Have We Changed?


The 2016 Presidential Election will be remembered for many things. The ongoing rancor that drove the energy of this election may be a force that’s here to stay.


What about us? Has the meanness movement reach our shores? Locally, issues like rail, homelessness and GMOs have created disagreement and division among Hawai‘i people. Real tension among families and friends. Dissent between island communities.


Our own political campaigns have become meaner and increasingly negative. Voter apathy is attributed to a loss of confidence and trust in our leadership and the political process.


Have we changed?


Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.


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




Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights


Why Vote


We all hear the reasons and excuses. But we’re in last place. CNN did a feature story on us and called Hawai‘i “The State That Doesn’t Vote.”


It hasn’t always been that way. In 1959, 93 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. In the 60s, voter turnout was consistently in the high 80 percentile. In 1974, we dropped to 79 percent, but bounced back into the 80 percentile during the 1980s.


The downward spiral started in 1996, when 67 percent of all registered voters showed up at the polls. Our all-time low of 52 percent was posted in the last General Election – the lowest voter turnout in the country.


So who are the conscientious, responsible, loyal citizens among us who will be counted in next Tuesday’s General Election?


On the next Insights on PBS Hawai‘i, we’ll hear from three of them: a millennial who has managed not to be disillusioned; a long-time believer in the process who has voted consistently throughout the decades; and a naturalized U.S. citizen who embraces the privilege of participating in America’s democracy. They’ll be joined by Colin Moore, political science professor at University of Hawai‘i – Manoa; Spencer Oshita, Editor of Ka Leo O Hawai‘i; and Wayne Yoshioka, reporter at Hawaii Public Radio.


Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.


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




Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights


Honolulu Charter Amendment 7 / State House District 34


Should the City and County of Honolulu create an Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency? Oahu residents will be asked to vote on that question which is just one of 20 Charter Amendments on the November ballot. Charter Commission representative Cheryl Soon will debate the merits of Amendment 7 with Libertarian and Downtown Neighborhood Board member Andrew Rothstein.


And it’s a 2014 rematch for State House District 34 covering Waimalu, Pearl City and Pacific Palisades. Two-term Democrat Gregg Takayama faces Republican challenger Jaci Agustin. Although Takayama defeated Agustin in the last election by nearly 2,000 votes, this rematch attracted national attention when the Republican State Leadership Committee named the race one of “16 in 16” races to watch across America.


Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.


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




Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights


Jim Henson


This biographical profile uses Jim Henson’s most memorable quotes to frame his life story. Follow Henson’s career, from his early television work with the Muppets in the 1950s to his commercial work, his breakthroughs with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, his fantasy films of the 1980s to his sudden death in 1990.


Queen Elizabeth II


This biographical profile uses Queen Elizabeth II’s most memorable quotes to frame her life story. We follow the Queen’s remarkable life, from her youth to her uncle’s abdication, her father’s coronation as King George VI, her experiences during World War II, her sudden ascension to the throne and her reign of more than 60 eventful years.


Lessons on Leadership


This special edition revisits conversations with Hawaii’s business and community leaders as they share their thoughts on leadership. Featured are: Maenette Ah Nee-Benham, the late Skippa Diaz, Glenn Furuya, Hokulani Holt, the late Daniel Inouye, Thomas Kaulukukui and Colbert Matsumoto.


This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Jan. 31 at 4:00 pm.


Lessons on Leadership Audio


Download the Transcript




I had my responsibilities as the platoon leader. And we had this code in the regiment; Don’t expect your men to go up if you’re not willing to go up. In the so-called book, the training book, it’s never led by the officer. Patrols go out. Scouts out, or something like that. The leader stays in the back. But in our code, as the boys would say, You go first, buddy.


Don’t ask anyone to do something—




—you’re not willing to do yourself.



The late Senator Daniel K. Inouye learned the intricacies and demands of leadership on the battlefields of World War II. He took these lessons with him into the world of government and politics, where he became one of the most powerful and influential leaders not only of our state, but of our nation. In this edition of Long Story Short, we will look back at some of our previous Long Story Short guests and their lessons on leadership, including how the nuances of local culture helped to shape their … leadership styles. Lessons on Leadership next, on Long Story Short.


Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Master navigator Nainoa Thompson defines leadership as “stepping up….knowing … the right thing to do,,, and making it happen regardless of the consequences.” Doing the right thing can sometimes require an extraordinary amount of conviction, courage, and the ability to inspire others. In this special edition of Long Story Short, we revisit some of the stories and challenges shared by Hawaii … leaders. We begin with Thomas Kaulukukui, Jr., Chairman of the Board and Managing Trustee of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, who, like Senator Inouye, picked up many of his first lessons in leadership on the battlefield.


I went into the Army in 1968.


You went to Vietnam?


I went to Vietnam for a year, 1969, ’70.


What’d you do in Vietnam?


I was a platoon sergeant in the paratroopers. Uh, did well in training, because I had the Kamehameha School ROTC background. And I ended up leading a platoon of men in … uh, basically jungle fighters.  Young men, at the time, uh, um, they’re like a pack of wolves. And they will do whatever the pack wants to do, unless there is an alpha wolf that keeps them on track. And um, if you’re not that person, they will get rid of you and get somebody else. So, you know, you really have to learn to step up.


Was there any particular event or moment when this all came clear to you, when you had any epiphanies over there?


Well, it was clear to me from the beginning. It’s uh, it’s—you know, when you’re with a group like that, it’s really clear. Uh, I’d never been in a fight in my life. I was in three fights in the first month I was there, because the men decided to test me. You have to realize, this is Vietnam War—


And you—


–and look at the way I look.




You know, I’m not a six-foot uh, uh, fair-skinned, round-eyed person. Uh, I was brought in to lead them, and I was obviously Asian. So I looked more like the enemy, than I did look like them. So it was an interesting experience, because um, I was in three fights with my own men, um, shortly after I got there, because they wanted to test whether or not I was tough enough to lead them.


And part of it was your culture?


Part of it was what I looked like. Uh, part of it was there was another leader there who they wanted, who had been there a month longer than I was, and they weren’t sure about me. So …


So you saw no—you had no—you had to fight. There was no—


Gotta fight.


–other way to do it?


Yeah. Fortunately, I was a black belt in taekwondo by then.


Before I got there, so without having to really hurt anybody, I guess they kinda … got some religion and said, Well, I guess he can beat up everybody else, so he’s all right.


We were someplace where uh, another unit got in trouble, and they called us and said, You need to go help them. Uh, there’s a battle going on, you need to go help them. And you need to get from Point A to Point B, right now. The trouble was, to go from Point A to Point B, you had to go between two hills. General rule, bad idea to go between two hills, because if the enemy is up on both hills, they’re gonna ambush you, and you’re gonna—you’re never gonna get there, you’re gonna be dead. So I called my squad leaders together. I ran a platoon of about thirty-five men. And I said, We have to go from Point A to Point B. They looked at the map, they said, We can’t go through there. I said, We don’t have a choice, because if we don’t go through there, by the time we take an alternative ro—route, our … people will be dead. So I gave an order. All the people kinda sat around, and they looked at me when they figured out where we were going. And they said, We’re not going. Now, think about the magnitude of that problem. Battle commander, give an order, people won’t go. Okay. Squad leaders, gave an order, they wouldn’t go. I tried to exhort them to move, they wouldn’t move, because … you know, the consequences were deadly. Uh, so finally, at that point, I got my radio telephone operator, made him saddle up, put on his backpack. I put my mine on. I said to everybody else, If you’re afraid, I’ll go save them myself; will fight this battle by myself. But you better hope I get killed, because if I’m not, I’m gonna come back and fix this. Off I went. Took the longest, slowest, smallest ten steps of my life down the trail waiting for—to hear if anybody else got up. And—and—and fortunately, I started hearing people getting up. They got up, and … they followed me, and off we went, and we—we made—we made it all right. Difficult experience, um … I’m not sure what would have happened if they didn’t follow. But one of the things I learned from that is, you gotta lead in front; can’t just tell people to go, especially if it’s difficult. You gotta be willing to pick up your rifle, put on your pack, and lead in front.


