive Conference.

 

“‘Steward’ is a very old-fashioned word but an important one because it speaks to accountability.”

Pat Harrison
President and CEO, Corporation for Public Broadcasting

 

Her job is not easy to explain. A top leader in public media, Ms. Harrison doesn’t create or distribute media. What she does is steward the federal investment in public media for PBS and NPR stations and similar nonprofit organizations across the country. The goal is to open doors of learning and opportunity. The funds generally amount to about 15 percent of a public media station’s revenues.

 

“‘Steward’ is a very old-fashioned word but an important one because it speaks to accountability. And CPB is accountable to Congress and the American people,” she said.

 

(Left) Updating the PBS Hawaiʻi Board on national initiatives. (Right) Taking the podium with East-West Center chief executive Richard Vuylsteke.

Updating the PBS Hawai‘i Board
on national initiatives
Taking the podium with East-West Center
chief executive Richard Vuylsteke

 

The core pillars of public media are education and journalism – or as Ms. Harrison is quick to specify in these roiling times in reporting, “fact-based journalism.” The so-called “Three Ds” shape the Corporation’s funding choices: Digital innovation and acceleration; Diversity of stories, talent and perspectives; and Dialogue within communities and country.

 

Under Ms. Harrison’s leadership in 2010, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting provided vital seed money for a public media start-up far from Washington, D.C. It was PBS Hawaiʻi’s own HIKI NŌ vision of convening student voices! Since then, private donors have championed HIKI NŌ, and students across the state meet PBS journalism standards and excel at national digital media competitions. The program has become a pathway to Early College.

 

Ms. Harrison looks for ways to adapt and bring about positive change.

 

She recalls something that Sir Howard Stringer, then head of Sony, said to her:

 

“We all have to remember not to hang on to the status quo long after the quo has lost its status.”

 

Says Ms. Harrison: “I have been afraid of the dreaded status quo ever since.”

Leslie signature

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
They Did It Their Way

 

Long Story Short looks back on three previous guests who paved their own paths in life and followed their instincts, often against the grain of society’s expectations. Featured: Marion Higa, who spoke truth to power as Hawai‘i’s State Auditor; Kitty Lagareta (now Kitty Yannone), CEO of public relations firm Communications Pacific, whose career has been punctuated by a healthy dose of risk; and Kimi Werner, who gave up her success in competitive spearfishing to reconnect with the ocean in a more meaningful way as an environmental advocate.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 6 at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

They Did It Their Way Audio

 

They Did It Their Way Transcript

 

Transcript

 

MARION HIGA: At times, it felt almost personal.  But I didn’t take it that way, because it was my job.  And I always go back to the constitutional language; this is what the constitutional drafters expected of this office.  And as long as I’m doing that, then any governor can complain as much as they like.

 

KITTY YANNONE: I’ve had Democrats publicly won’t have anything to do with me. But late at night, when they need some advice, they call me, and they return my calls.  I’ve had media people.  I think when you’re a little more outspoken and they have a sense you’re authentic about it, they return your calls.  And you know what?  It never stopped me from doing what I do, with the utmost integrity and professionalism.

 

KIMI WERNER: All I just told myself is: I want diving to always give me that feeling that I had of bringing home those little fish, you know, on that first dive, and knowing in my heart that I was happy and proud of that, and that I felt satisfied with that.  And that’s the feeling that I wanted.  I didn’t quite know what type of path that would take me on, or how it would affect my career, but I just knew I wanted that back.

 

Marion Higa stood up to two governors to stop an auditing practice that she felt was inappropriate.  Kitty Yannone defied the local political system by supporting a Republican for governor.  And Kimi Werner was at the peak of her powers when she quit national spearfishing competitions.  They followed their instincts and their hearts, and they did it their way, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Sometimes, it takes an enormous amount of courage to do what you know to be right, when others want you to do otherwise, when it would be much easier to simply to go with the flow.  On this episode of Long Story Short, we revisit three women who have previously been guests on this program.  Each followed her own path, respectively refusing to give in to political pressure, community disapproval, or turning away from a popular identity that did not reflect her core values.

 

We begin with Marion Higa.  For almost two decades, she was the Hawai‘i State Auditor, investigating the use of State resources and exposing inefficiencies. She as unflinching when agencies criticized her, knowing she had a job to do, and believing she was representing the best interests of the people of Hawai‘i.  One of the highest visibility audits she performed was on the Superferry. The State government wanted the Superferry to be up and running as soon as possible.  But the community was divided in its support for the ferry. The State Auditor was called in to analyze the administration’s environmental review.

