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EAST LAKE MEADOWS:
A Public Housing Story

 

Learn the history of East Lake Meadows, a former public housing community in Atlanta. Stories from residents reveal hardship and resilience, and raise critical questions about race, poverty and who is deserving of public assistance.

 

 

 

JULIA CHILD:
Best Bites

 

Celebrate the first lady of cooking with Martha Stewart, Jacques Pepin, Vivian Howard, Marcus Samuelsson, Jose Andres, Eric Ripert, Rick Bayless and more. Chefs and celebrities share personal insights as they screen Julia’s most-beloved episodes.

 

 

 

MISTER ROGERS:
IT’S YOU I LIKE

 

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the pioneering PBS series that premiered nationally 50 years ago, is an enduring landmark in the world of children’s television and beyond. Hosted by Michael Keaton, this commemorative special features Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Kratt, John Lithgow, Yo-Yo Ma and Esperanza Spalding, along with and neighbors “Handyman” Joe Negri and David “Mr. McFeely” Newell.

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
Mandatory Vaccinations for Hawaiʻi School Students

 

What do parents of schoolchildren need to know about the new vaccination requirements? These new rules apply in the next school year to Hawaiʻi students heading into childcare or preschool, kindergarten, seventh grade and college. Also, any student entering school in Hawaiʻi for the first time, no matter what age, must comply. Are there exceptions? Join the conversation on Mandatory Vaccinations for Hawaiʻi School Students on INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI. You can phone in or leave us a comment on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lopaka Kapanui

 

“Chicken skin” storyteller Lopaka Kapanui grew up around old Hawaiian legends and ghost stories from his family, and says he’s always been sensitive to spirits. In the 1990s, he was introduced to Oʻahu’s original “chicken skin” storyteller, Glen Grant, and his ghost tours. Since Grant’s passing in 2003, Kapanui has taken up the local ghost story mantle with regular tours, books and community events. Kapanui views his job not just as entertainment, but also as a way to communicate and educate.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Mar. 1, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Lopaka Kapanui Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

As local people growing up here in Hawai‘i, we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s a negative thing because of, you know, the different ethnicities who come here, who’re still here. My job mainly, is not just to tell ghost stories and to scare people, but also to clear up that misunderstanding of what this is all about which is really, really communication.

 

He says his spooky stories aren’t made up, they’re based on history, experience, and a knowledge and understanding of the unseen. Meet this Hawaiian ghost storyteller 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. Robert Lopaka Kapanui is many things including a writer, an actor, a cultural practitioner, and even a former professional wrestler, yet he’s best known as a storyteller whose made a business of taking people on tours of what he calls Oʻahu’s most haunted places. Like many who grew up in Hawaiʻi, Lopaka first started hearing ghost stories at a young age and says he even had a few of his own supernatural experiences. He also experienced a scary start to his own life, but the reason for that was not supernatural.

 

At three months of age, I was severely malnutritioned and they said I was about the size of a rolled up newspapers, and my mother was having an argument with my grandfather and refused to go home. So, instead she chose that we should live in a station wagon behind a bar in Kalihi. But my health wasn’t good and my mother didn’t have the means, financially, to take care of me in that capacity, and so, as hard as it was for her, and she told me this later on, she had to do something, you know, to help me and to make sure I had a better life and her only option was to give me up for adoption, and at an appliance store where my mom worked as a secretary, she met a nice man who ended up becoming my adopted. My adopted parents had a little boy that they’d lost a short time before my adoption and so this sort of all worked out for them. The only condition after the adoption was that my biological mother couldn’t see me. That’s the agreement she had to make, that she wouldn’t involve herself in my life and not try to reconnect at any point, and so she had to agree to that.

 

And so, when did you see her again?

 

I saw her when I was 15 years old and she called my adopted father and told him that my biological grandfather passed away and his last request was to have me at his services, and the funny thing is my biological mother told me later on that she actually had a dream of what I would look like, what I would be wearing at the services for my grandfather, and so when I walked into Hawaii Memorial, there I was in the beige shirt she imagined me in, the white jeans, the slippers, and my hairstyle, of all things.

 

I guess at three months you wouldn’t have any uh, remembrance that you were, that you had a really tough time as a baby, that you obviously were really hungry and you were weak. How do you look back on your start in life? I mean, kind of a tough go.

 

You know, the funny thing is I don’t really recall any of that. I do know that I was sick for most of my early life, to the point that about six or seven years old, I had to go to Children’s Hospital and I was there for a couple of months to have my kidneys cleaned out. You know, I’m a Buddhist, so we believe in karma. And so, I personally think that, you know, somewhere in my past life, I was someone who caused somebody a great deal of suffering and so, maybe it was my karma early in my life to go through this, to eradicate all of that early so I wouldn’t have to go through that later in life.

 

Tell me about your adoptive family, your new family, what are they like?

 

You know, it’s a crazy life. I am adopted by a traditional Portuguese family. I’m a Hawaiian kid and I grew up thinking I’m Japanese.

 

Why? Because you lived in Kaimukī?

 

We actually…

 

Leslie: “You lived in Waiʻanae side, werent you?

 

We were in Waiʻanae, and we spent every summer in Wainaku on the Big Island. And, um, it was toward the end of the plantation era, so, a bunch of us, even though we were different ethnicities, everything we did was intrinsically Japanese. Okazuya, the weekend watched Toyoma no Kin-san, Kikaida, everybody does karate. And so we don’t think about it as being something Japanese, it’s just something we all did.

 

Well you were living with a Portuguese family, so did they have a sense of the ghosts?

 

You know the funny thing is, they would stay up all night with all the other neighbors and talk about ghosts and things that happened when they were growing up and so none of us were ever able to, to listen to that we had to go to sleep, and you know, I used to get spankings for this all the time, I would sneak underneath the kitchen table, because they had the big crochet cover, and I would hide and listen to them tell ghost stories. And so, they were very, very aware of what was going on and for the larger part of my younger years…and you know, in retrospect, I understand now why, but my adoptive father would always remind me that I was adopted and I wasn’t his son, you know, and we’d go out and meet people and he would introduce my brothers and say, oh this is, you know, my adopted son, not my real son. Father and son baseball game, my two older adoptive brothers don’t wanna play, I’m like, dad, we can go do it. No, cannot, you’re my adoptive son, the article says father and son, not you. And so, one of the things that happened is while I was in the hospital, my adoptive father was at work and he went to use the bathroom and he said someone’s pounding on the door, pounding on the door, turning the doorknob, and he says outside, after he yells to cut it out, he hears a voice saying, dad, dad, open the door, let me in, it’s me, dad, let me in. Claims it’s my voice, but knows it can’t be me because I’m in the hospital. And he says, whoever that is, just go away, go away, leave me alone. And then he hears the voice say, I know why you don’t want to open the door, dad. Cause I’m not your real son. And it left. Come to find out they had to call a Portuguese fatsera to come look at the house and she told my adoptive parents, she says there’s three Hawaiian people buried underneath this house and pointed to my adoptive father and said, they’re upset at you because every day they hear you telling the boy he’s not your real son, so they want to take him. They tired of hearing that. And so, her advice was, change your attitude now. He’s either your son or not your son, but you make up your mind.

 

You must’ve been thrilled to hear that.

 

Oh, years later on, you know, when I was a teenager and just had enough and wanted to leave, uh..

 

From Wai‘anae, I believe you lived in…you moved around quite a bit, as a kid?