And be willing to go it alone.


And be willing to go it alone, if you have to.


So do you have a, you know, 25-word nutshell definition of leadership?


I have a … three-word definition, a three, word definition of leadership. My definition is that leadership is influence; nothing more and nothing less. If you have influence, and can influence, people and their thoughts, and emotions, and, actions, then you have leadership ability. That says nothing about your morality, because Hitler had leadership ability. But in—in a very … condensed, sense, I think leadership is influence. And—and learning to, influence in a positive way people’s thoughts, and emotions, and actions, were what—are the core of leadership, I think.


A wartime battlefield can shape leaders. So can growing up in a rural environment, where shared values help to create community well-being…. Colbert Matsumoto, born and raised on the Island of Lanai, is the Chairman of Island Insurance Companies. He also is a community leader in Honolulu, serving on … nonprofit boards in addition to corporate boards. Glenn Furuya, President and Chairman of Leadership Works, a leadership-training company he started more than 30 years ago, grew up in Hilo, on Hawaii Island. At the heart of the leadership style of each of these men is their understanding of local culture, and how being an effective leader in Hawaii can be very different from anywhere else.


Being local is not about where you were born. You know, it’s really about the kind of values, you embrace and the kind of philosophy that you use to guide your life, and the decisions you make in your life. So, there are many local people that you know, who were born and raised here that, you know, I don’t think espouse local values. You know. But on the other hand, there are many people that have moved here that clearly you know, the things that make, I think, Hawaii special resonated with them, which is why they chose to, come here and live here, and stay here.


This whole idea of local culture and what works; it used to be that certain positions in Hawaii guaranteed authority and respect. But that’s less and less true now; isn’t it?


Uh, yeah, I think that’s, definitely the case. You know, I think that you know, when I grew up which was when, you know, I think in the 60s, the plantations were still uh, very influential … forces in shaping our—our—our community. And there tended to be, you know, informal, leaders within those communities that people looked up to provide leadership. So in like the time that I grew up in, well, the principal of the school was, considered a very important figure. Some of the union leaders were considered important figures. Some of the, plantation bosses were also—




— looked up to as being, you know, important, community leaders. And so, um, people gravitated to them, and as they would in turn communicate, different, you know, projects or, concerns, you know, people would rally around them. And so, I think that those days have passed. I think that it’s harder to get people to align behind uh, different initiatives. In my experience, you know, run across, two different kinds of leadership. One—one is, implied leadership; leadership that is the result of the position that you hold. And most people fall into the category of having power because of, you know, the implied authority associated with them.   Whereas, you know, there are other people that, you know, have I think real power; a power that, you know, it generates from, they are able to assert themselves and the kind of vision and their ability to art—articulate concepts and ideas in a way that makes people feel like it resonates with them.


Definitely, you know, leadership requires a level of trust and confidence. It all starts from that. And if you don’t have the ability to engender the trust of the people that you’re trying to reach, you cannot lead them, you cannot convince them to move in any particular direction. That’s why, you know, great leaders have a certain special ability to engender that kinda trust.


You know, you have to be able to stick your neck out, because that’s how, you know, you progress. And, so asserting leadership involves taking risk, being willing to stand apart from the pack. And that takes a level of courage.


And so, you know, those kinds of leaders are fewer and harder to come by. But—but those are the kinds of leaders that I think exercise real, ability to move people, to affect change. And I don’t know why. I mean, it just seems that I don’t find as many of those kinds of people around as I think used to exist in the past.


I really do believe that the upbringing in Hilo— one thing it does is, you know, you’re humble. You you grew up humble.


Do you think humility … we prize humility—


M-hm, m-hm.


–in the Hawaiian culture—


M-hm, m-hm.


as well. But humility is seen as a weakness, other places.


Yes, it is. It’s viewed in many Western cultures as a weakness. But to me, I think that’s strength, when I can stand in front of my group and say, You know what, guys? I’m really sorry; I messed up, forgive me. You know, and just lay it out there. What’s the—what’s the alternative? What, blame people? Make excuses?


I do a lot of work on island style leadership, because I do believe it is a distinct and unique form of leadership. There’s this thing I call the same-same equilibrium; the same-same equilibrium. And it roots back to ahupuaa, where it was—society was an egalitarian society, where everybody in the society had a role, and everybody did their part. But all of the contributors within that society were viewed as equal, so everybody same-same.




Right? Okay. So, here’s the deal. Centuries later, the same-same essence mentality still is—is embedded in all of us. You’ve got to stay in this equilibrium, same-same. Everybody same-same, everybody does equal in their contribution. What’s very interesting is, whenever you break same-same, okay, and you think you’re—you act as if you’re better, right—‘cause if everybody’s same-same, then nobody’s more important or better than anybody else; right? But the minute you break it—and this is where a lot of times people who come from away, good people, they don’t understand this equilibrium. They break it. As soon as you get to this I’m better than you mentality, through your tone of voice, through your being too direct, not listening—




–showing everybody how smart you, the immediate response always is, Who the heck does he thinks he is? Who the heck does he think is? Immediate response.




And once that response comes out, you can’t lead in Hawaii. Who the heck you think you are? And they don’t tell it to you in your face. It’s—Hawaii is—


They just turn away.


I always say—




–to my leaders that I work with, Hawaii is the world capitol of passive aggressive behavior.


I do a lot of work with mainlanders coming down, to try to help them understand some of these little nuances of this place. Do not break the same-same equilibrium. Because as soon as those words come out, that question pops, it’s really hard to recover. The other thing with island people; they don’t—they don’t forgive. They—they take forever to let go.


The way I teach it is this. There are two types of leaders, Leslie. There’s circular leaders. These are people are who are very collaborative, they’re relationship-oriented, they’re kind, they—they really engage people.




Circular. Island people are generally more circular.




Okay. And that’s because in Hawaii, we’re a three-way blend of cultures. We are influenced heavily by Eastern culture, ‘cause in the 1940s, forty percent of the population of Hawaii was Japanese. So, heavy bushido code influence here.


The one element of the—the bushido code is this; you always operate from a sense of imperfection. You always come from a state of dissatisfaction. ‘Cause—


Oh, I didn’t know that.


Yeah. So, if you’re always dissatisfied, and you’re kinda imperfect, you always gotta work harder. You gotta try harder, you gotta study harder, you gotta go to school, you gotta learn. I never got praised by my parents; they never, ever praised, said, Good job, Glenn, won—you did a wonderful job. Nothing. And I think, bushido. They didn’t want me to get all big-headed and arrogant, and thinking I’m better than anybody else; right?




So, they kept—they kept it really, really restrained, the praise and things like that.




And yet, we’re all Americans; that’s the Western influence. We’re all Western educated folk. But at the same time, the host culture here is Hawaiian.




We have a major Polynesian influence. And there’s no place in the world these three forces come together like it does here in Hawaii. So, the Polynesian and the Eastern, Asian, right, give us the circular. We understand circular; that’s why people are so collaborative and warm, and aloha spirit, and ohana. Western culture is much more linear. You know, there’s the goal, here’s the plan, now do it. Now, move—


And if you have to run over somebody—




–to get there—




–it’s okay.




‘Cause that’s the goal.


Right, and there are a lot of island people who are just very linear, too. The biggest mistake you can make in Hawaii is take your linear approach, and slam it on the circular. Right? And then, that equilibrium gets broken. Who the heck does he think he is?


You’ve gotta be both. Circular, collaboration, involvement, build a relationship. But at the point of execution, we all gotta go linear; we’ve gotta get the job done.


I’ve always believed, Leslie, that whenever you impose things on people, when you just shove it in, you’ll get compliance. They’re gonna do it, because I’m afraid if I don’t do it, they’re gonna scold me or fire me, whatever. When you inspire people bottom-up—




–you get commitment. That’s real leadership.


Teachers are among our most important leaders. They have the power to influence and shape the minds of young people who will … become the next generation of leaders. Kumu hula Hokulani Holt, who is also the Cultural Programs Director of the Maui Arts and Culture Center, and Dr. Maenette Ah Nee Benham, Dean of Hawaiinuiakea at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Hawaiian Knowledge, are two such leaders. Their career paths are based on kuleana, the responsibilities handed down to them from their families and ancestors….


