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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Scott

 

One of my favorite Hawaii newspaper columns is about the marvels of the sea – and who would guess its writer grew up in a land-locked state? As a kid, Wisconsin native Susan Scott would page through National Geographic magazines, imagining herself traveling to distant lands. When she moved to Hawaii, she was afraid of the ocean. Today she loves sailing her own sailboat to distant shores. On LONG STORY SHORT, I get to talk with Susan about her discoveries and delights in living on and near the ocean.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Scott Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

My neighbors were two sisters; they called them the old maids in those days—it was in the 50s, and they subscribed to National Geographic, which was the enormous of my attraction to go over there to their house. And I would sit on the couch, I remember it vividly, and page through the National Geographics, which we did not have. My family were not readers. And they would explain things to me. And I remember Easter Island was a big one. I’m going there, and I’m going here, and I’m going here, I’m going here.

 

Susan Scott of Oahu has been to those places she dreamed about in her childhood, and then some. She’s a familiar name to those who followed her weekly Ocean Watch column in Honolulu’s major daily newspaper, which she’s been writing since 1987. Susan Scott, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In addition to her regular Ocean Watch column in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Susan Scott has written seven books about Hawaii’s wildlife, including publications about plants and animals that live in the ocean as well as on land. Yet, having grown up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Susan Scott knew very little about Hawaii when she and her husband, Dr. Craig Thomas, decided to move here in 1983.

 

What was it like for you, your childhood? How would you characterize it?

 

My childhood was very loving and happy. We had a big extended family until my mom remarried. And she married a man who was not very enamored with children or really comfortable around children. And I was the oldest, so we didn’t get along that well. He was pretty strict with manners, and all kinds of things that I hadn’t really ever heard of before. [CHUCKLE] So, we had a hard time of it. They were heavy drinkers. Everybody in my family drank. All four grandparents, all my aunts and uncles; everybody. It was a drinking culture. It is a German-Scandinavian community, and drinking was an enormous part of the culture. I didn’t know people didn’t live like that until I left home. I just decided pretty much when I was fifteen that I was not gonna have children, and that I was gonna have a different life.

 

At fifteen?

 

At fifteen.

 

What did they encourage you to do with your life?

 

They encouraged me to be part of the extended family, and work in factories, and stay there. And I think the vision was that we would all stick together and do the same thing. But whatever it is, I don’t know what happens, but I think some kids just grow up with the travel bug, an adventure bug. And that was me, and I really, really wanted to do that a lot. And everyone thought I was crazy. They didn’t get it. They still don’t get it.

 

I left home when I was eighteen, and the first time in my life I heard a foreign language. I heard a migrant worker in Milwaukee who had been through our county to pick cherries, and he asked me a question in Spanish. I remember it vividly. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe how beautiful this language sounded. And so, he was lost, and in a little trouble, so I took him home where I lived, in a little commune kinda thing with some other hippie kids, and we found someone who spoke Spanish, and on the phone, and he said what he was looking for, a bus station and a place to sleep for the night. But it was this enormous thing. I’d never heard Spanish, I never heard any other language, really.

 

It was all Caucasian people in your small town, too.

 

Yeah; yeah. And I’d never seen Black people, or Asians, or anyone. And so, just leaving was just a really wonderful thing for me. And you know, I certainly had ups and downs as an adolescent and as a hippie, kinda wandering around, wondering what to do. ‘Cause I didn’t go to nursing school until after that. And then, that’s when I decided if I went to nursing and got an RN, I could go back to Europe and maybe live and work in Ireland. When I met Craig, uh, which was in 1980, it was the end of that whole hippie thing, and he was really instrumental in helping me stop doing drugs and alcohol, and smoking, and all of those things.

 

How did you meet?

 

I met Craig in the hospital. He was an intern, and it was his first week there, and it was my last week there.

 

And where was this?

 

In Denver. He had gotten a residency there, and I had gone to nursing school in Denver. And so, we had just met just barely as we were both off going to do different things. I was going back to school to do something else.

 

You had decided not to be a nurse.

 

Right; I decided not to be a nurse.

 

Why not?

 

I think it was too indoors for me. I think I really had an adventure outdoor travel bug.

 

And it’s kind of hard, isn’t it? I mean, devote years to this training and this education, and you did it for a good reason, then you decide it doesn’t work for you?

 

Well, it was only two years.

 

Still, two years.