 

The environmental groups had challenged the lack of the EIS early enough.  I think it wasn’t completed by the time they started sailing because you might remember that the first ship was delivered. And I think Superferry was trying to avoid the timetable, and so they had planned to start service to Nawiliwili, again, because they could do that most easily.  And people in Kaua‘i jumped in the water and kept them from docking, so they never docked.  They had to turn around and come back.  Now, in the course of all of this, then the State had put up forty-two million dollars’ worth of improvements.  But because of the way they designed or had to design these improvements, and the sourcing of these materials, it could not be used, because they were not U.S.-sourced. That was the other problem.

 

What did you hear from the administration about that?

 

Oh, they objected, of course, to our findings, and had their own responses. But I mean, we could support our findings.

 

What was your recommendation? 

 

I think our recommendation was … well, first of all, the EIS; I mean, there was no question that they had to follow the EIS.  But I think eventually, we softened the recommendation, because there was the other court case that was still proceeding and was going to the Supreme Court.  So, I think we predicted that nothing be hard and fast decided until that case was settled. Eventually, the court came down, one could say, on the side of the environmentalists, and required the EIS.

 

How did you feel about the stinging rebuke from the administration?

 

I didn’t take it personally.  I mean, I expected it, because there was so much at stake.  And I understood that even the legislators, some of the legislators who had been avid supporters would be disappointed, at best.

 

Especially since they had put through a bill that allowed … it seemed it was written for a particular company, but general language was used, except the timeframe was so short that it looked like it was written specifically for the Superferry.

 

Yes; it looked like special purpose legislation, which again, is not permitted by State law.

 

And so, that was people you worked for who were on the other end of criticism.

 

That’s right.  And so, you know, they’re party to that process.  But again, it’s like: Well, that’s my job, I have to say it the way it is.

 

Even if it’s your job, and you say you’re doing it on the straight and narrow, what’s it like riding that wave, where basically are taking shots at you as you take that position?

 

You know, like I said, it’s my job.  This is what the constitution was intended for us to do, and if we can defend the work.  And so, the process seems so laborious, and it’s so careful.  There’s a whole system; it’s all electronic now, the working papers are electronic.  But there’s a citation system involved in our work, so every fact can be traced back to a source document.  And so, working for the Auditor’s Office is not easy.  You have to be very meticulous, and be able to defend your work. But as long as the overall conclusions are supported by this mountain of evidence, it’s all defensible.

 

I always used to think it was so funny when you’d come walking into a legislative hearing room, hearing about an audit of the administration.  I mean, how tall are you?

 

Four-ten; barely four-ten, more like four-nine.

 

Four-ten; and it was as if a towering figure were coming in, this shadow was entering the room.  Did you get that feeling, that’s how people were reacting to you?

 

Sometimes; yes.  Uh-huh; uh-huh.

 

And you wouldn’t back down, either.

 

No, because that’s not my job.  My job is to support the report, because that stands for our work.

 

Any memorable exchanges between you and someone else?

 

A few times.  I guess I was at … Ways and Means once, and I had a minority member ask me … hunched over the table like this, he says: Ms. Higa … who do you work for?  Who do you work for?  Ms. Higa, who do you work for?  And I said: The people of Hawaii.  No; who do you really work for?  The people of Hawai‘i.  What he was trying to get me to say was, I work for the majority party.  And that’s not who I worked for.  I said: The constitution says I’m the auditor, I’m the State Auditor, I work for the people.  So, he gave up.

 

Kitty Yannone, formerly known as Kitty Lagareta, started her professional journey as a volunteer fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House.  This eventually led to her present career as the CEO of a successful company offering integrated communication services.  Kitty Yannone is known for following her instincts.  She’s bucked public opinion, and risked her business.  One of her biggest risks was in ardently supporting a Republican candidate for governor.

 

I’d met Linda Lingle when she was mayor of Maui through some volunteer work with high school students that we’d gone over there to do, and I didn’t know her very well at all.  And she called one day and wanted to meet with me.  And my husband answered the phone, and he said: The mayor of Maui wants to talk to you.  I’m like: Why does she want to talk to me?  It was like, a Sunday.  I go: What does she want?  And he goes: Why don’t you talk to her and find out.  She asked if she could meet, and she was thinking about running for governor in a couple years.  This was maybe a year or two.  And so, I went and met with her.  I think I spent five hours asking her questions, and I knew nothing about politics. And she said: That’s okay, we’ll figure it out; it’s a big race, I need a communications person, I think you’re kind of a smart person.  And I’d volunteered on a couple political things, but nobody ever wanted to use that part of me they wanted me to stuff envelopes, which was fine, or do stuff which was happy to do, and it’s important stuff.  But I was kind of intrigued by having somebody want me to be involved in the strategic side.  So, I started helping her in ’98, and I immediately got calls from a lot of people around town, friends, parents of kids.  You know, if you’re gonna do politics at this time, it’s really kinda stupid to get involved with the party that has no power.  And I said: Yeah, but I like this candidate, and I really want to do this.  And I didn’t lose any clients; no clients said: I’m gonna quit.  They just, I think, were kind of bemused.  And Linda came within five thousand votes, and it was a huge learning and a wonderful experience for me, except for the losing part. But we all took it harder than she did. And before we had even let the dust settle, she was saying: We’re gonna do this again in 2002.  And I remember thinking: Eee, I don’t know.  But of course, I was onboard for 2002.