Hula has always been in our ohana. My grandmother was a kumu hula, she had seven daughters. Of her seven daughters, three became kumu hula. And of her granddaughters, first just me, and now my sister. And then of her great-granddaughters, my cousin Melia.


When did you decide you’re gonna be a kumu? Or—


Oh, I didn’t.


–did you decide?


I didn’t.


I guess that’s nothing you decide on your own, right, in the hula world?


Yeah, yeah; I didn’t decide. My mother decided for me.


She said, Well, I think it’s time for you to—to begin teaching. And I went, no, that—that belongs to other people, that doesn’t belong to me. And she said, No, I talked to your auntie, and I think it’s time for you to begin teaching. So I went kicking and screaming, but I went.


What kind of a kumu were you and are you?


I believe that I’m—I’m pretty strict. I hope to instill in my students a love for hula, but also a love for this place that we call home, and for all the many generations of people that came before us that created the—the chants and the songs, and the movements that we use. What a kumu hula is, is we want things our own way. And we demand that.


It is your world.


It is my world. I always tell my students, This is the world according to Hoku within these four walls.


And as a kumu hula, you get very involved in other people’s families.


Oh, yeah.


They become your family.


Oh, yeah.


So you’re privy to a lot of the struggles that—




–people go through.


Yes. You know, you get parents coming and saying, You know, my daughter’s not paying attention to school, Kumu can you please talk to her? Or, you know, someone’s marriage or passing; you get involved in your students’ lives, and it’s a good thing.


Halau provides, focus, it—it really gets you to appreciate every little thing, I believe. And halau is not only learning hula, but it also teaches you about yourself. How to push yourself a little bit more, how to think about the welfare of others within the halau, and then that translates to others outside of halau, how to practice or do Hawaiian values, because that’s what you must have in halau as well, how to get past pain and tired, and late hours for a goal that you would like to reach. So those are all life lessons also.


So you were possessed at an early age of a conviction you wanted to lead.






Because I was always told that I would. I was always told. My grandmothers— both my Grandma Ah Nee and my Grandma Padeken explained to me when I was very young about my name, Kape‘ahiokalani. And it is a name of—of one of my great-great aunts, who was a chanter in King Kalakaua’s court. And basically, what they said to me was that because I held this name, I had the responsibility of—of remembering the moolelo of our family, and I had the responsibility of contributing to … the health and wellbeing of my family. That was it. That’s what they told me. And … you know, I said, Okay. Because that’s what you do. Your kupuna tell you that, and you say, Okay, so what do I need to do?


And there are all kinds of ways to accomplish that too.


Yeah, there’s all kinds of ways to do that. And I just found this to be my journey, you know, in educational leadership. I just found that to be what really gets me excited, um, what really inspires me is—and it all started because um, in fifth grade at Koko Head Elementary School, Mrs. Kwon made me do flannel board stories for the kindergartners. And I loved it. I loved just telling stories, creating stories and telling them to young kids, and watching the light bulbs go off. So my first job was as a kindergarten teacher. What a great job, you know, where you get unconditional love every single day.


And I know you’ve said you always want to be a teacher.


I always—


No matter what else you do, or how you do it, you want to be a teacher.


Yeah. Always; always. And that came from the stories and teachers over the years. You know, and good leaders are great teachers.


The genius of leadership is living into grace. And it’s—it’s that—that idea of creating a space where people can feel really safe, even though you say the worst things. I want you to feel safe here, I just want you to feel safe. And no matter what you have to say, no matter how angry you are, go ahead, go and do that. And when you’re pau, let’s get to work. You know, cause otherwise, we’re not gonna get it done, we’re not gonna—we’re just not gonna do it. And that’s how I—that’s how I lead. You know. And I try really hard to listen; listen, listen, listen. And as I listen, you know, I try to move it back to the core issue, as you said. Ask more questions about how that has to do with the issue, keep moving it, moving it, moving it.


But sometimes, there is no consensus.


And sometimes there’s not.


And then you have to figure out—somebody has to call it.




This is not gonna be solved this way.


Yeah. And I do that. I do that too. You can ask the people who work for me. You know, it’s very open, we’re safe, we’re gonna talk about it, and this is how—this is the road we’re gonna take. I’m not afraid to do that. No; I’m not afraid to do that. It’s—it’s nice to know— I want people to know that everybody has a voice. You know, everyone has a voice. It’s a labor-intensive process, but everybody has a voice. And in the end, you know, there will be – everybody will know that there will be uh, a direction we’re gonna go. You know, and move on.


Because people want closure. I mean—




You can’t talk everything to death.


Yeah. In a microcosm, yeah, you know, we have a lot of diverse perspectives, but across the United States, across the globe, you know, there isn’t one way to do anything. But I do think that we’re reaching a time where there—there are more young people and young leaders who are seeing the promise and the potential of bringing together different groups, and really talking about hard issues, of renewable resources, about food safety, about education and wellbeing that’s very issue-oriented. And doing it in a way that is grounded in our religion, our stories. I think we’re ready at that point to do that, and I—I think that’s—that’s our work at the University to help prepare, you know, my community leaders to be able to do that.


I learned that, you know, you do good work. You have good intentions, you know. Doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how much I can tell you about what I wrote, or what I studied, or what whatever, right? What matters is that I have good intentions, and I work really hard, and I try to be fair in everything that I do. And I try to be kind, you know. And I—and I lead in grace, developing a space where people can feel grace and welcome, you know. And then, we’ll move forward. Ohana does not always mean that we are of the same blood, ohana means that we can agree on a set of principles and a mission for the work that we’re doing, and we’re gonna be innovative and entrepreneurial, and we’re gonna work together really hard to get there. That’s ohana.


Humility, trust, listening, fairness, influence… all important qualities that Hawaii’s leaders say are critical to good leadership. These are values that we can use in our own lives, whether it is how we act with our families, in our jobs or how we conduct ourselves in the broader community. Our closing words of wisdom will be from the late Skippa Dias, legendary football coach at Farrington High School in Honolulu.


Mahalo to our Long Story Guests who have shared their stories and insights with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha a hui hou.


I developed um, an acronym. And the acronym was spelled out HEART, H-E-A-R-T. And—and each letter represented a basic tenet and belief that … you want the other person to acquire and mind for the young kinds. And the word HEART, the five five words are H refer to humility, the ability to … you know, to … listen to another person and … bite your tongue if—if he’s saying something that’s different than what you want. But being humble is a quality that is really, really … sought after for a lot of people, but never acquire. But humility is a good one. E, education. That one was very, very significant in my family’s upbringing. A, attitude; a positive attitude, making sure that, you know, whatever the goal, whatever the project, you set yourself out to be positive and g—and get the darn thing done. R, responsibility. You gotta be responsible for all the things that you do, and sometimes for the things that your friends and your loved ones are doing. But being responsible in that manner has—has some beautiful connotations that—that grow from it. And then T, of course, stands for team.




Glenn Furuya


Growing up on the island of Hawaii, Glenn Furuya was raised by what he calls the “village” of Hilo. There, he learned the importance of hard work and building relationships, and saw how local values and humility helped build successful businesses. Furuya now channels these local attributes as he teaches leadership skills in Hawaii and around the world.


Glenn Furuya Audio


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We teach through a lot of protocols, rituals. It’s gotta be simple. ‘Cause I’ve come to realize that the simpler you can make it, the closer you are to universal truth. So, I play for simplicity, practical, simple. But this is really important; sticky. A lot of what happens in education isn’t sticky. I mean, nobody can remember. You can go to any one of my clients, and there’s a language out there; bowls, bananas, rocks. And finally, it has to be transformational. Why would I teach something that does not have the potential to transform someone’s life?


We’re all products of our upbringing; where we grew up, who raised us, the lessons learned along the way. Glenn Furuya has embraced his roots and his heritage, and applied them not only to his life, but to the lives and careers of leaders around the world. Glenn Furuya, next, on Long Story Short.