 

We did, from Wai‘anae we moved to Waimalu, and that was interesting, because we, we lived in a haunted house and it was owned by a local Japanese family, so it had the shoji doors and everything. And nothing quite happened that was scary until one night, we’re sitting in the living room and the door to the hallway is here and we had this stand-up oil lamp, the only way you could make it work was through oil…sometimes the oil is dripping down the thing, and we see this little Japanese boy come out the door from the hallway, and he walks up to the oil lamp and he starts to lick it. He’s licking the oil and he looks at us and he turns around and he leaves. Everybody’s freaked out. We call a priest, he won’t come. We call a kahuna, who won’t come and so we call an odaisan, a Japanese, you know, person with, with gifts, who comes to the house and we explain what happened and that person says, oh, yes, in Japan they have a ghost like that, it’s usually a little boy and the ghost likes to lick the oil of the lamp. Can you get rid of it? Ah, yes, I will ask it to go somewhere else. And he said, same time, please throw away the lamp.

 

Wow, so was that your first experience with the idea of ghosts?

 

That was the first uh, visual experience. Up until then, I always heard voices, would have aromas around me, but never quite had the visual experience up until that time…and soon after that I became sick, about six or seven years old, had to go to the hospital, like I said, and while I was in the hospital, and this is a short story, my adopted grandmother, my adopted father’s mom, would come every day and sit with me and I had a roommate next door, who I would play with, his name was Scotty, and after I get out of the hospital, I found out that my adopted grandmother, grandma Lucy, had passed away while I was in the hospital, but they didn’t want to tell me because we’re really close, and I described what she was wearing and my adopted father went into the living room and brought out the picture, the black and white portrait and it’s the exact muʻumuʻu that I saw her wearing. It turns out that that was the portrait that was displayed at her services. My roommate Scotty, was a very famous kid, back then he was in a commercial where he was singing a Hawaiian song and he was very upbeat, I had no idea he was sick until one evening, the curtains closed and I can see the doctors, hear the family, they’re working on him, there’s crying, they leave. You can see his silhouette sit up in the bed and I see him jump off his bed, his little shadow comes up to the partition and he says—friend, friend, let’s play, c’mon friend, let’s go play. And I start to get off the bed and then I hear my uh, adopted grandmother say behind me, don’t get off that bed. I said, why? It’s my friend Scotty, he wants to play. You get off that bed, your feet touch the floor, you go with him, you never come back. And that’s at the old children’s hospital.

 

Lopaka Kapanui pursued several interests after finishing school including Hawaiian cultural practices, professional wrestling, and working in Waikīkī. But it wasn’t until someone told him about a chicken skin ghost tour led by University of Hawaiʻi professor named Glen Grant, that he found everything he’d learned and experienced up until that point in his life was coming together.

 

The job you have now, the business you have, this is all, it’s based on things that have happened to you all along?

 

All of my life and then I run into this guy in 1994 who’s hosting this downtown ghost tour and I’m working at the Halekulani at that time, and a gentleman by the name of Takeni Oshiro, who’s in charge of the front desk, is raving about this tour, and so I go the following Wednesday and the place is, it’s packed, a crowd of people…and when I hear this gentleman talk and he starts to go on about these stories, I’m astounded, I’m flabbergasted because the majority of what he’s talking about are things I already knew growing up and learned from my mom but the difference was there was documentation and there was history and there was things to back up these claims so that no one could say, well that’s just made up Hawaiian legends, you know, old wives’ tales.

 

What kind of documentation?

 

He would show photographs of places that were haunted and then produce the map as to what the place was before. For instance, like a…the area around Aloha Tower, there’s some sacrificial temples, there were areas where the spirits would gather late at night, you know, to, to basically frolic, and there was a map he showed regarding that and then it happens to be um, where the First Hawaiian Bank building is now. And as the tour went on, more people started to come and so, sometimes that tour would end like 2 o’clock in the morning. Um, the following Wednesday was when I was at hula with Keoni, because he’s also my kumu hula, and he told us, so listen, by the way, um, this friend of mine, uh, is doing this ghost tour out to Wai‘anae so I’m gonna do the, you know, Hawaiian part and he’s going to do the other part, and he said, so you guys are gonna dance at the heiau at Pokaʻi Bay. And so, he said, oh, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this guy, my friend, his name is Glen Grant. And so, we would do that tour all the time. My cousin and I mainly danced and one weekend, Keoni couldn’t make it and Glen was in a panic—I don’t know your part of the tour, what am I supposed to do. And Keoni says, oh, Lopaka knows it, you know, he can do it. And so that’s basically how it started, after that he called and asked, you know, more stuff to do, would you mind? And so it eventually, evolved into being mentored to basically take over the tour. You know, the thing about being trained by Glen Grant and learning from him, is documentation, research, and he actually said to me, I can get away with mispronouncing Hawaiian names and other things, he says, because I’m haole, so people expect me to make mistakes, but he says, you as a Hawaiian? One mistake you make, your own people will crucify you. So, he said, it’s harder for you than it is for me, so you have to get your facts straight.

 

But he was a professor so he would have to get his science right.

 

Absolutely, so, I remember I made a mistake about a legend about Pele, and uh, Koko Head Crater, and in front of a room full of people, he got up and told me I was wrong. And he said, what are you doing? You didn’t research that. He goes, don’t do that again.

 

Glen Grant described himself as a Jewish guy from…

 

From Hollywood.

 

Oh Hollywood, that’s right, I can see your cultural interest but what was his?

 

Glen’s story was when he moved here he was living in a dilapidated old, beat up house, on University between these high rise condominiums and again, the short story is immediately after they moved in, things started to happen, uh, roommate is taking a shower and he sees his girlfriend coming towards the shower curtain, he opens it, he’s got soap in his eyes and someone slaps him in the face and he turns around, no one’s in the shower, no one’s in the bathroom because it’s locked. Things being thrown around the kitchen and so they finally call a landlord over and explain to her what’s going on and she says to them, oh, I’m so sorry, I forget to tell you, before you come to this place, uh, some lady live here, her husband fool around, she hang herself in the kitchen, she hate men, so sorry.

 

That would’ve been nice to know earlier.

 

Yeah, so, Glen is telling me this in the old store and he says shortly after that, all those guys that were his roommates, one by one they were all killed in car accidents and he had a ’55 Chevy Belair station wagon and when it got creamed by this truck, like 2 o’clock in the morning, he just walked away with a scar. So, he’s the only one who survived and that peaked his interest in uh, ghosts in Hawai‘i. Primarily it started to be Japanese ghosts and then it became Hawaiian, Portuguese, and all the other cultures. And so, he even admitted himself that he was a big chicken, first one probably to run if anything happened.

 

Before this career there was another one, could you tell us about that?

 

Oh my god. I can’t believe, ok…um, I had a career as a…as a professional wrestler for 17 years, when I was still working for Glen Grant, I was still doing this, it was towards the end of my career, it wasn’t becoming fun anymore, and um, his secretary, when I’d tell her listen, I’ve got something this Saturday, like a match or something, don’t book a tour, she’d book it anyway, and we always figured it out. But one weekend, I could not get out of the tour and I could not get out of wrestling the match. So, I had to figure something out, so I got on the bus and before I got on the bus, I called the booker at the venue and I said, listen man, I’m stuck, what are we going to do? The booker says, I don’t know. I said, ok, let’s do this, I’m gonna bring my tour to the venue and I’m gonna do the match and instead of the main event, make the match first. And he says, ok. And I said, but, I’m gonna bring my tour with me. And he’s like, oh man, I don’t know about that…it worked out. So, I got on the bus and I said, listen everybody, we’re going to this venue, it’s a professional wrestling match, when the bus pulls up, you guys get out, go to the front door, sit in the front row. I’m gonna uh, run into the ring, beat the guy up, I’m gonna win the match, and then you go back to the bus and we’ll do the tour. And that’s exactly how it happened, I run in, beat the guy up, 1-2-3, get the belt, run out, people go on the bus, finally get out to the bus and get in and I’m looking at everybody and I get on the mic and I said, so, is anybody gonna give me a hard time? No, no…then you know, big round of applause.

 

Lopaka Kapanui says his knowledge of Hawaiian history and culture and the supernatural have come about through research and his own experiences as well as the encounter of others who share their stories with him.

 

Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe that there are actually ghosts? And what are they?