 

Had you suffered business-wise, advocating for her?

 

You never know what you don’t get.  I think once people realized she was a serious candidate, I certainly did, you know, I think.  And I tend to vote for people, and like people more than parties.  I don’t really feel connected to parties.  I’m sort of a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. And particularly during that time, it was like somebody had branded a big R on my forehead; she’s a Republican. And all that they equate with anybody of any political party is interesting.  And so, that was a new experience for me.

 

But you weren’t following the playbook of most public relations executives.  You were following your mind and, to some extent, your heart.

 

Yeah. You know, I believe in that, because I think a lot of executives, if they can, they do that.  And I just feel even when it’s a learning experience, having the experience makes me better overall.  And that was a learning experience.  And by gosh, in 2002, we pulled it off, and that was interesting. And I thought we were done.  That was the other thing, kind of still had naïveté, not having been in politics.  It was like: Okay, we’re done, I can go back to my life.  And I remember Linda called and she said: You know, I think you would be one of the people I want to recommend for Board of Regents.  And I remember saying: Oh, why that?  I mean, I don’t know.

 

Talk about political.

 

She had to talk me into it.

 

What you got into was a mire with the president of the University, Evan Dobelle.

 

Yeah.

 

And a very slippery situation.  And your expertise is public relations, but it was very hard to manage it. 

 

Yeah; and it’s hard to be in it and manage something.  I know that.  Therapists will tell you: I can’t do therapy in my own family.  When you’re one of the players in something, and everybody’s got their own opinion, you’re not the PR managing something then, I think.

 

And as the chair of the Board of Regents.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, I think there was a perception at some time that you were bungling it.

 

Yeah; yeah.  I actually thought I was.  I knew it was bungled, but I also had the perspective of there was a whole bunch of stuff.  You know, it was an employee-employer relationship between the Board and Evan. And there are certain laws you have to follow, confidentiality and things.  So, we were not in a position to say: Hey, we tried this, we did this. And I think the employee can say whatever they want pretty much, really.  And you see that over and over.  So, that was a disadvantage, and it was hard.  The other part was, you know, you will never know the effort we made to do it carefully.  And the sense, I think, that was there was that, I have this contract, no way you’re gonna get me out of it, and I’m not going anywhere.  And as time went on, I think it became clear the University was suffering, and we had to do something.  And in fact, our creditors told us that.  And it felt very bungled.  It felt like there were lots of pieces that you couldn’t control.  It was horrible watching the public perception of it, and knowing there was another story, but you can’t be the one to tell it. You’re the employer.  That was really rugged, I think for all of us. And yet, I found the decision we made to be the right one.  I’ve never regretted that decision.  How it unfolded and what it looked like on the outside; yeah, there was a lot of regret about that, but not the decision.  And I don’t think any of us did.

 

So, the right outcome.

 

The right outcome; and it really was.  You know, that’s the decision.  I mean, there were regents who quit because they didn’t want to go down.  They knew what needed to be done, but they didn’t want to be in the middle of all that.  And there were some amazing people who stuck around and said: This needs to be done for the good of our university.  And I think there is some vindication in what happened at Westfield College.  It’s pretty much what happened here.  That’s taken a different more public turn, I think.  But came many years later, but it was there, and we did make the right decision. And under David McClain’s leadership, we went on to have some finished capital campaign, move a lot of things forward at the University.  And I look at it that way and say: Yeah, there was some personal pain, and I could have avoided it, but maybe it wouldn’t have been the right people in the room to make the decisions that I think were good ones if all of us had done that.  I’ve never found discomfort to be an inhibiting factor.  I used to give a speech after—this was when they were saying: Fear is your friend.  I use it as like, rocket fuel.  When I feel that, it tells me to turn on all my senses and look at something carefully. But sometimes, it really energizes you. And maybe that’s what I get from my mom and dad.  ‘Cause my mom and dad, in their own way, overcame a lot of stuff in their lives, built a really nice life for them and their family, and still do.  And they had certain values, and it didn’t include being afraid, or being uncomfortable, being something that pulls you up.  Yeah.