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


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Glenn Furuya has made it his business to teach others how to be effective leaders. He has presented his lessons to hundreds of businesses in Hawaii, throughout the Pacific Rim, and around the world. His distinctive style of teaching, incorporating local metaphors, nicknames, and playing for simplicity has become Glenn’s trademark. And while many of his lessons on leadership address complex situations, his practical messages are deeply rooted in the ethics of his parents and the community that raised him.


Leslie, I grew up in Hilo, Hawaii. Went to public schools there, started my career there. Went to University of Hawaii Hilo for a year or so, before transferring to Manoa. But, Hilo roots.


And what was your family like?


My father was a salesman for Fred L. Waldron & Company. He sold Kraft cheese, Kraft dressings, and he went around the island selling those products.


Did you ever go with him to see how he sealed the deal?


Yeah; every once in a while, he’d take us. But it was a very relationship-oriented type of sales. It was not, you know, hard selling. So, they all became friends, and when he’d go to these places, it’s basically taking orders. You know, and some of the stores that he’d go to were the tiny, little stores. Like, I remember one in Waiohinu, Kau. And the owner there, his name was Jack Wong Yuen, Wong Yuen Store. They became very, very, very, very good friends in the process.


Oh, that was a big circuit, going all the way there.


And like, once a month, he’d get in his car, and he’d go right around the island selling his products.


And was he a born sales guy, he loved making the sale?


Yeah; my father was more of a relationship type of guy.


So, he liked making them happy.


Yeah. And, you know, just knew how to build a friendship. And it was through that friendship that the sales came. So, that’s where I kinda learned early on about relationship selling. It’s not necessarily about the hard core type of way of doing things.


And what about your mom? Tell me about her.


My mom, was a clerk in a store in downtown Hilo. It was called Star Sales & Service. And she worked there for maybe thirty years. And in her fifties, the owner of the store passed away. And so, my mom decides that she wants to start her own store, so she started a little, small store. My mom had a passion for things Japanese. So, she created a store called Panda Imports. It was like a mini, mini Shirokiya.


Oh …


All Japanese products, food, music, et cetera. And my mom, she didn’t graduate from high school. Very intelligent woman, became very successful. She ran the store successfully for over a decade before she passed it to my brother. Hilo was a very, very interesting place to grow up. You know, very, very humble beginnings. A lot of the beginnings were in sports. Leslie, I lived right next door to the Boys Club of Hilo; just right next door. So, we were constantly at the Boys Club, playing baseball, football, shooting pool, having fun. So, a lot of my time in my youth was there. And I also was pretty active in Boy Scouts. My scoutmaster took us camping every month, so we went to every little nook and cranny corner of the Big Island, from Waipio Valley to the top of Mauna Kea.


Really outdoorsy stuff.


Yeah; yeah. So, between Boys Club and the Boy Scouts, I had a fun youth.


It sounds like a lot of relational stuff, like your dad did.


Yeah. I think when you grow up in a small town like that, where everybody knows everyone … I’ve always believed that behavior is a function of social and systemic context. So, I grew up in this context that sort of shaped my behaviors, but if you look at Hilo people, we’re pretty similar. There’s a way about Hilo people. And I was very, very blessed to be brought up in that environment. So, it was a place where I had to behave myself, because if I didn’t, before I got home in the afternoon, somebody was gonna call my parents, and then I would be disciplined [CHUCKLE] for having done whatever I did. So, it was this very interesting place.


The village raised you too; right?


It was the village that raised us in Hilo.


There’s one expression you use, and it’s very traditional, and it goes back generations in your family. And many Japanese families have this as something that guides them.




What is that?


I believe it is this concept called okage sama de; I am who I am because of you. And I really believe in that, that because of my parents and the sacrifices they made the discipline they gave us, the love that they extended, I think that made me who I am. But my grandparents also set a phenomenal example for me of hard work, diligence. You know, okage sama de. My father is a crusty, old Japanese man; he was more of a disciplinarian. He spent a lot of time with his friends, but my father, I am extremely, extremely proud of. He never really expressed much love, but he was a member of the 100th Battalion. And you know, if you think back to the prejudice, the hatred, the discrimination against people of Japanese ancestry because of the Pearl Harbor situation, and yet, these young men at that volunteered to fight for the American army, and all this hatred, and their families are sent to internment camps.


And everything was taken from them.


Everything taken from them, and yet, they had it in them to go to war, fight for America. And they come back the most highly decorated military unit in entire United States military history. There are two words that I really—another Japanese thing that I learned in my growing. One word is the word gaman; the other word is ganbatte. Those two words. I have little rocks on my desk, and one is gaman, one is ganbatte. Gaman is just, whatever happens, you just gotta be strong; you just gotta suck it up. You just gotta be patient. Ganbatte is, man, whatever you gotta do, you just go for it, man, just full-on move, go, get it done. You know, my father’s group; they exemplified those two qualities. Gaman; all that prejudice, all that hatred, right? Called names, and yet, they sucked it up, they said, That’s okay, we’ll show these people we’re Americans, and we’ll fight for America. Then they pulled out the ganbatte, go for broke and come back the most highly decorated military unit in entire United States military history.


And your father was one of the very decorated. What did he win as a medal?


Well, he wasn’t highly decorated, but they recently were awarded a couple years back the Congressional Gold Medal. You know, because of that okage sama de, I am who I am—I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging or anything, but I always had this thing in me that whatever I did, I just wanted my parents and my grandparents to just be proud of what I did, in whatever I endeavored to do. I’m sorry, but that was kind of the driving force in my life.


Whether they were alive to see it or not?


Yeah, yeah. Right. Just do what you can to make ‘em proud.


For Glenn Furuya, the road to doing what you can to make ‘em proud started on his family farm, preparing for a career in agriculture. But Glenn realized that his heart wasn’t in it.


Did you have a sense of what you wanted to do when you grew up?


You know, it was an interesting journey. I really didn’t have a real clear idea. We had a family farm; my grandparents, who came from Japan as immigrants, were able to buy eighteen acres of farmland, so they had this farm, and every weekend, we’d go there and work on this farm; mac nuts, et cetera. You know, hard work. So, initially, I thought maybe agriculture, go into agriculture, become a horticulturist or something like that. Um, but then …


That cured you. [CHUCKLE]


Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Working on the farm.


No; what cured me was my first year of college, I took this horticulture class, and then we had to grow plants, and there was vermiculite and whatever things are that you grow plants in. And we had to go care for ‘em on weekends and things, and I just didn’t like that. And I also had an issue; to get a degree in agriculture, I had to have a foreign language. And I just couldn’t pass second year German; it was just too hard. So then, I had to kinda maneuver and figured, okay, what am I gonna do? So, I decided to switch my major to education, and got my degree in ed.


You are in education now, but a different kind of education. How long did you stay in the Special Ed education?


I was there for eight years. And those were very good eight years. You know, today, I work on leadership, I teach leadership today, is what I do. And those eight years taught me how to lead. That was a very, very interesting experience. I challenge all the people that I work with; try it sometime. You know, just try it for one hour; special ed classroom, sixteen kids. And in those days, it was self-contained; it was kids with mixed disabilities. And you’re in this room all by yourself.


I can see it as a lesson in management.


Oh, absolutely.

But leadership, you’re saying?



Which is different.


Yeah. I think there were two elements there. Classroom management was number one. You had to keep these kids in order, clearly defined rules, people following the rules, managing that environment. The leadership came through the requirement to inspire these kids. You know, these were seventh, eighth, ninth graders; they came from disadvantaged communities, most of them single parent homes. They couldn’t read, they couldn’t write, and you know, defeated in the spirit. And the leadership part was to try to encourage these kids, inspire them, to just give them some hope that, you know, life can be good for them, and they can find success.


How did you do that?


I felt that the greatest gift I could give these kids … and it was not easy to deliver this gift, was to teach them how to work. Because unfortunately for many of them, they’d end up in the kind of labor jobs, custodial job, you know, the simpler clerical jobs. So, I figured if I can help them and teach them how to work, and how to be a good worker, they could sustain themselves, you know, through a career. Those days, there was a lot more flexibility to what teachers could do in the classroom. And I decided that, you know what, if I’m gonna teach them to work, I need to have a business within which they could work. So, my classroom was right next to the teacher parking lot. So, I thought, I know what the business is gonna be; I’m gonna have these kids polish the teachers’ cars, form a business, and charge the teachers for polishing their cars and cleaning and vacuuming; right? It gave me an opportunity, therefore, to have these kids be a participant in an organization. They could learn things like customer service, productivity, quality of work.