 

A ghost is uh, something that’s residual, that’s a recording that just plays itself back during certain times.

 

And where did it come from? It died and then part of it is left? I mean…

 

I have to honestly say it’s like working for the State and the joke is you work for the State, you die, no heaven or hell, you go back to work. So, a ghost is someone who’s been in a place for a certain amount of time and some part of them is still there, they’ve made some sort of impression of themselves. Like a psychic thumbprint.

 

Deliberately? Or this just happens?

 

Yeah, it just happens, you know, not intentional. And so, when you see a ghost, you’re seeing a recording, you know, an imprint of an event that’s happened in the past. Uh, when you see an apparition, an apparition is aware, it’s cognizant. It knows it’s not here anymore, it knows it’s not human, but it’s here for some reason, some unfinished business. And so, if it senses that you’re psychic, it wants to communicate with you.

 

And what’s the downside of communication?

 

The downside of communication is sometimes it leaves marks. Fingertip bruise marks, scratches, sometimes no matter where you go, you will hear a voice calling your name, you know, and it won’t stop until you answer the phone call, so to say. It’s trying to get through all this stuff to get the message across. And so that’s where uh, misunderstanding takes place and people think it’s evil, it’s demonic, but really, it’s just communication.

 

So there is, there are no ghosts that will harass you and drive you to your death?

 

Not that I know of. I’ve never heard of anyone yet, losing their life because of an encounter with something otherworldly. According to Hollywood and reality shows, it might happen, but in real life…not so much.

 

And there are ghosts of every ethnicity and background around the world?

 

Oh, absolutely, especially here in Hawai‘i. I mean, you may not believe it, but the most famous ghost story here in Hawaii is a Japanese ghost story.

 

Which one is that?

 

The woman with no face.

 

Tell us the story.

 

So, the short story is 19, uh, 1956, the Wai‘alae Drive Inn.

 

Yes, that’s the one. Ok, that’s the obake in the restroom, right?

 

In the women’s restroom. Uh, the double feature was Love Sways in the Amazon and Monolith Monsters, according to the article from Bob Krauss, who was a great guy, and it’s the intermission, the woman goes to the bathroom, doing her business she says she sees a woman in a white summer yukata come up to the sink, wash her hands, and the woman says when she looks in the mirror, the lady takes her hair back like this, has no face.

 

That is really spooky.

 

Yes, and so, to fast forward that event, uh, today that ghost is still haunting that area.

 

There’s no drive inn anymore.

 

There’s no drive inn, but there’s a Times Supermarket. And she’s been seen in the walk-in freezer, and the employee bathroom, and there was also a shopping mall. After the drive inn was demolished in ’94, she had nowhere to go. So, she went to Times Supermarket, and then the mall, and so, she’s been seen in the women’s downstairs bathroom at the mall, uh, at a department store and the 8-plex theatre. So, she’s still around. Apparently, she’s haunting theatre number six.

 

Why is it not okay to take pork over the Pali, according to legend?

According to the legend, and this is the short version, Pele and Kamapuaʻa were once boyfriend and girlfriend.

 

Ok, she’s the Fire Goddess, he’s the Pig God.

 

Right, right, and so, even though they were in this relationship, Kamapuaʻa has not changed his ways and so he’s out cavorting and Pele finds out and one afternoon he’s coming home and he says, what a wonderous sight, a tidal wave coming from the mountain, and he realizes it’s a tidal wave of lava, he says, oh my god, she found out. And so he’s running for his life, Pāpa‘ikou, Puna, Panaʻewa, and a hill outside of Hilo called Kauku is where the pig god lies flat and begins to pray and the Hilo rain, the Ua Kani Lehua begins to fall, they say roots from grey trees rise up and hold back the lava, the lake of fire, and finally, when it’s all cooled off, they say Pele appears and says, well, I can’t kill you, so what are we going to do. He says, let’s make this agreement that from this moment forward, the Koʻolau side of the island, the Windward side is mine, lush, green with rain and the Kona side of every island will be yours—hot, arid, dry. And none shall cross into the other’s territory. And Pele says, a ō ʻia, agreed. And so, if there’s any truth to this, it is really that you can’t bring pork from the Windward to the Leeward side. But to be more specific, you can bring pork through the H-3, the Wilson, the Pali tunnels, but you can’t bring it up that road at the Pali Lookout, that’s coming from the Windward, because technically, there’s a road at the Pali Lookout that crosses that meridian that makes it Leeward. I will send you a picture of someone who brought pork, over the Pali, coming from that side. It’s someone who unknowingly thought he was doing a good thing by making an offering, but come to find out his offering was pork to the pig god, which I later on told him, you realize you’re making an offering of pork to the pig god, do you understand that? And he says, why? Does it make a difference? I said, it’s like offering a mother her own children. Under his hand, in this picture, you see a green swirling mist, like this…um, I actually had to go back 4 o’clock in the morning to do prayers of apology for that guy and supplication. Because on these adventures, I’m pretty familiar with ghosts and spirits and other things, but a lot of times, it’s foolish people that worry me.

 

Are there certain pathways or interject points that are known for ghosts?

 

Yeah, they’re called ao kuewa, and the ao kuewa is an opening between worlds where after you die, your spirit is escorted to the next world by your family ʻaumakua.

 

What about the jumping off places? There’s several on the islands. One of them is at Mokulēʻia by KaʻenaPoint, and then Maui has one known as the jumping off place for souls?

 

Yes, that’s Kahekili’s Leap, the other one we’re talking about is, leina a ka ʻuhane at um, right on the cusp of Mokulēʻia and Kaʻena. Another one is Kalaeloa, Barber’s Point, and yet, another one is now the cafeteria of Moanalua High School, and so that’s another leaping place and Moanalua High School used to be on my list of the three most haunted public schools on the island but it’s fallen off since King Intermediate has taken its place.

 

Because of what happened there before?

 

Mainly because of the history, for instance uh, ʻAiea High School, the famous battle of Kaeokulani and Kalanikūpule months before the battle of Nuʻuanu, it takes place from ʻAiea High School all the way to where Pali Momi is. The unfortunate thing about that battle is when Kalanikūpule wins the battle over his uncle, every warrior that’s been slain on the uncle’s side, they’ve all been left, out in the open, they have not been given the proper burial of respect. And that’s uh, the sign of disrespect and so the large majority of that is the grounds of ʻAiea High School, the part of that freeway that always has accidents, Kaʻahumanu, Kaonohi overpass, which happen to be night-marcher trails. And so, the trauma that has caused by an incident makes a psychic thumbprint on the environment and depending on the kind of people who are around the area determines as to if that trauma becomes residual or cognizant. And so, what we’re talking about when we say residual is a-a-an event just repeating itself, it’s not aware that you’re there. Cognizant means the event is aware that it’s passed away, it’s aware that it’s not human, and when it becomes aware of us, it wants to interact and communicate and that’s when hauntings happen.

 

So many people think this is all balderdash, it’s just, you know, ridiculous. How do you explain to them that why you know this is true?

 

What I always tell them is, give me a chance to change your mind. Spend some time with me, come to the event, come listen, and give me a chance, give me that opportunity to change your mind. You don’t have to like it, uh, I would encourage that you at least respect it, but that’s the first thing I say, let me change your mind, and they usually end up becoming believers at the end.

 

We close this program with a spooky story that Lopaka Kapanui told a group at a Japanese cemetery in Mōʻiliʻili, Oʻahu during a full moon on the night of a Friday the 13th. Mahalo to Robert Lopaka Kapanui of Kaimuki, Oʻahu for sharing your life stories and chicken skin accounts with us, and thank you for joining us. Aloha nui.