 

I’m sure you had some sleepless nights over the regents matter.

 

Many; I think I didn’t sleep for like a whole year.

 

And that was okay with you, ‘cause you felt like you were doing the right thing?

 

I felt like we were doing the right thing, and I felt like, you know, sometimes that’s what they call—that’s what I consider when I see people go through that, and I do with my clients sometimes, who are struggling with hard decisions and want to do the right decisions.  And I think I’m grateful I’ve had that experience a few times in my life, because I think that’s what you call political courage.  I call it that when I see it in other people.  And when you’re in it, it doesn’t feel like any kind of courage; it feels like a nightmare.  But in the end, if something good came out or a group of people were able to come together to make something happen that was right or needed to happen, or bigger than they could do on their own.

 

What if it fails?

 

Yeah; it does.  I failed in ’98.  Do you know how many people wouldn’t even talk to me after ’98?  She’s the one who went to the other side, you know.  I lived through it.  I don’t know; I feel like I have to live in this world and do things that I think are important.  I can’t always defer to, that might hurt my business, or that may not.  Then I’d just be kind of a shallow person, I feel.  You have gauge with life and with issues, and with people, and the world you live in.

 

Kimberly Maile Reiko Werner, known as Kimi, is a roving ambassador for the American Clothes Company Patagonia, as well as a trained chef and self-taught artist.  She grew up in rural Maui, tagging along on ocean dives with her father as he hunted for fish to feed the family.  Unsatisfied with her early career choices, she started thinking that maybe her childhood pastimes could still be part of her life.  She learned to spearfish, became an accomplished free diver, and a national spearfishing champion.  Yet, despite the success and recognition she was gaining through her awards, she realized that spearfishing competition wasn’t the right thing for her, either.

 

You know, my first tournament, that first national championships, that was really special.  And coming back home to Hawai‘i was just the best feeling in the world, because Hawaii is just the most supportive, loyal, wonderful hometown, I think, that anyone could ever ask for, in my opinion.  And the way that people supported me was something that I just was so grateful for.  But I think after that, it was never quite the same, because I almost just felt like I just always had a title to defend.  I did continue to win in competing, but it was just never as fulfilling to me.  And I noticed that even when I would go diving, you know, on my own just for food, all I was thinking about was competition, and you know, I started to think of fish as points, rather than even as food.  And once I realized that, I didn’t like it.  I just realized it’s changing me.  You know, it’s changing this thing that’s so sacred to me.  It’s something that my parents, you know, taught me these values through this.  And it’s not about these values anymore; it’s really about trophies and winning, and recognition.  And this was the thing that really made my life fulfilling again.  Am I really gonna do this to it?  Am I gonna take it to a level where it’s all about, you know, chasing titles?  Like, I didn’t like that.  And so, just for those own personal reasons of how I found it affecting me, I did walk away from competition.

 

I saw you do a TEDx talk, and you said that even though you knew it was the right thing to do, it didn’t mean that other people weren’t very disappointed in you, and that you felt really bad about it, too.

 

Oh, definitely.  I mean, it was one of the toughest things I’ve done, because it was right in the peak of what could have been my career.  You know, I had sponsors now, and you know, people that believed in me, people that looked up to me.  And all of a sudden, I was just gonna walk away from it.  And it let down a lot of people, and definitely disappointed people. And for myself too, I mean, I did feel a sense of, you know, confusion, because I felt so lost.  I didn’t really know who I was without that.  It had become so the tunnel vision of my life, and pretty much, you know, everything that was confident-building seemed to come from that department.  It was the first time where, you know, my art started to sell more, because my name was out there more.  And it just seemed like it was something that was causing so much personal gain that for me to turn and walk away from it, I definitely felt like a loser.  You know, I felt like a waste of talent, and I felt like I didn’t quite know if I would like … you know.  I didn’t know the effects it was gonna have.  I didn’t know how much it would bum people out, or if I would just never be really supported again, really.

 

What happened, then?