And there’s detailing and then, there’s broad-brushing.


Absolutely. You know, teamwork. But the way I set it up was—and this was part of the management side of the equation. In the mornings, if they studied hard, they followed the rules, they behaved themselves— ‘cause there were a lot of behavioral issues. Okay? Then, they could go out in the afternoon when the classroom got really hot, and work in the car polishing business. And they all wanted to get out of that classroom. They they actually liked polishing cars. [CHUCKLE] So, I’d take the proceeds and I’d reinvest back in the kids. So, we would go camping, we’d take them to Special Olympics, we would give them treats, we’d even do steak fries. Right in the middle of campus, we’d cook steak, and the the whole school could smell the steak. We had so much fun.


While Glenn Furuya was working at a special education teacher, he also worked part-time at KTA Super Stores, a locally owned grocery store on Hawaii Island. At the time, KTA was beginning a period of transformation from a small country mom & pop market to a modern day supermarket. Glenn found himself in the middle of that transformation.


After eight years, I left. I went to the market, KTA Super Stores, grew up in Hilo, and I went there to work fulltime.


What did you do there?


I was sort of an assistant to the president. I worked for a very, very enlightened leader there. His name was Tony Taniguchi. And he was just a remarkable, remarkable man. And I was sort of an executive assistant type person. He allowed me to facilitate the meetings of the executive team, I ran advertising, kinda participated in the strategy.


And you had a lot of leeway?


Yeah; he gave us a lot. Tony was the kind of leader; he would give us an assignment and give us some space to do what we had to do. Very encouraging, but he’d also invest in us. He gave me an assignment to work on developing supervisors, but he told me, You know, go to whatever training you need to go to. He also told me, You gotta join Jaycees, though, and you have to join Jaycees ‘cause they have these courses in the Jaycee movement where they teach you how to lead. So, I did all those things. I have a lot of aloha for Tony; he did so much for me in my career. I started to think about in my head, this duality. In the market, I was learning systems, and how important systems were to transform an organization. Okay? ‘Cause you had to have systems to deliver the results. But in the classroom, I had to really understand how do you engage people who hated you. They didn’t want to be there, they were somewhat disgruntled, and they were defeated. They had defeated spirits. Then it dawned on me; what if you could create an organization that did both, that had systems that could transform it, like we were doing at the market, but you really knew how to take care your people in the process. What if those two forces came together; what would happen?


Were there examples of businesses that do that?


At that point, I started to research a lot. And one of the first books early on that came out was this book, In Search of Excellence. The first attempt to try to define some of the patterns of the most successful companies. And I began to read these things. I says, Wow, a lot of the patterns I’m seeing show up in this book. So then, I started to read, like read a lot, just research a lot, trying to figure out these patterns, will they work? It ended up in a mantra that I came up with. The mantra was, if you want results, systems make it possible. People make it happen, though. You still need people. Somebody’s gotta do the work. The third element I discovered was, leadership is the key. Leadership is what pulls it all together. Because leadership develops the system, and leadership has to grow the people; right? Without those two, it won’t work. So, that’s where my initial thrust came from, you know, philosophically and theoretically, from that combination of elements.


I feel a move coming from KTA Super Stores.




So, you left the stores at that point to develop your leadership practice?


Yeah. I spent two years fulltime. I left teaching; I resigned. Went to the market for about two years, and then—this was thirty-three years ago, I left the market and went to start my own consulting practice. Which I’ve been very, very blessed with wonderful, wonderful clients. Large companies, small companies; these are special people. I owe everything to them.


By now, Glenn Furuya had learned lessons from his parents that had been passed down through generations. He’d observed how the residents of Hilo worked and communicated with each other, and


saw how a business could grow through his experience with the late Tony Taniguchi. It was time to share what he’d learned. In 1982, Glenn Furuya founded his own consulting company, Leadership Works.


The way I teach it is this. There are two types of leaders, Leslie. There’s circular leaders. These are people are who are very collaborative, they’re relationship-oriented, they’re kind, they really engage people. Circular. Island people are generally more circular. Okay. And that’s because in Hawaii, we’re a three-way blend of cultures. We are influenced heavily by Eastern culture, ‘cause in the 1940s, forty percent of the population of Hawaii was Japanese. So, heavy bushido code influence here. And yet, we’re all Americans; that’s the Western influence. We’re all Western-educated folk. But at the same time, the host culture here is Hawaiian. We have a major Polynesian influence. And there’s no place in the world these three forces come together like it does here in Hawaii. So, the Polynesian and the Eastern, Asian, right, give us the circular. We understand circular; that’s why people are so collaborative and warm, and aloha spirit, and ohana. Western culture is much more linear. You know, there’s the goal, here’s the plan, now do it.


And if you have to run over somebody to get there, it’s okay.



‘Cause that’s the goal.


Right. So, in answer to your question, a lot of times … and there are a lot of island people who are just very linear, too. The biggest mistake you can make in Hawaii is take your linear approach, and slam it on the circular. Right? And then, that equilibrium gets broken. Who the heck does he think he is?


We’re talking as if leadership is a position. But it doesn’t have to be.


You know what I say? It’s more of an essence. It’s about being fundamentally a good person with solid values. It’s more almost like a way of life, and you gotta live it first. We always emphasize in our organization or at Leadership Works, you gotta be able to lead yourself first. And if you can’t lead yourself, you cannot lead anybody else. We always teach it this way. That life will present you hot water; boiling hot water is like difficulty, problems, trouble, pain. It’s whenever hot water comes your way, you have three choices. If I took a carrot, a raw carrot, and I put it in the hot water, and boiled it for fifteen minutes, it’ll come out soft, mushy, break apart; right? Is that who you are as a leader? You going be a crybaby, a whiner. There are a lot of crybabies out there. Second option; take a raw egg, put it in the hot water, fifteen minutes bubble and boil. Pull it out, hard-boiled; right? Second option in life; you can be an angry, bitter person. You can go yell and scream at people; second option. So, what we try to teach is that you have a third option. What if, in the hot water, you put some tea? Just like your tea there.




And stir it up, and all of a sudden, the hot water became a flavorful drink. We call it flipping. You gotta flip it; right? You go make tea.


Are you a carrot, or an egg? Or can you be a cup of tea? A personal tragedy in Glenn Furuya’s life made him look at his own life through the lessons he had shared with so many business people.


Let’s talk family. You mentioned your wife is your business partner. Can you tell a little about family stuff with you?


Oh, family things. Yeah; I have, actually, two families. The first family was from my first wife, who unfortunately, passed away from cancer. So, I have three adopted kids from Kathy. And my second marriage with Debbie, I have the one child I talked about who works on Wall Street today. So, that’s the family. I have three grandchildren; one here in Honolulu, Kiki, and two in Texas, Elijah and Kaila.


Did your first wife die at a young age?


Yeah; she was in her fifties. That was quite tragic. She was a teacher for almost thirty years. Very hardworking, good woman, and went to the doctor, found out there was a tumor, ovarian cancer, and passed about a month after that.




So, you know, it’s very interesting, Leslie. Like, as I teach many of these concepts, I kinda can personalize them. Like, remember the hot water?




That was hot water, man. That was like, painful, and that was hard. But three choices; right? I can be a carrot, I can be an egg, be angry at the world, angry at God, angry at the docs. I could turn into a depressed crybaby, or flip it and go make tea; right? And so, you notice people always criticize clichés. In my opinion, you know when you’re in the moment and you’re struggling, the cliché comes in really helpful. ‘Cause I kept telling myself, Got three choices here. Which choice you’re gonna pick?


You sound like you’ve had some really interesting life experiences, too, having three adopted kids. Are they related, or are they separate adoptions?


Yeah; separate adoptions. Two from Korea, and one local.


Babies, you adopted?


Yeah; they were young, they were very young. I think the oldest that came was maybe about nine months. The rest were like, two and three months.