 

There was a teacher and one night she’s home, sitting at the kitchen table, correcting papers and she’s sort of watching TV, and all of a sudden, the TV screen goes…white poltergeist and the wind suddenly dies and the sound is gone. And from behind the house, somewhere near the mango tree, she hears the tinkling sound of the chimes. Dum, dum, dum, and it’s coming around the house outside her bedroom, the bathroom, coming around from the living room, dum, dum, dum, and now coming up the steps, ding, ding, and she tries to get up to see what the source of the sound is, but she cannot move. Something is holding her down at the kitchen table. Not even her head can move, only her eyes can record the front door. chimes in return, there’s a skeletal fist with flesh falling off of it, and it walks into her living room, skeletal remains of a woman in a faded bloodied white kimono, clumps of hair are falling off of her skull, teeth bare, and she stands just in sight of the front door in the living room and she says, leave my house now.

 

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
Patrick Sullivan: Professional Problem Solver

 

With partners and clients from around the nation and the world, Oceanit employs out-of-the-box thinking, finding solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems by combining science, technology, engineering and creative thinking. Oceanit founder, CEO and President Patrick Sullivan speaks about his approach in bringing together curious minds with very different skillsets and why he feels Hawai‘i’s diversity and isolation help cultivate a culture of innovation.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 5, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Patrick Sullivan: Professional Problem Solver Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We’re working on a project to help with elderly. What’s needed is a very inexpensive but effective robotic assistant that can just be there to help them out, and if they fall, if they’re in trouble, if they’re in pain, if they just need help. Just something as simple as recognizing an object is critical.

 

This fearless innovator finds solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems by combining science, technology, engineering, and innovative thinking.  Nothing new for him; he’s been problem-solving since he was a teenager, when he concocted enterprising ways to pay for college.  Patrick Sullivan, 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.  Patrick Kevin Sullivan is president and CEO of Oceanit, an internationally recognized company he founded in Downtown Honolulu in 1985.  He calls is a mind-to-market company that turns scientific principles into real world applications for real world problems. His company says he’s raised more than $475 million to develop cutting edge solutions.  Oceanit’s clients come from around the nation and the world.  The company is also entrepreneurial, sending products it developed to the marketplace through spinout companies, partnerships, or direct manufacturing.  Patrick Sullivan employs an intensive process, bringing together curious minds with different skillsets and encouraging what he calls intellectual anarchy.

 

Would you give us some examples of what products have come about as a result of this very dynamic process?

 

Well, there’s a couple.  One of our spinouts, Ibis, which is doing energy management in commercial buildings.  So, we just had a board call on the way in, and I was on the call.  And that started out with a … it’s a healable wireless mesh network, which was a legacy of a technology we built for a military group to look behind walls of concrete and steel, and to communicate in really weird places.  And so, we built that technology.  Then we thought: Okay, how do we do something that’s gonna make a difference?  And so, inside the organization, we have people that are really concerned about energy, greenhouse carbon.  We thought: What if we could use this as a way to mitigate and inform people on energy?  And commercial buildings turns out to be the market we focused on.  We didn’t know what the market was in the beginning. So, we kinda pivoted from this thing. We built all these tiny antennas and all this kind of electronics, and all this stuff, and this software, and a wireless mesh network.  And it’s become a technology that is—like, California’s using it in a lot of their schools, universities, commercial buildings—there are some commercial buildings here, where it’ll save fifteen, twenty percent of the energy in a commercial building.  It starts with the interesting question, and it cascades into these things.  And as we gain insights, it opens up these vistas of things that were not thinkable.  When you map that process, which I’ve mapped and call the intellectual anarchy process, it will bring you to some really interesting points, and create lots of opportunity.  But they’re things that don’t exist.  So, people have asked me, like in … we had this meeting with like, thirty, thirty-five of these science advisers to Office of Naval Research, and we kinda walked through how we do this.  Because I try to show people what we do; it’s not a secret.  And they said: Well, how do you do this?  Because they always start with a requirement.  We start left of requirement.  We don’t start with a requirement.  And I told them, I said: You should try this.  I said: If you actually ask yourself what’s important and what’s interesting, you will find the thing that you should be doing.  And I said: We do this fourth quarter of every year.  We have these broad conversations in the company, and we ask ourselves: What should we do with our time on the planet that’s gonna make a difference?  Because we’re here to impact humans and society. How do we make the world better? What should we be doing?  So, we pick a few things, and every year we do this, and those things cascade and it creates all the stuff.  That’s what intellectual anarchy is.

 

Wow. And it seems like all these problems that have resisted answers for time immemorial—common cold too.  I mean, there are so many.  You’ll never stop with thinking big kind of projects, because there are a lot of big things that are unanswered.

 

Yes.  And so then, it comes down to: What should we do?  What might be possible?  And so, we spend time exploring these things, and then we try to pick a few.  And it takes time as these roll out, but what it does over a period of time, it literally creates a pipeline; a pipeline in all these different subjects.  So, it’s not limited by subject; it’s limited by what’s important and what’s interesting. This process, again, of intellectual anarchy, there’s a exploration and discovery phase where you have to be pretty open-minded to where it’s gonna lead you.  It moves into the product phase, you’re building real products. And then, those have economic value, where you can sell, license, you know, do all kinds of things with it.

 

A project you might have thought was silly at the time, and you’ve also talked about weird ideas.

 

Right.

 

But they have to be respected, right, because they can go somewhere.

 

Exactly.  And the insights from this silly early stuff turned into … you know.  I mean, it’s funny; we just had this group here this week from Korea because they want a license for the Country of Korea.  We’re gonna do, I think, a pipeline in Turkmenistan this quarter.  We’re actually gonna do heat exchangers in Abu Dhabi.  I mean, this stuff is all just kinda cranking.  And … it was all invented here, and developed in the lab, but the market is the rest of the world.  And that’s how we view it.

 

So, it’s interesting, ‘cause it’s a fascinating blend of, you know, just sky’s the limit, whatever you can do, run with it.  And then, there has to be some some balance in it.

 

Right.

 

What an art that must be.

 

It is.  And it’s funny, because my wife is the COO, Jan is.  So, she was an attorney for about fifteen years, and then we started doing some spinouts and I asked her if she could help.  And she’s really good at it.  And there’s a whole operating team that manages stuff.  But it is an art, because you’re dealing with things that are messy.  Innovation is messy.  Right? But it’s trying to understand people.

 

And people are very invested in what they’ve done, too.

 

Right.  But she does a really good job of that.  And I tell people; it’s like businesses are either built to manage, or built to innovate. But if it’s built to manage, innovation is love.  If it’s built to innovate, management is hard.  If it’s built to innovate, the way you manage is really important.

 

I can see how it’d be hard to find the right fit at your company, because so many people who are very bright and educated are into control.  You know, they want to control their world, and they’ve developed a lot of tools with which to do so.  So, those are the bright, educated people that you don’t want.

 

Well, it depends if they’re gonna become agile and flexible.  If they’re inflexible, that’s a real problem.  But if they’re flexible, they may learn a tool set today, but there may be a better tool set tomorrow.  And if they say, Well, I can’t do that, that’s real problem.

 

Patrick Sullivan, resident of Kailua, Windward O‘ahu, works with partners and clients throughout the global community, including universities, governments, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses. His staff of more than a hundred sixty scientists and engineers hails from around the world.  He says that living and working in isolated Hawai‘i, with our Hawaiian culture and multiculturism, is a plus, inspiring his team to think outside the box.

 

For manufacturing and certain things, you can build facilities in different places.  For the magic, this is the place.  See, innovation comes from differences, not sameness.  So, getting different people with different perspectives. And we live in this environment here, where all kinds of different people live together.  That’s our strength.  So, our big strength in Hawaii is the people.  Okay?

 

Because you don’t think you’d be able to get this assortment of people in another place feeling comfortable about living here?