 

It took me a while, actually.  It was probably a year where a lot of times I would go out diving, and all of a sudden, it wasn’t the same happy place it used to be.  You know, when I say I’m totally present in the moment, and those voices in my head go quiet, it wasn’t happening; these voices were just telling me that I was a loser, and I was failure, and you know, what are you doing, like why are you quitting.  And it was still, you know, looking at the fish as points, and so then, I’d have to get out of the water with no fish.  And then, I really would beat myself up.  Like, I’m not even good at this anymore, I can’t even dive ‘cause my mind’s all messed up.  And I got pretty depressed.  But through that, you know, I just kinda took some breaks from diving and whatnot. And then this one day, couple friends of mine like said: You need to get back in the water.  Like, let’s go.  And so, we all went out on our kayaks, and again, my brain was just still fighting itself, and I just felt like I wasn’t diving the I way I dive; I didn’t have it anymore.  And so, I’m like: Let’s just pack it up and go, guys.  I know what you’re trying to do, and I know you’re trying to bring me back, but it’s just not fun for me anymore, and there’s nothing worse than the feeling of actually being out here and it not being fun anymore, so I just want to go home.  And they said: Okay, let’s go.  But then, I said: You know what, let me just take one last drop.  And I put my spear gun on my kayak, didn’t even take it down with me, and I just took a dive.  And I had my two buddies, you know, spotting me from the surface, so it was safe.  But I just took a dive, and just told them to watch me, you know, took a dive.  And I got down to the bottom, and I just laid in the sand.  I just crossed my arms and I put my face in the sand.  And I laid there, and I let every single critic come through my head, every single voice, every single thing that I had beat myself up about, like, I just let it come.  And I listened to every single put-down, worry, concern, fear.  And they all came, one after another, and I just waited, and I just still waited, held my breath.  Okay, what else you got; give it to me.  You know, I just waited, and waited, and waited until there was nothing left.  And when there was nothing left, there was not one more voice that could say anything, you know, hadn’t already heard.  Like, it just went quiet.  And as soon as it went quiet, I opened my eyes and I’m on the bottom of the ocean, and I was just back.  I think the competition, and just more than that even, just the expectations that I was putting on myself.  And I think that can happen a lot with anybody who tries to turn their passion into a career; it can get quite confusing.  I think a lot of times, we go into jobs because we’re so passionate about our craft, and then before we know it, you know, we’re not really enjoying it anymore, and we’re going through the motions because we’re trying to hit these certain marks of society, whether it’s financial success, or I need that house, or I need that car, and before you know it, your own beautiful passion that kinda becomes this vehicle for living unauthentically, and doing things based on expectations that were never really yours to begin with, maybe. Because before, to me, it was never truly about like, oh, that moment when you spear your fish.  But it was the feeling that I felt when I would take a drop, and just the serenity that would come over me, and just this feeling of welcome home.  And when everything just turned quiet, and I was still there holding my breath, and I looked up and I just saw my two friends, and I saw the sun just sparkling through the ocean surface, and I just looked at the beautiful ocean and hear the noise, you know, the sounds of the ocean, and that was it.  I was like, that’s the feeling; that’s the feeling that satisfies me.  And soon as I came up, I didn’t even have to say anything; they knew.  They knew exactly what had happened, they knew exactly. And I smiled at them, and they were just like: You’re back.  And I’m like: I’m back.  And that was that.  And after that, then I just started diving for food again, and just realizing like that’s something sacred to me, and I’m going to protect it with everything that I have.  I’m gonna do everything I can to keep this pure.  Even if it means no success comes from this, this is mine.

 

Kimi Werner, Kitty Yannone, and Marion Higa followed their instincts and listened to their own voices to do it their way. Mahalo to these three women of Hawai‘i for sharing their stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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.

 

I still get approached by people, total strangers.  You know, I mean, it’s always complimentary.  I know it’s a curiosity.  I mean, I go into restaurants, and I know people recognize me. You can tell when you’re recognized.

 

And so, do they say: What did you really think?

 

Sometimes, people will say that.  But most of the time, people will come up and thank me for the work that we did.  So, I’d like to think that there were some good effects, for some folks, anyway.

 

Things that I have done that were much harder learning experiences than I anticipated. Ronald McDonald House was that way at times, and certainly Board of Regents, and getting involved politically. There are things in my company I don’t have a business background, and I’ve had to learn through trial and error, experience.  I wish I’d known more, but I came out the other side knowing it now, and I don’t regret much of anything.  I think, you know, I’ve had sad things and hard things, and it’s life.  And you know, as long as I keep getting up and experiencing it, I’m kinda happy.

 

I think by following that passion and really making the commitment to be true to my love for it, surprisingly, it did bring success, and just in so much more of a meaningful way.  Because now, it wasn’t just any sponsors that I was working with; it was sponsors and companies like Patagonia who truly hold the same values as me, who aren’t just, you know, trying to sell an image or, do what’s trendy, but really, really believe in trying to make this world better, trying to give back to these beautiful natural elements of our world.

 

 

 

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