So, it really makes you stop and think of what is family, and choosing family.


Sure; absolutely. Yeah.


And then, of course, when someone passes away …




You don’t have the right of choice.


Yeah, yeah. No; it’s tough. So, you know, there’s still ramifications from Kathy’s death. I mean, people grieve in different ways, and you know, still struggle with some of the fallout from that. You know. So, it’s not been easy. That’s the thing about my job. It’s hard sometimes, because you try to teach people the right way to do things, you know, I’m not perfect; I can’t be this perfect, god-like person.


You don’t feel very inspiring when you’ve just lost your life partner.


Yeah, yeah. It’s hard, and so, you know, you’re gonna break down, you’re gonna react in maybe sometimes negative ways. And so, sometimes, you feel like a hypocrite; right? And so, that’s the hard part of the job, ‘cause I am not perfect. I don’t do all these things that I teach, I fail many times at home, and with the kids. But you know, you just gotta get back up and keep moving along; yeah?


Well, that’s the authentic part you were talking about.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it’s not easy. Life is not easy at all, you know.


And you did remarry.


Yes. Got remarried to Debbie, who really, again, has made a big difference. Yeah.


While Leadership Works is a business, Glenn Furuya takes his job personally, and takes the most pride in how his simple ideas have changed lives.


Back in our office, I have, I think, eight binders; thick, thick binders. And they have page protectors inside. For the thirty-three years I’ve been doing business, I saved every thank-you letter, thank-you email, thank-you card I ever got. And it’s like stacked full, eight binders full. So, if I ever get discouraged and think that our work isn’t making a difference, I go back to this binder and read the poignant stuff in there, man. Like, whoa. A couple days ago, Debbie looked into, I think it was Yelp, to see if anybody ever Yelped us; right? And she found an entry. And it was from a young woman named Carly Tsai, and and she wrote how the course really transformed her life. And Carly is a really cool young woman, came to class, was just totally focused. I wasn’t sure if she was getting it, because she was just so, like, focused; right? But later on, I talked to her mom, and the mom told me how Carly really changed, and other people have told me that it really made a difference. And then, she gave me a personal testimony. So, it’s not me, Leslie; it’s just that after forty years of collecting this wisdom and sharing it, I know the stuff works. It can help people. It can change lives. And so, Debbie and I are dedicated, along with our third part of our triangle, Terry Uehara, and we work very closely together to continue to just share this information. Because we know it can help people.


In 2012, Glenn Furuya received the Kalama Award from the Rotary Club of East Honolulu for inspiring excellence in business, and service to the community. When Glenn received the award, he accepted it on behalf of his late mother for teaching him the true meaning of giving and service. Mahalo to Glenn Furuya for sharing his story with us; and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.


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.


My grandparents were all Buddhist. And at every funeral, they’d read that White Ashes piece. Though in the morning we may have radiant life, in the evening, we may return to white ashes. So, it’s about the impermanence of life, how life is very transitory. It just so hit me, hearing it four times when you’re at a funeral; you’re all sad, you hear the White Ashes being read. It made me realize, we only got one shot here. We got one shot.





Finding a Calling in Leadership

Leslie Wilcox, President and CEO of PBS Hawaii

Of all places, it was a special education class on Hawaii Island where Glenn Furuya, then a public school teacher, found the kernel of a new career in leadership training.


“Those eight years taught me how to lead,” he says.


I’m always interested in hearing how people found their way to their calling. Rarely is it a straight trajectory. Furuya, born and raised in Hilo, became a respected leadership trainer and executive coach with a wide range of clients in Hawaii and around the world.


Furuya says, “I challenge all the people that I work with: Try it some time. You know, just try it for one hour – special-ed classroom, 16 kids. And in those days, it was self-contained, kids in different grades, different disabilities, kids from disadvantaged communities who were defeated in spirit.”



In his next job with Hilo’s best-known grocer, Furuya picked up insights during the journey of the Taniguchi family, which was transforming a mom-and-pop market into a supermarket chain, KTA Super Stores.


Watch Glenn Furuya on Long Story Short. He’ll explain how he galvanized those dispirited special-ed students and what he learned from the late local-style leader Tony Taniguchi.


Glenn also shares his observations about leadership in our island state. Our host culture is Hawaiian and we have a heavy Polynesian/Eastern Asia influence. He said these cultures tend to produce “circular” leaders – inclusive and collaborative. We’re also Americans, and Western culture tends to prize linear leadership – performing tasks and getting the job done.


“The biggest mistake you can make in Hawaii is to take your linear approach and slam it on the circular. Right? Then, that equilibrium gets broken,” Furuya says.


“Real” leaders employ both approaches, he says. “They combine circular preparation with linear execution.” They work with people on buy-in and support, and their organization delivers results.


Hope you enjoy this program and another new Long Story Short episode this month, with Frank Padgett, the brilliant and sometimes abrasive Hawaii State Supreme Court jurist and a former prisoner of war.

Thomas Kaulukukui Jr.


Part 1


Original air date: Tues., Feb. 8, 2011



Part 2


A Legacy of Public Service


Thomas Kaulukukui Jr.’s dedication to public service was inspired by the examples set by his parents, aunts and uncles who were teachers, counselors and coaches in the community. His father, Thomas Senior, was an educator, United States Marshal and an Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee. He was also a standout college athlete and the University of Hawaii’s first All-American football player. As an athletic coach he left an indelible mark on hundreds of young men and was a prime motivating force behind his own son’s positive approach towards tackling the challenges that life had to offer.


The values imparted helped shape Tom’s character and served him well in the jungles of Vietnam, in the classroom and football field, in the role of Circuit Court Judge, and now as the managing trustee of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust which assists orphaned and destitute children of Hawaiian ancestry.


Thomas Kaulukukui Jr., Legacy of Public Service Audio


Download: Thomas Kaulukukui Jr., Legacy of Public Service Transcript


Original air date: Tues., Nov. 2, 2010


On Leadership


Thomas Kaulukukui Jr., On Leadership Audio


Download: Thomas Kaulukukui Jr., On Leadership Transcript




Well, I learned that people are all alike. They expect from their leadership a high level of character, they expect competency. And when things get really tough, they want to look at the leader and understand that the leader is gonna do their best to pull them through the really difficult times.


Former State Judge and managing trustee of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, Thomas Kaulukukui Jr., and a life of community leadership; next, on Long Story Short.


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


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. grew up in the Honolulu valley of Kuliouou as the son of a Hawaii legend. Despite the father’s small stature and slight limp, he became Hawaii’s first all American college football player. He was a humble man, a fine coach, and a State and Federal public official who quietly brought people together. What do you do when you live in the shadow of a great man? What Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. did was, learn from him. And now, this proud son looks back on his own long and dedicated service in the combat zones of Vietnam, in the classroom, on the football field, in the courtroom, and as a leader of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, which assists orphaned and destitute children of Hawaiian ancestry. All along the way, he has embraced the values he learned at home, from his mother, and from his father, who was known and respected almost everywhere he went in Hawaii.


When he passed away about three years ago, some people came up to me and said, Your dad was a great man, he passed away at the age of ninety-four, you’re Thomas Kaulukukui Jr.; how do you feel now about stepping into his shoes? And my answer was, I don’t have any feeling whatsoever of uncertainty about that. My dad trained me all his life to be Thomas Kaulukukui. I’m Junior, but now I’m Thomas Kaulukukui. And I feel fine about that. Interestingly enough, people have asked my children the same question.




How does it feel to grow—


So that’s—


—up in that house?


—a good thing, right?


Yeah; so maybe it’s a good thing.


And do you think they’re challenged by that, or do you think they just take that in stride?


I think, like me, they take it in stride. I mean, that’s the good thing about having those models in your family. If they’re good models, they become part of your life.


Did your dad ever talk with you about mistakes he made, in the hope that you would not make them?


Not very often, although, most of us knew about his life. He, like everyone else, I’m sure, made mistakes. But he didn’t dwell on them. That’s another positive thing about his leadership training, is he didn’t dwell on mistakes. He just moved forward, and tried to make himself better. And he was very competitive, but he wasn’t so concerned about beating other people. He was really concerned about improving himself. And that’s one of the great lessons I learned.