 

It’s the culture.  So, the business culture is Native Hawaiian.  It’s real Hawaiian by culture as a business, the way we work together.  It’s organically built here from scratch.  So, it’s a unique culture that is collaborative.  We respect each other, but there’s lots of debates on the science, on the facts, on the details, on those kinda things.  But the culture wouldn’t work in other places.  It works here.  The DNA of the culture is Hawaiian.  It doesn’t exist in Silicon Valley, it doesn’t exist in the Beltway. It’s just kinda different.  I think in the culture of Hawai‘i, is innovation. And I think we forget that sometimes. But the Native Hawaiians that came to Hawai‘i, they innovated to get here, they innovated when they got here. They were the first in the country with electricity, they did all these innovations.  They were not afraid of electronics, or I should say, afraid of technology, afraid of change.  They embraced it.  And to this day, culturally, they embrace people from everywhere.  It’s just part of our culture.

 

I know you do have to bring in a lot of people.  I don’t know how hard it is for you recruit locally, but I bet you do have some limitations there.  What if you did have a whole bunch of PhDs of this mindset you could hire; would that affect your diversity in innovation?

 

The people that grow up here, who get the good education, have a skillset to work with people from all over, because they grew up here.  It’s kind of an experiment, but we found it really, really works, and so, it seems kinda crazy.  To bring a technology to market, you’ve got technology risk, execution risk, and market risk.  We focus on technology and execution.  Execution risk, we’ve discovered that if we take sort of local kids or people that grew up here with a good education, we can put them anywhere in the world.  And like, we did this scale-up in Pennsylvania to put steel casing in the Marcellus Shale, which of course, we’ve never done. But we did.  And we did this in three months.  But to build something like this, you need the welder, the forklift guy, the truckers, the roughnecks, the roustabouts, everybody who maybe never went to college; right?  Here, we’ve got all these really educated people that work as part of the company. But I told the guys; I said: Look, bring aloha, get to know these people like they are your relatives at Christmas or whatever.  Don’t be afraid, they don’t see guys like you ‘cause, you know, it’s Pennsylvania.

 

And respect their skills.

 

Right.  But we work with them, they work with us.  And if you do that, it’ll be successful.  They crushed it, because they brought that human element.  And so, with the education, which is essential, they were able to bring the cultural piece to work with people that are totally different, and be very successful.

 

Who are the rock and rollers?  How do you find them?

 

Oh.  They can go between cultures.  Right? So, the culture of deep science and the culture—

 

Oh, they’re the translators.

 

Right.  Technology Sherpas.  So, he’s gotta go from dealing with the deep science guys and translate that to how it impacts humans and society as a product or a device.

 

And they are different languages?

 

Absolutely.  Each industry has its own culture.  So, they’ve got to learn the culture and the language of an industry, and then translate that back.  ‘Cause usually, the scientists and the engineers working on the problem, they may think they know what it should do.  They’re almost always wrong.  Because when you start talking to real customers, it’s like: Oh, that’s what you do. And until you get in front of them, until you spend time with them, you just don’t understand it.  You’ve gotta have those people that are out talking to humans, and people in the industries, and all that kinda stuff all the time. So, we do.  Those are those people.  The human element and the culture of Hawaii, I think, enables a lot of that to happen, too.

 

Running a business that’s based on innovation and fearlessness can be daunting.  Patrick Sullivan knows that not all brilliant hardworking scientists and engineers who are interested will be a fit for Oceanit.

 

When your colleagues describe you, I notice things tend to end in less. Fearless, limitless, endless.

 

And relentless.

 

Those are nice things to hear.  See, especially the older I get, the more I see things are connected; the fields are connected.  People are taught for the convenience of teaching, but in the real world, there’s much more things that are connected.  And methods and materials change.  So, think about like, the Wright Brothers were kinda bicycle guys, and they had canvas and sticks, and they eventually built a thing to fly.  And then, people thought: Well, what if we use aluminum.  Right? Or what if we use carbon.  And over time, what was impossible became possible. And so, what I’ve learned is that, you know, the fields are really connected, and as methods and materials change, what was once impossible becomes possible.  And so, we do a bunch of that kinda stuff now at Oceanit.  And it’s a lot of fun; sometimes it’s a little crazy.  But it unlocks the … you know, what I find is that we hire really bright people, but what drives things is what’s in here.  So, we try to connect what’s in here with what’s in here. And so, it’s not just the education; it’s that connection to doing something that really matters, that makes the magic happen.

 

How do you teach that?

 

Well, that’s a really, really good question. Because a lot of the time … we’ve got this way to work with uh, PhD recent grads, and I will usually have a talk once a year with the new ones.  And I say: Look, you know, we’re proud of you, and your mom’s proud of you, and you did an amazing thing; but now, nobody cares, so what are you gonna do? Because now, it’s all about the rest of your life, and it’s not limited to that field; it could be anything.  So, we purposely put them in a field or a problem where they may not have any expertise.  And a lot of the time, they go through like, of course, fear. They’re worried because here, they’re the smartest guy; now, they know nothing.  But we’re trying to get them to get comfortable in the fundamentals.  So, we kinda drive them through this process, so they go back to the basics, and they can look at any problem and start understanding how to think about the problem.  And we do that with a lot of these young PhDs.  Usually, it’s easier if they’re right out of school, then we kinda unscrew a couple things, and then we teach them how to do this.  And when they learn to do this, they’re a force. And we started with a couple young PhDs in aerospace who really learned to get the moves.  Right?  But they have to get comfortable in going into something that is way out of their field, or whatever, without being afraid, with the fundamentals and, you know, full grasp of the fundamentals so that they can actually go forward and figure out: Okay, I can think about it this way or that way.  We can look up research information on pretty much anything.

 

So, once somebody gets their PhD, then you send them through boot camp.

 

Right.  And if they like it, they love it; and if they don’t, they hate it and they’re terrified.

 

And you usually can tell pretty quickly.

 

And we try to find out sooner, than later. Because there’s no right answer. We’re looking for an answer that works for us, and we want the ones that are just excited.  It’s kinda like surfing or anything; right?  You learn to love it because, yeah, you get hammered sometimes, but when you get the right wave, it’s a blast.

 

And I notice when you talked about your background and having to go through things, you know, I think what you were saying is, you sometimes made a mistake or messed up in business or in some area, but you don’t say that.  You say: I learned a lot.

 

Right.  Yeah. And the way I look at it, as long as you’re learning, you’re making progress.  Because especially when things are really, really hard, it’s not gonna be straightforward.  The reason they’re hard is because it’s just not that easy.  So, you’re gonna get some hits.  Like, when we’ve done some of these startups and we’re interviewing people, I say: Look, I just need to know, when you get hit, are you gonna get up?

 

Right.

 

Because that’s the question.  Was it Rocky Balboa or somebody; it’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you can get hit, and then get back up.  And getting back up is a really big deal.  Because when we’re in this kind of … especially the stuff that we do, people are gonna take hits.  Nobody wants to, and it’s always painful.  So, anybody that says, oh, failure, whatever.  No; it always smarts.  But you gotta get up.

 

You’ve been described as an eternal optimist.

 

Are you?

 

Yeah; I think so.  I think you gotta be, to do this.  But I feel blessed in so many ways.  Yeah.  I think I have a very good sense about our future in Hawai‘i, and for Hawai‘i, and for the country and other things.  You know, there’s issues, always gonna be problems.  But problems are maybe opportunities in disguise.  So, I think in general, things move in the right direction, but to get there, sometimes we take a bunch of turns and tacks in directions which seem kinda crazy.  But yeah, I’m an optimist.

 

Your entire business is devoted to problem-solving.  So, other people may come home and say: I have a lot of problems today.  Whereas, that’s what you went to work expecting as what’s on your plate; right? I mean, it’s a different way to look at problems.

 

Yeah; yeah.  But we found that … for example, if we did what everybody does, why would anybody care about what we do in Hawai‘i, in the middle of the Pacific.  And we do things that nobody thinks are possible. And we have a way to do it, it’s a interesting, challenging, and disruptive.  So, we break up the world into these three buckets.  The disruptive stuff, we’re just really, really good at. But that’s what draws the attention from a lot of big companies that we work with, because we’re thinking way outside of the box.  You know, the groupthink that they’re all stuck in, and the functional fixedness that, you know, they can’t see it any other way, we’re able to kinda get way beyond that and come up with different ways to do things.