 

It was an associate degree. Yeah, it was two years. I didn’t feel that I could do it. I’m not sure why, exactly. I worked in seven different departments in seven years. I was a nurse for seven years. And I finally thought, I don’t think moving around the departments is gonna do it for me.

 

And even though it helps with my travel bug, you decided, No, try something else.

 

Yeah. It just didn’t work for me. And I did my pre-med courses after that, at the University of Colorado. And then, Craig finished his residency and really, really wanted to come to Hawaii and rest, and have some time off before he started working. And so, we came to Hawaii in 1983 just for the summer. And that was it; we’ve never, never even considered living anywhere else. But we always said if there’s another place we find—‘cause he likes to travel, obviously, too. If we find a place better, we’ll go there. And we still say that, but you know, the places that we’re going now are wonderful, and I really enjoy the South Pacific and the other islands, and Mexico, and the places that I’ve been sailing these last few years., but I would never leave Hawaii.

 

What was it about Hawaii that made you know, We’re gonna stay here, we’re putting down roots?

 

Well, part of it is, I feel really at home here. I think the culture is American, and there’s a lot of wonderful things about America that I really like. But I also think that the multicultural part of Hawaii really spoke to me. Well, I went to Chinese New Year and had a fantastic time. We just loved it so much. You know, we watched the lion dances and the dragon dance, and we had Chicago hotdogs. And all this different ethnic mix is really, really fun, and I appreciate that all the time. I like the mix here. And I feel like I’m always kinda traveling while I’m here at home and meeting people from different places. So, it really works for me.

 

The multi-ethnic cultures and people may have been Susan Scott’s initial reasons for wanting to stay in Hawaii, but there was something else here that she hadn’t discovered yet, something she probably would never have guessed would become her life’s passion.

 

When you came here, you enrolled at UH Manoa.

 

I enrolled at UH Manoa because I was so afraid of the ocean. And Craig and I both really liked Hawaii and the cultural part of Hawaii, and we loved Oahu.

 

You were afraid of the ocean?

 

I was afraid of the ocean. Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school in Denver. I had barely seen the ocean. So, I didn’t know what a tide was. And when people said the surf was up on the North Shore, I didn’t know. I remember thinking, Up where?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

What does that mean? [CHUCKLE] So, it was interesting to go to school, and thinking I would just take a couple of courses. And I had just come off the really hard pre-med schedule, which I’d finished, and so, it was really fun. And I had all these different people from all over the world at school. My lab partner was from Singapore, and I met a lot of local people who made fun of some of the things I said, and about the ocean, and they thought that it was just crazy that I thought, wana, for instance, was really a cool interesting thing. ‘Cause I had thought that sea urchins were plants.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I had no idea. So, the more I learned, the more interested in got, and I finally ended up with a degree in biology and a certificate in marine journalism from the Marine Option Program. So, I’m a very proud graduate of MOP.

 

Well, what is your job?

 

I’m a freelance writer. And so, I’ve contracted with the Star Advertiser, the Star Bulletin for many years, to do a weekly column. And one of the things the editors were interested in the beginning was that I would have the science point of view from the animals. So, I could write about the marine animals and marine science in a way that reporters probably wouldn’t. And so, those were sort of my sample columns, and the editor who hired me said, Well, let’s just try this for a while and see how it goes. And that’s the only contract I ever had.

 

And as the Star Bulletin dissolved, here you are with the Star Advertiser.

 

Star Advertiser; right.

 

You continued along with them.

 

Well, I was lucky. I made the cut.

 

You did.

 

Yeah; I was very lucky.

 

From being afraid of the ocean to essentially spending your life around it.

 

Right; exactly.

 

In it, on it, around it.

 

Yeah. I think part of the feedback I get for my column and my books is that the sense of wonder is still in the writing. And I feel that; that’s very genuine.

 

And the curiosity is the case there too.

 

To me, I feel like I’m in a movie sometimes; just even walking on the beach, I don’t have to get in the water. And I feel so lucky that I not only got to study and learn the science part of marine biology, but that I get to live it. You know.

 

Well, I love your column. And you know, I think so many people read it and say, Ah, I always wondered about that. In fact, I was gonna tell you that there was this period, I think it was a month; it was one June, I can’t remember which June, but I remember thinking, Everything you’re writing about this month, every week I open it up, and it’s something I really, really wanted to know.

 

Oh, that’s great. Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Yeah; I get really good feedback from the column, and it really keeps me going, keeps me interested. I think I’ll be a little old lady going into the newspaper, still writing about my experience with the ocean. But it is a lot of fun.