You grew up in a great old valley, Kuliouou.


You should know it well.


[CHUCKLE] So did I. And you lived in Kuliouou when it was a farm valley, before the development of Hawaii Kai was—


That’s right.


—ever maybe even conceived.


Right. That’s when Lunalilo Home Road held farms, pig farms and watercress farms. And Lunalilo Home Road was the end of the Earth, because the next thing was Waimanalo. But it was a great place to grow up. We lived way back in the valley. Everybody knew everyone else. If you did anything wrong, your neighbor would probably spank you and send you home. And therefore, you tried not to do anything wrong, because everybody knew everyone. A wonderful place. And I didn’t leave there until I went away to college.


And you must have gone to a lot of football games, ‘cause your dad was seriously into football, and he was a coach.


I was going to football games by the time I was five or six years old.   I have memories of standing on the sideline while he was coaching, and watching a whole herd of large football players headed towards the sideline, and having one player look up with horror on his face, ‘cause he was about to kill the coach’s son. And all the bodies flew over me, as they got out of the way. And that’s the way I grew up. I was the water boy for the football teams that he coached. He coached at, of course, University of Hawaii, he coached at Iolani, he coached in the Hula Bowl. And I spent many, many hours down the lower reaches of the old Honolulu Stadium.


And you would see him sketching out plays, right?


At night, he’d sit up at the kitchen table, and not only sketch plays, but he’d take the black and the red checkers, and he glued a cork to each of them as a handle. And so, the—




—red checker would pull around the end and block the black linebacker.




And then, he’d write it down. So, I watched that growing up.


Were you a good athlete?


Probably for my size, I was all right. But I was small. I always told him he should have married a big Hawaiian woman. He married a—




—a small Chinese woman. I would say that I was competitive in nature, and more competitive probably, than skilled.


And so, you went out for all the sports?


I went out for most of the sports that I played until in high school, we had a really terrific—I was at Kamehameha School. We had a terrific football team. By then, I had discovered surfing, so I spent most of the time surfing after that.


Did you know what you wanted to do at an early age?


No, of course not. Nobody does, and I didn’t either. As a matter of fact, I graduated a year early at Kamehameha, and was set to go to college somewhere. And I remember the last night, I went surfing, and didn’t want to come home. ‘Cause I didn’t really want to go to college. Especially since college was Michigan State University, where it snowed and it was cold.


And who had decided that?


My dad had a lot of friends at Michigan State, so it was something that I agreed to do. I got used to the cold, enjoyed it. People were really nice to us. It was the mid-60s, it was the last time Michigan State University really had its glory years. There were two national championship football teams, and one of the big reasons was because my dad was the scout for Duffy Daugherty, the coach, and the Hawaiians reigned up there. In fact, one game, I think it might have been Penn State, all of the points were scored by Hawaiians, so the Detroit Free Press had headlines the next day, sports section said, Hawaiians 13, Penn State 3. It was the first time that Hawaiians, I think, left here and made their name in sports in a school like the Big Ten. So I really enjoyed it. And after college, taught a year in Michigan. I was a PE major—I met my wife there. We were married right after college, and while I was teaching, I came home one day. The Vietnam War was on. So I came home one day, and she was standing in the doorway, crying, with this long envelope that had United States Selective Service on it. And I had been drafted. So I went into the Army in 1968.


From 1968 to 1970, Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. served in Vietnam as a platoon sergeant with the paratroopers. It was in the jungle of Vietnam that he cultivated some of the leadership skills that would stay with him.


Well, I learned that people are all alike. That no matter where they come from, they have the same primary motivations. They want to be respected, they want to be kept safe. They expect from their leadership high character, a high level of character, they expect competency. And when things get really tough, they want to look at the leader and understand that the leader is gonna do their best to pull them through the really difficult times.


And you had all those things going for you?


Well, if I didn’t have them, I learned them. Because another thing about being in battle is that young men at the time, they’re like a pack of wolves. And they will do whatever the pack wants to do, unless there is an alpha wolf that keeps them on track. And if you’re not that person, they will get rid of you and get somebody else. So you really have to learn to step up. I’d never been in a fight in my life. I was in three fights in the first month I was there, because the men decided to test me. You have to realize, this is Vietnam War—


And you—


—and look at the way I look.




I’m not a six-foot, fair-skinned, round-eyed person. I was brought in to lead them, and I was obviously Asian. So I looked more like the enemy, than I did look like them. Part of it was, there was another leader there who they wanted, who had been there a month longer than I was, and they weren’t sure about me.


So you had to fight. There was no—


Gotta fight.


—other way to do it?


Yeah. Fortunately, I was a black belt in taekwondo by then.




Before I got there, so without having to really hurt anybody, I guess they kinda … got some religion and said, Well, I guess he can beat up everybody else, so he’s all right.


That’s good. And you’ve continued to do martial arts all of this time.


Yeah. I started when I was nineteen, and I continue to do it. There is a philosophy in martial arts, which mirrors the philosophy of almost any great philosophy. And the main tenets are the same; balance, discipline and self-control is important. Competency, practicing competency is really important. The development of one’s character is very important. Treating people fairly is very important. But all of those principles are the same principles that I’ve been taught outside of martial arts. But I enjoy it because it allowed me to be a little bit physically active, it allows me to teach and continue to transmit that information to people. It allows me to develop in people … strength. Because martial arts develops strength of character, it develops courage, which I think is really important.


How does it develop strength of character?


It develops strength of character, because it teaches you, among other things, how to deal with inequities and power. As I told my kids, two rules in life; never hit anybody smaller than you; second rule, never hit anybody bigger than you. Okay. Knowledge in both sides. So it develops strength of character, because it teaches you to deal with the self-discipline that you have to have in interactions with people, and to stay your hand. When you want to … you may wish to strike out, you have to learn to stay your hand. And that’s self-discipline, which is one of the primary principles of character. If you’re well trained, your demeanor, the way you carry yourself, sends a message to somebody else that maybe you’re just not the right person to beat up today.


Were you different when you came back from Vietnam?


I don’t think anybody can go to war and come back, and not be different. My mom said to my wife, I’ve lost the part of my son that was easygoing, and that laughed so easily. And I think that’s true. But time kind of heals that, and some ways, being different is not good, and some ways, better different. And for a lot of our veterans, they’re going to face the same challenge of trying to take a difficult experience, and find the good parts in it.


Your platoon had a saying, didn’t it?


Well, my—


Something inscribed that—


Yeah, my platoon leader had a inscription on his helmet that said, For those who have fought for it, freedom has a taste the protected will never know. Which I thought was a really interesting thought about having to go to battle for your country, or for the ideals of the country, and really having a sharp appreciation for what it means to do that. And that’s why veterans tend to be kind of a different lot. Kinda like putting on the uniform for your football team. You played, and you’ve sweated, and you’ve sacrificed for it, and some people have died for it. So a couple of things come out of that. One is a love of country, in the sense of the value of loyalty and service. And the other thing that comes out of it is, you tend to hold your leaders to a high level of responsibility.


Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. would become a physical education teacher at Kailua High School in Windward Oahu, and he coached wrestling and football. Then in 1974, he enrolled in law school at the University of Hawaii. With his wife Joyce, he had three children, and the Kaulukukui family struggled to get by on money from the GI Bill, and from the job that Tom worked twenty hours a week while going to law school fulltime. Three years of hard work and sacrifice ended with a plum entry level job in law, clerking for Hawaii’s Chief Federal Judge, Samuel P. King.


First of all, he had a great wit, so he was a Federal judge, so he was appropriately dour when he needed to be, and serious when he needed to be. But there was a certain lightness that he added to proceedings. So he had a great wit, and was a funny guy. He was a funny guy. He was a great jurist; meaning that he was terrific in terms of his knowledge of the law, and how to apply it. He was a very pragmatic man. I remember there was a case once, where there was a union election, and one party brought an action in Federal court to get an injunction to keep the other candidate from badmouthing him in the union papers and everything else. And I remember that Judge King said, This is not the Kahala PTA, this is a union election; if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Which I thought was a very pragmatic way of looking at things.