 

Patrick Sullivan was always good in math, which started him on the path to becoming an engineer.  Growing up, he took whatever job he could find, often convincing prospective employers that he could build anything they needed.  After graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder with a Bachelor of Science degree, he attended the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, where he earned a doctorate in engineering.

 

What did you do in your childhood that helped you become who you are today?

 

In my childhood …

 

I mean, did you learn good habits early?  Did you develop some specialty that helped you along the way later?

 

One thing I learned maybe older than growing up, and what I tell young people, that especially as we’re doing tech things here is, I tell people they have to be comfortable in their own skin.  By that, I don’t mean the color of their skin, but who they are.  So, from Hawai‘i, there’s a sense of saying in trying to hide the fact that we’re from Hawai‘i.  People go out, try to raise money, try to do things, and they want to say: Well, you know, we’re here in Palo Alto, we’re doing all this stuff.  And I tell them: Look, own it, and you’re gonna find out right away, the people that it doesn’t matter to are gonna work with you, and the people that it does aren’t gonna help you anyway.  So, you might as well be comfortable in your own skin, because when you are, the authenticity of what you’re doing will come through, and you’re gonna find those people that are gonna work with you.  And the irony is in building the business over the years, I’ve found that there’s this kind of Hawaiian network in the world.  So, whenever you come from Hawai‘i, pretty much no matter where you go, there’s people who used to live in Hawai‘i, or grew up in Hawai‘i, and they’ll always try to help.  It’s the craziest thing.  But they always come out to help.  And they’re everywhere.  So, it’s a special thing to be from here.  And for what we do, it works great.

 

You do so much with automation and artificial intelligence.  What do you think Hawaii’s gonna look like in 2025 when it comes to AI?

 

Well, there’s gonna be change.  Not all of it, people are gonna like.  I think the biggest issue is in jobs.  For example, drivers.  Autonomous cars are, I think, gonna make it.  And so, people that earn a living with driving, that’s something we should be thinking about as a community.  The things that we do here that are unique and special to Hawaii are still gonna be unique and special here.  And the human contributions in creativity, imagination, are still gonna be really important.  But in the future, we see ag tech, for example.  Agriculture in Hawai‘i could be very successful, but instead of low-cost labor, it’s gonna be technology.  You know, we have terrific sunshine, water, and soil.

 

Then, what are the low-cost laborers going to do?

 

People need to get educated.  Education becomes a big deal.  So, making education more available, more affordable, is really important.

 

He was named Hawai‘i Business Magazine’s 2016 CEO of the year for outstanding contributions to Hawai‘i’s economy. Mahalo to Patrick Sullivan, president and CEO of Oceanit in Downtown Honolulu, and a resident of Kailua, O‘ahu, for sharing your story with us, and giving us a back-of-the-house tour of your offices.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

How do you relax?  Or can you relax?

 

Well, no, of course, it’s really important, and there are so many things to do here.  But obviously, one of the big one is surfing.  So, surfing is a way to reconnect to the world.  And it’s a totally different environment.  Everybody is the same; right?  And we started this when the kids were small, but my mother-in-law would cook dinner, and everybody would show up, and we’d go surfing.  And so, the Monday Night Surf Club, we’d call it. And so, we did that for years, and years.  And it’s a great way for everybody in the family to get together, but to go out and do something and have some fun.  But yeah, the ocean is still a great teacher, and I get in the water, gosh, four or five times a week.  Right? So, I still enjoy a lot of that.

 

[END]

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Patrick Sullivan: Lifelong Problem Solver

 

Patrick Sullivan has been a problem solver from an early age; creating enterprising ways as a teen to support his pursuit of higher education. Learn how his hard work and resourceful nature helped pave the way for his successes in life, and how he has made a career out of problem solving with his Honolulu-based company Oceanit.

 

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

 

Patrick Sullivan: Lifelong Problem Solver Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I remember I flew over, and I met some people on the airplane, and I put a couple jobs together, sort of on the airplane. So, I did a bunch of apartments.

 

Coming to Hawai‘i?

 

Yeah; I did apartments in Mokulē‘ia, and I did some renovations in Waikīkī.

 

This is on the way here during a college break?

 

Yeah.

 

‘Cause you had to pay for your hotel.

 

By the time I landed, I had put together three projects that, you know, I did in a week or so.  And then, I had spare time and a little extra money.  So, I kinda had a knack for doing this kinda stuff.

 

This ability to create jobs for himself on the fly got him through college, and he continues to amaze with a large business that welcomes international clients with very difficult problems, and works to solve them.  Patrick Sullivan, 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.  Patrick Kevin Sullivan is the founder and chairman of Oceanit, a Honolulu-based company that has raised more than $475 million in research and development funds since it was founded in 1985.  A staff of about one hundred sixty scientists and engineers combines their skills in a mind-to-matter process to create solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems.  Sullivan’s path as a fearless innovator started when he was young, wanting to pursue higher education, and knowing that he would need money for that.  By the time he entered college, he was already comfortable with bidding jobs and hiring workers.

 

My parents didn’t have education.  And there were five kids, so it was about feeding the kids.  And that was pretty much it.  My dad worked, my mom didn’t.

 

What did he do?

 

Well, he started out doing aircraft maintenance kinda stuff in Los Angeles, and then he started doing some kinda landscaping work. And then, we moved up north to Seattle, and when they started the very first 747.  So, he got recruited to work there as a mechanic.  And I remember going through the mockup on plywood.  It was really interesting, because the whole aircraft was made of plywood at that time.  And so, the whole family moved, which I thought was a big, traumatic thing. Turned out it was a really good thing. But I thought, well, everything in the world is right here in L.A., and then we move, and I thought, there’s nothing here.  But it turns out there was a lot there.  So, I mean, I learned a lot from that kind of an experience.  But then, Boeing went through a down cycle, and it was just devastating.  So, everybody was out of work, and everybody got laid off.  So, living through those kinds of thing; right?  So, that’s what led him to: Okay, there’s no more work, so we’re gonna move.  And you know, and that’s kind of what—

 

And where did you move to?

 

So, we went from there … I think we went to Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Texas.

 

And you were switching schools as you went?

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, I went to four different high schools, which brings its own challenges; right?  Because …

 

You’re the new kid in the room.

 

Yeah.  So, the first thing is, within the first thirty, sixty days, you’re gonna get in a fight.  Just get over it; right?  Do it sooner than later.  But every school was like that.  So, you go through these things, and you learn a lot.  And so, that’s why we moved around so much.  I mean, they tried to keep everything together, but it was just really hard.  And I think from my perspective … that’s why an education was so important.

 

You were living paycheck-to-paycheck, or job-to-job.  Did you ever go hungry?  Did you ever not be able to pay your rent?

 

Well, so, they struggled with that stuff, and my parents used to buy food in bulk.  So, like half a cow; right?  So, you carve it up, or powdered milk by the box.  Right?  So, it wasn’t regular milk, but it was powdered milk.  So, you always had something.  And of course, lots of potatoes.

 

Do you eat many of them now?

 

My wife really likes potatoes.  I still do.  But you know they kinda made do.  And then, when I was about seventeen, I started living on my own.

 

So, you left the house and were not supported by them at all, didn’t live in the home?

 

Yeah.  I bought a car.  So, I started working when I was thirteen, and I saved up all my checks.  And then, I just went out and bought a car when I turned sixteen.  And the funny thing is, I didn’t have a driver’s license or anything, but I brought all the paychecks, I got the cash, and I just went in and bought a car.  And then, I drove the car to the driver’s license thing, ‘cause I needed a driver’s license.  But otherwise, what are you gonna do; right?  And then, when I started, you know, living on my own, that was it.  Right? I had the car.   So, my friends in college called it The Dodge Hilton…

 

You slept in your car at times?