 

A lot of it is based on observation. You see something, and you wonder about it.

 

Right.

 

You do the research, and then you talk with people.

 

Well, and I have lots and lots of really interested readers, like you, who write me notes and say—

 

Yeah; what is this?

 

I found this, can I send you a picture? Or, Have you ever heard of this? And uh, I just feel really lucky that I have so many readers now. And I have readers in Australia, now that it’s online, the newspaper’s online. I got an email from Switzerland last week, and another from Malta.

 

And there are infinite things to learn about the ocean. It covers, what, three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. You’ve got a lot of material forever.

 

I’ll never run out of material. Yeah.

 

Tell me about some of the columns that have resonated most with your readers.

 

Well, I think that sailing columns resonate the most. And it’s interesting, ‘cause I worry the most about those being boring to people. Probably because I feel like the column should be about discovering marine animals, and I think the thing I like writing best about is, what you said, finding something and wondering how it works, and then discovering, like, Oh, my gosh, this nudibranch has its own little garden on its back. Which we have right off on the North Shore, we have a bunch of these. And so, if I’m writing about sailing, it feels more like a little bit of a travel log. Like, I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this. And I think, I’m probably driving people crazy. It’s like, Oh, big deal.

 

What’s the latest new thing you’ve learned?

 

Chitons; I’ve never seen a Hawaii chiton. And so, when my friends emailed me that from California and I looked it up, I looked it up in the Hawaii books I have and said, We have those. They wear a girdle. [CHUCKLE] This is called a girdle that goes around. I found a website by Sam Gon, who’s the Nature Conservancy biologist here, and who I’ve meet several times, and so, he had something about chitons, and trilobites. He calls the chitons trilobite imposters. [CHUCKLE] Pretenders, or something. ‘Cause he gets emails from people that say they found a trilobite.

 

Chiton; so that’s C-H-I-T-O-N.

 

Right. That was all new for me. I spent two days doing it. So, I don’t earn very good money, because I spend so much time writing each column. But I have really a lot of fun doing it. And then, I think if I quit the column, would I still work so hard at getting all the little details and getting it right? And I don’t know.

 

Gives you a reason to give structure to your positive wonder about the world.

 

Well, it does. It does.

 

Makes you more alert, too, I would think.

 

It does. ‘Cause I’m always thinking, Oh, I’ve gotta write about that.

 

Right.

 

Well, then I have to remember what kinda day this was, or what beach it was, or was it rocky beach, or sandy. A lot of my observations are not actually in the water. Which is one of the things a lot of my readers write and say, I’ve never been in the ocean, I don’t swim. I love your columns, because I can relate to it through your eyes, but I don’t feel like I have to actually get in the ocean to know about these things. ‘Cause I don’t always get in the water, either.

 

And meanwhile, you’ve been writing books as well. I’m fascinated by All Stings Considered. And I know everyone has asked you, I’ve asked you, when you get stung by a Portuguese Man ‘O War, which is very common, there’s always someone willing to give you their home remedy.

 

That’s right.

 

But do any of the remedies work, or is it just time that works?

 

Well, I had a doctor friend that used to say, tincture of time was the best remedy. And what we say for almost all jellyfish stings.

 

Almost all.

 

The reason so many things work, and everyone has so many different remedies is because it’s a self-limiting injury that goes away by itself anyway. Craig and I did some studies with the City and County lifeguards, and we had a really good time. We had unmarked bottles, so it was a blinded study, so no one knew what they were putting on. And then, we had victims of jellyfish stings fill out a questionnaire; spray this on and tell us on a pain scale how it was. And so, we had a statistician from City and County running the numbers, ‘cause we wanted to make sure we weren’t making something worse. And we had meat tenderizer mixed in a concentrated form in water, and we had Sting Aid which they were selling at the time in all the stores, and fresh water and sea water. Sea water was our control. And the statistician called us, I remember the day, and said, I think you might as well stop the study, ‘cause the sea water is so far ahead of all the others. So, that told us that it was statistically significant. So, don’t do anything. Rinse it off with sea water and go home.

 

Sea water seems to be an answer to so many things.

 

Yeah; it really is.

 

I always remember a prominent coach who had a progressive disorder, and I asked him what he was doing for it. And he goes, The ocean is my therapy, and it’s made me happier than anything could have.

 

Well, I could say the same thing. Yeah. There is something about sea water. And even walking next to it works for me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.