And he was full of those pronouncements from the bench.


He was full of those pronouncements.


In this very lofty, beautiful—


He had a card—


—stately courtroom.


He had a card that said, The greatest lawgiver since Moses.



And the lawyers would come in and ask to see him, and knowing that they were out there, Judge King would bellow to Rebecca, his assistant, Find out what they want, and tell them that they can’t have it.




Interesting guy.


Did you incorporate any of Judge King into your persona?


Well, eventually, I became a judge, a Circuit Court judge. And the first thing I did was, go to see Judge King to get some good advice. One of the things he told me is, You gotta outwork the lawyers, otherwise they’re gonna run rings around you; you have to be better prepared than they are. And so that’s what I tried to do during my term on the bench.


What’s foremost in your mind when you’re a jurist?


To make sure that the process runs fairly. As Judge King and others have said, the only thing that stands between the accused and tyranny is the judge. The requirements are really high, and I was always aware, as most judges are, that you have to make sure that the process runs fairly. It’s like being an umpire. Things have to run fairly. However it comes out, it comes out. And for a while, I was a motions judge on the criminal bench. And I remember suppressing evidence of drugs that was brought in by one young man in his luggage. But the search was illegal. So once I suppressed the judge and granted the motion for suppression, there was no case. So as they pounded the gavel and I was leaving, the man stood up, and he was so relieved, young man. He called out, Thank you, Your Honor. And I remember stopping and turning around and saying, Don’t thank me, it’s not personal, thank the constitution.


Did it frustrate you to know that sometimes, it was a matter of, yes, procedure and protection, but on the other hand, sometimes that covered a multitude of sins.


Sometimes, it did cover a multitude of sins. It never frustrated me, and it doesn’t frustrate good judges, because that’s their job. Their job is to make sure that the protections are upheld, because without it, none of us is safe. I think the judge’s role is to make sure that justice is done within the framework of the law, and I am convinced that the framework of the law, if it is a living law, mirrors our life experience, and that its standards should mirror the standards of the changing society. I think it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, The life of the law lies not in logic, but in experience. And so, the law should not, in my mind, be completely logical if it runs afoul of common sense and experience. And that’s how case law is made. Judges look at things, and all of a sudden, you’ve got a principle that has changed, because a judge has decided in the light of their experience, in light of the community experience, something just needs to be changed a bit.


Did you get reversed at times?


Yes, I did get reversed. But an appeals judge once told me, he said, If you don’t get reversed, it’s because you’re not making decisions.


Did you enjoy being a judge?


I loved being a judge.


Okay; well, here again, you left the judgeship.


Yeah. But I love what I’m doing now.


Judge Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. left the bench after five years in 1993 to pursue a role in advancing the health of native Hawaiians. Well, at first, he turned down the position at the Queen’s Health Systems. What changed his mind? A bumper sticker.


My dad retired from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. He and I both helped with the investiture ceremony of the new set of trustees the following year. On the steps of Kawaiahao Church, an elder came to me and said to me, Junior, your dad is retired and he’s one of our leaders; when is it that you’re gonna step up and help your Hawaiian community? And I thought about that. So I thought about that, and over New Year’s, I got in my car to go to the aikido dojo to teach aikido, and old truck drove past me from Waimanalo. The doors were barely hanging on; it was all rusted out. And as I pulled up behind it, I saw a bumper sticker, and the bumper sticker said, Eddie Would Go.




Eddie Would Go. And I looked at that, and I thought, Well, there it is. Eddie would go, Eddie went; Tom is going. So the next day, I went to work, and I wrote a letter to Governor Waihee and said, I think I have another calling, and I’m leaving the judiciary to do it.


What did you do at Queen’s? You were vice president.


I was vice president of community affairs, and my main job was to help work on programs, foster programs that improved the health of our Hawaiian people. And I did that for five or six years.


And did you enjoy that job?


I loved that job.


Okay; and so why did you leave that job? [CHUCKLE]


I left that job, because Monsignor Kekumano, who was one of the three trustees at the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, passed away. And when the remaining two trustees considered a replacement trustee, somehow, my name came up. At about the same time, we were thinking about reorganizing at the Queen’s Health Systems, so I thought it’s a good time to leave, so I did leave. I left there and went to the Trust in let’s see, 1998. And I’ve been there ever since, and currently, I’m the chair and the managing trustee.


Tell me what the Trust does.


The Trust was founded a hundred and one years ago, last year was our centennial, by Queen Liliuokalani, in order to care for orphaned and destitute, poor Hawaiian kids. They are eighteen years old or younger, although, in special cases, sometimes we carry them over the age of nineteen. Every possible misfortune that you can think of has befallen some of these children. Some of them are orphaned when one of their parents commits suicide. Parents quite often are the victims of violence, in many cases, domestic violence. They are functionally orphaned by parents who end up in prison, and cannot take care of them. They may have one parent who is not in prison, but who is incapacitated as a parent by drug use, or by illness. Everything you can think of has happened to them. And so, they come into our fold, and through nine different children’s centers, which are really run by the Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center—that’s the program side, we try to take care of them. We do community programs which help improve the lives of these kids in many, many different ways, hundred and fifty different programs. Our budget is about $17 million a year. We charge not one cent for every program that we run, so it’s the function of the trustees through the lease of lands and the management of an investment portfolio to raise money for these endeavors. Most of these kids are remarkably resilient; remarkably resilient. It amazes me sometimes, what they’ve gone through, and how they can overcome it, or at least cope with it. And what they really need is, they really need to have one really caring adult. Now, whether that’s the chairman of the board of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, or their grandfather, or a social worker who works for us, that can make all the difference in the world.


Do you end up being the person who’s the adult in their life that—






Well, we try to go to about everything that we can go to. And for example, when we went to that hospice camp up in Kona, I had the opportunity to sit next to a fourteen-year-old girl whose father had been killed in an automobile accident. Only fourteen years old; she was kinda now helping take care of her brother. And we had a chance to talk. And then, finally, that evening, I gave a class on music and grief. I like to play music. So I sang a song. I said, This is a song for my father. I had him all my life. Some of you lost a parent early. But it doesn’t really matter, ‘cause grief is grief. I miss him just as much as you’re missing your parent. So I sang a song, and it was kind of a sad song, but it remembered my dad. And when I was through, that fourteen-year-old girl came up and sat next to me, and she kinda put her arm on my shoulder. I said, I wasn’t sure I was gonna sing that song, but after I met you today, and I knew you lost your father, I sang that song for you, as well as for my father. And she put her hand on my shoulder, and she went, I know.




So the child has a nurturing—they have the ability to nurture also. And they understand. If they understand what the adult is going through, that you are—Hawaiian would say, paa, that you are together. You’re pili, you’re close together.


Here, you’ve gravitated to a calling, where it’s not all very comfortable. You’re dealing with kids who’ve been so subjected to pain, and difficulty.


Yeah; it’s not surprising to me. That’s why I became a teacher. My dad loved children, and he loved to coach and teach children. And from what I observed, the greatest victories in that area came with the kids who had the most to lose, and who had the hardest life. When the light goes on, it really goes on with those kids. So I believe that I’ve been lucky, that every part of my career that I have pursued, I’m meant to be there, and I was trained to be there.


So, is this the position that you’re gonna keep for a very long time, or—I know you’re enjoying it; does that mean you’re about to leave? [CHUCKLE]


No. [CHUCKLE] That’s a good question. No, my plan is to stay here for the near future. Eventually, I’ll retire from this job. I don’t expect to retire from life. There’s probably something else out there for me; I just don’t know what it is yet.


Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. is a leader’s leader. He has influenced other people of influence. In addition to his work with the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, he enjoys teaching leadership skills to young people of native Hawaiian ancestry. Mahalo piha, Thomas Kaulukukui, for sharing your long story short, and thank you for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


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


What kind of leadership did your dad have? Was it leadership by example, or did he sit you down and give you lessons?


Mostly by example. Rarely did he have to sit me down, or anybody down, to give lessons. If you saw what he did, you wanted to be like him. I’m sixty-five years old. I still want to be like him when I grow up.


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