 

Yeah; a lot.  Because, you know, it was out of the rain and out of the snow, and it would sometimes get cold.  But you know, when I think about it, I was mobile, and I could do all kinds of things, so I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself.

 

Did you have a discussion with your parents before you took off?

 

Well, I wanted to go to college, and so, I … drove to college.  And that was it.  Right? And I was able to get into the dorm. This was in Boulder.

 

How did you manage that?  Since you came virtually without money.

 

So, I did some loans.  And the only thing I could do was math, but I got into engineering. And I applied to a couple schools; I got into a couple schools.  I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it turned out that was a good idea.  So, it was School of Mines, which is for mining engineering, which is the best school in the country for that, and then University of Colorado.  And then, at the time, I remember, I thought the girls were much nicer in Boulder, and of course, that’s where I met my wife.  So, that was probably a good move.  But student loans, grants, a work study.  So, I worked through all semesters in the lab, so I spent a lot of time in labs.  And then, I started a business when I was probably seventeen, ‘cause I started doing a lot of manual labor when I was probably fifteen, fourteen.  Originally at thirteen, I was working in restaurants; right?  So, I did everything from busboy, bellhop, dishwasher; did all that kinda stuff.  So, I was earning some money.  And before that, I was actually cutting yards.  So, me and this guy, E.J. Babitt, we would compete for houses and get like a dollar, two dollars a house, right, to go cut the grass, and do all the trimming—

 

You did the sales and the work.

 

Right.  So, we’d compete on doing these in the neighborhood.  But I kind of learned by, you know, seventeen, eighteen, that I could earn money in the summer by bidding on jobs.  So, I started doing landscaping and irrigation.  So, I learned irrigation from working; right?  So, I started out—you know, what happens is, I could dig a really good ditch straight; right?  And they’d say: Okay, we’re gonna show you how to lay pipe, right, and then we’re gonna show you how to do joints, and then we’re gonna show you—because everything I did, I’d try to do a good job.  And so, slowly, they would give me like: Can you do this?  And so, I learned everything from actually just doing the work.  So, by the time I was maybe seventeen, eighteen, right in there, I was able to kinda bid.  I’d bid jobs, and then I would put and do the installs.  So, I did, gosh, Denny’s, Sambo’s, we did Motel 6, commercial office buildings, these little chicken places.  And I would just knock on the door during construction and talk to the guy running the job, and say: You have anybody to do this?, and then give him a price. And then, I started it basically on a credit card.  ‘Cause I didn’t have any money.  I would do that to earn money to stay in college.  Right?  So, that’s how I would um, help pay for college, too.  So, loans, grants, work study, and doing these projects.

 

Did you hire people, or did you do all that landscaping yourself?

 

No, no; I would hire.  And so, it turns out, I ended up with a Hawaiian crew.  There are a lot of Hawaiians in Boulder, and they were in engineering; right?  So, I knew a lot of guys.  And so, I said: Look, you want to earn some extra money; you know, why don’t you show up. And so, I would put these guys to work, and you know, it would just be physical labor, but they’re young guys.

 

And pay them in cash?

 

Yeah; yeah.  Or sometimes, I would hire … you can go to like, these employment service things, where you got guys standing around that just need a job.  In some places, there’s like, corners where people that need work just hang out.  And you go by and you say: Okay, can I get this guy and this guy.  And you put ‘em on the job.  And sometimes they’re good, and sometimes they’re—you know, one of the problems with those guys in general, and it’s an oversimplification, but you know, they get paid, and then they go get drugs.  Or they get paid, and then they get alcohol.  So, some of ‘em are having issues.  So, I had guys like that, too.  But I would do that in Colorado, Arizona, and parts of Wyoming.  So, one of the first big jobs I did was a big restaurant in Cheyenne.  And I put the high school football team to work, literally.  So, I also worked in between jobs as a roustabout, so in the oilfield.  So, I worked at the time, in parts of Wyoming.  So, of course, there wasn’t much going on in Cheyenne, but Rock Springs was considered at the time the last boom town of the West.  It was like something out of an old Casper Rawlins. So, I was in a place, an abandoned house with a bunch of guys across from the Rawlins Prison.   And I put in a shower.  I said: I can’t stand this.  Right? So, I put in my own plumbing to make a shower.  But you can make a lot of money working in the oil patch; right?  But it’s just hard, dirty work.  And so, we were building the infrastructure.  This was in the summer.  So, you know, and I needed to make money.

 

How much time did this leave you for school?

 

I always studied.  I enjoyed what I did in school.  So, the goal was to make money to be in school.  That was always the goal.

 

And how did you manage that?  How’d you balance it?

 

You know, it’s work; right?  I mean, you just do it.  And so, I never really worried about that, but yeah, it does kinda add a bunch of other things to complicate things.  But in my view, school was the single most important thing.  And so, I just focused on that.  But by the time I graduated, I actually had put together a lot of money.  ‘Cause I remember when I got married, I thought I needed to buy a house, so I had saved up a bunch of money.

 

While you were in college?

 

While I was in college.

 

Paying for tuition on your own.

 

Yeah.  And I thought: Okay, I need to have money to buy a house if I’m gonna get married. And then, I went to grad school and I thought: Okay.  I didn’t know much about buying a house, but I did it.  I was probably about twenty-two, twenty-three; right?  And so, I learned a lot.  I learned how not to do it.  And later on, how to do it.  But yeah, I always kinda had a knack to make money.  I never saw it as an endpoint as a way to be able to do the things that were important, but I needed to make money because when you don’t have any money, and you know, I remember trying to qualify, I couldn’t get food stamps, ‘cause if you’re in college you can’t get food stamps.  So, I’d buy like big cartons of eggs and loaves of bread, and a box of oranges, right, and live on that for a while.  Because that’s it; right?  And you could buy subprime oranges.  They don’t have to be like the topline oranges, and you can get ‘em in Alberton’s, go talk to the produce guys in the back, and that kinda stuff.  So, that’s kinda what I did to make sure I had food.  Not all the time, but there were times; right?  So, that got me focusing on okay, I better earn some money.  So, the work study was good, the grants were good.  I paid off what’s called … there was basic educational opportunity grant, there was a thing called defense student loan, or something like that.  And so, when I graduated, I had some debt, so I was able to pay it off, too.  But it was never a question that I wasn’t going to be able to do it; it was just trying to balance all these different things.

 

That must have been an enormous burden for a seventeen-year-old, eighteen.  I mean, you were juggling so much.  I mean, sleep must not have been a priority at that point.

 

I probably didn’t sleep a whole lot, yeah, I think.

 

When you look back, it was probably harder than you knew at the time.

 

Well, for a lot of these things, if you know how hard it’s gonna be before you do it, you probably wouldn’t.  So, better not think about it, and just you know, kind of focus on what’s the right thing to do.  And no, I don’t feel bad about it or regret it, but learned a lot in the process. Because it’s not just the education for the sake of education, but for the sake of learning.

 

Entrepreneur Patrick Sullivan was always good at math, and decided early on that he wanted to be an engineer.  Beyond that, he didn’t have a plan.

 

When I started in Boulder, I wanted to do aerospace, and they were laying off aerospace engineers.  So, I ended up pivoting into engineering physics.  Which was a good move for me at the time.  But you would think: Well, that’s crazy.  So, Boulder, you know, would educate most of the astronauts; they would all go through Boulder.  So, you can see that if you went through aerospace in Boulder, maybe you could be an astronaut.  But then, that whole thing kinda went down.  So, industries go up and down, but a good education is much more durable. And so, I thought engineering and physics is good.  You know, ‘cause it’s very broad, it’s applied, you know, hands-on.  A big emphasis in nuclear, so I thought at the time: Well, I should do nuclear engineering.  And then, I worked in an atomic and nuclear lab for a year, you know, during the school year.  And I thought: You know, maybe I need to get outside more.  Because we had a cyclotron which would produce these particles.  And that was really interesting, and I spent all my time going through the data; that kinda stuff.  But I think that was a good experience, because I thought: Okay, maybe I don’t want to do this quite like this.  And that was another thing I remember.  I walked by and picked up a sample of something that was radioactive. And you know, when you work with stuff, you think: Ah, no big deal.  I picked it up, and I walked by a Geiger counter, and the thing goes off, and I thought: Jesus.  You know, you get really comfortable, and that’s kinda dangerous; right?  So, I thought: Okay, I need to think.  So, I didn’t stay on the nuclear track, although did lots of atomic and nuclear stuff.  Which was good; it’s a good intellectual exercise.

 

Yeah; because all the way along, it sounds like you were looking and seeing where things were going, and re-tracking yourself.

 

Yeah.

 

You mentioned meeting folks from Hawai‘i at Boulder.  Was one of them your wife?

 

Mm; yeah, I did.  So, Jan was finishing up, and I kinda met her here through a friend of mine, Mike Ako.  He introduced me.  But then, she was going back, and I was just finishing.  I had a semester to graduate.  And so, she went back early, and I let her drive my car, which people thought: Wow, you must really like her.  She didn’t have a car.  But it was funny, ‘cause the car, I had built it from junkyard parts; right?  So, everything kinda got bad, so I rebuilt everything.  Went to the junkyard, bought all the parts, put it together.  And the dipstick for the oil pan, there was a dipstick, but the real one was a calibrated coat hanger.  Because all the parts didn’t match, but I made it work.  And so, she didn’t know about the coat hanger, so she went in, and they kept pouring oil in this engine, and said: There’s something wrong here.  So then, they had to put it up on blocks, drain it all, and do all these things. But later, they told her: It’s the coat hanger on the side.  Calibrated.

 

And she fell in love; right?

 

Yes. She’s amazing.

 

And you didn’t have a true home state to return to.  You’d moved around a lot, but she was—

 

She did.

 

–a person of Hawai‘i.

 

Right.  And so, in the beginning, so when I finished up, I got a job at Storage Tech, which is really a spinout out of University of Colorado, and created that whole tech corridor. So, I would go to work in the College of Engineering wing, actually, ‘cause there was no infrastructure, there were just kinda forms and stuff.  So, I started doing that.  I was gonna go to grad school, and I started applying.  But then, I thought we might stay in Colorado, but then realized that that’s not how it works.  And it’s a wonderful thing.  But, yeah. So, she said, you know: We can live anywhere, but just make sure it’s in Hawai‘i.

 

Got it. 

 

So, Patrick Sullivan moved to Hawai‘i, and earned a PhD in engineering from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.  Time for a new plan.

 

And at that time that you were going through the PhD program, did you know what you’d be doing with it?

 

Well, so that’s a good question.  Everybody said: Do you want to be a professor?  And I said: Not really; it’s too slow.  I said: Nothing personal, but you know, for a lot of this stuff, it’s just not moving fast enough.  And they said: Well, then why are you doing this?  And I said: Well, education; I’m trying to learn. And to this day, that’s exactly right. And my goal was to do things.

 

But you didn’t have a specific purpose; you wanted to just apply what you knew?

 

Yeah.  I was interested in all kinds of things.  And so, when I finished, the option was, I could be, you know, at the university level type of thing.  Which is good in a lot of ways, but again, for me, it wasn’t fast enough.  And there was the shipyard, which is some really good people doing important work, but I didn’t want to do that.  So, I created Oceanit.  But I kinda knew how to do that.  So, I thought: Yeah, okay, I can do this.

 

You mean, you knew how to start a company?

 

Right.

 

Because you …

 

‘Cause I learned a lot doing these kinds of projects and jobs when I was in college.  And you know, how to bid a job, how to run a crew, how to deliver stuff, how to execute.  That wasn’t really a big deal.  That always kinda came naturally.  So, the thing that was important for me was, I was very interested in learning the science and the applied science and engineering of stuff.  ‘Cause for me, that was really fun, and it was something that would allow me to build and do things; right?  Make things; which is really what I wanted to do.

 

And the sky’s the limit; right? 

 

The sky’s the limit.

 

Or beyond the sky.

 

Right.  So, it’s not limited by subject or field; it’s really limited by imagination.  And that really became Oceanit.

 

Which means …

 

Well, it’s a Greek and Latin derivative of ocean-dweller.  But see, the thing about the ocean, the ocean is a teacher in so many ways.  But when you do work in the ocean, it’s very interdisciplinary.  So, it covers everything from, you know, physics, chemistry, biology, hydromechanics. So, it’s probably the biggest mashup of all science, is the ocean.  So, for me, it was kind of like an applied physics PhD, focused on fluids.  And then, I did applied electrochemistry and a bunch of other things and materials, but it was a mashup.  And it turns out that mashup of fields and technologies is what we do today at Oceanit; right?  So, it’s in energy and aerospace and materials, and all kinds of things. But if I think about it, that is kind of what it takes to build in and around the ocean.  So, that worked out.

 

Not everybody who moves to Hawai‘i wants to stay.  Clearly, you do, and you have.  What was it like for you being the malihini in Hawai‘i, introduced to all kinds of new people and …

 

Well, I had a classmate, Eric Yee, who became a physician here; he’s Hawaiian-Chinese.  And I used to go surfing with his brothers.  They had a big house in Nu‘uanu.  And we had done this road trip, right, in the Dodge Hilton. So, I brought Eric—

 

In your old car.

 

In my old car.  We drove down to the Keys, we did all this stuff.  And Eric hadn’t been through the South, and we had this other guy from New York.  And so, it was a really interesting trip, where we’d dive in on the Keys, and Eric was amazing.  We were grabbing lobster, and we’d just cook on the fire, and doing all these things. But I would stay with him and his brothers, the Yee brothers, and we’d go surfing.  And so, it was kind of interesting, because we’d go out surfing—of course, they were all much better than me, and I was not that good.  I mean, I’ve gotten better.  But they would say: Okay, ditch the Haole, right, he’s gonna be the bait for the shark.

 

And they’d go out there, and I’m going: What?

 

But I learned a lot from them.  They were super, super-nice people.

 

That doesn’t sound so nice.

 

Well, they were just so nice, I thought.  But it really touched me that in the community, they’re so giving and so supportive.  That was before I met my wife.

 

You came to Hawai‘i for love.

 

And you started this business here.  Obviously, you are reaching far beyond here, but would it be easier to be somewhere else from a business standpoint?

 

Well, that’s a good question.  We just had this group here this week from Korea because they want a license for the Country of Korea.  We’re gonna do, I think, a pipeline in Turkmenistan this quarter. We’re actually gonna do heat exchangers in Abu Dhabi.  I mean, this stuff is all just kinda cranking.  And it was all invented here, and developed in the lab, but the market is the rest of the world.  And that’s how we view it.  So, for manufacturing and certain things, you can build facilities in different places. For the magic, this is the place.

 

One example of an innovative product Oceanit developed is the LifeBed, which has sensors to take vital signs without intrusive wires and electrodes over moving clothes.  It started out as a request from the Department of Defense to improve triage on the battlefields.  Since then, it’s been adapted for hospitals, long-term care facilities, and homecare, because it can monitor vital signs without touching the patient.  Thanks to Patrick Suillivan of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing his life stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

You’ve trademarked, I believe, something called intellectual anarchy.

 

It always starts with asking a basic question, a fundamental question.  Not necessarily a question that’s about a science thing, but maybe a life thing, but basic question.  So, getting the right question is a really big deal.  When you ask the right question, then you go on this sort of a journey in exploring an answer.  And that leads to a lot of interesting things.

 

 

[END]

 

 

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

 

 

 

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