 

I don’t have to actually get in it.

 

Discovering new wonders about the ocean and wildlife and writing about them has never stopped being exciting and fulfilling for Susan Scott. Yet, after doing this for eighteen years, she came to a point in her life where she needed to do something different.

 

You know every type of animal you could ever find in a tide pool.

 

Yeah; exactly. Well, I’m still learning. That’s the fun of it. So, I still really find the thrill of it and the joy of it.

 

As your life has gone along, you’ve actually gotten more and more, well, immersed in the ocean.

 

Right. Yeah; I started sailing. I didn’t know how to sail before I met Craig, but uh, in 2005, I sailed to Palmyra. I learned how to sail.

 

Wait a minute; that’s a big jump.

 

Oh.

 

First, you’re afraid of the ocean.

 

Yeah.

 

And then you’re sailing with Craig, and all of a sudden you’re sailing to Palmyra?

 

Well, I had a big midlife crisis. I had a really, really hard menopause shift in hormones, I think. I don’t know; I felt crazy. And I think a lot of women have these hormone times in their late forties and fifties, and people do think they’re crazy. People thought I was crazy. I felt like I did lose myself. I thought, I don’t know who I am or where I’m going, or what’s happening. I had been trying to write a novel, and like most novel writers in the world, it was rejected, rejected, rejected. And that’s normal, but I took that so hard. I took to my bed and didn’t get up for days. And I’m not like that at all. And so, I had a really miserable time with it, and that Women’s Health Initiative study came out that said hormones are bad for women, so I was not on hormones. And finally, I said, [CHUCKLE] I’m going somewhere. My life feels like it’s over anyway, so whatever happens, it’s gotta be better, it doesn’t matter what I do. So, I learned how to sail a boat by myself, without Craig, which was the first time. And a lot of people said, Well, he taught you how to sail, or you learned how to sail with him. Taking it myself was an entire different universe, and making all the decisions was really different.

 

Were you a solo sailor going across the ocean that way?

 

I got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a volunteer in Palmyra. They really needed some help doing a study there, and it would take four months. But they didn’t have any way for me to get there, or a place for me to live when I did get there. ‘Cause Palmyra is a pretty remote camp. And so, I thought, Well, I have a sailboat. I’ll just go there. I’ll sail there, and I’ll live on the boat, and then I’ll see what happens after that.

 

How long did it take you to sail there?

 

It took me a week to sail there, with some big catastrophic boat failures, actually. And I sailed with a biologist friend, a young man who’s still a very dear friend. And he had never been on a sailboat before or never sailed. So, the two of us were really novices. And we made it to Palmyra. We managed to patch the boat together enough to sail there, and Craig sent down the parts to fix it.

 

What was that failure? What happened?

 

The forestay broke. Which for sailors, if you know boats, is what holds up the mast and the sails. And so, we managed to save the mast.

 

It broke in bad weather?

 

It broke because it was put together wrong.

 

Oh!

 

Here in Honolulu. It was new. That’s a very big deal. It’s about as bad as it gets without getting a hole in the bottom of the boat where it’s sinking. But we did fine. We didn’t know much then. I know a lot more now. I think I’d be a lot more calm now.

 

All the elements are bigger than yourself, and can combine against you.

 

Yes. And I learned too, that you’re really dependent on the boat for your life, but you’re also dependent on your wits to fix the boat, because things break all the time. The most common conversation among sailors is what big thing broke, and what did you do. And I wrote a book about it called, Call Me Captain, which is a really big part of my life. I’ve been writing that for a long time. And University of Hawaii Press is publishing it.

 

It’s so hard to write about yourself, I would think.

 

It was very hard. I actually had a wonderful editor from San Francisco, a really good editor who’s a professional editor, and she helped me. And I think the big part of her, besides being a good editor is, she didn’t know me personally. And so, she could say, I can’t picture this; I don’t know what were you feeling. And so, I rewrote with her over years.   And the UH Press does not usually publish memoirs.

 

Oh, congratulations.

 

So, I feel very lucky. So, I sailed to Tahiti from Palmyra, and then to Australia. I really got the bug.

 

That’s amazing.

 

I had different friends help me. I never sailed alone until I got to Mexico. And in the Sea of Cortez there’s only seventy-five miles across, and so I started sailing alone there. ‘Cause I thought, Oh, I’m never gonna be that far offshore. My big problem with going offshore alone is, if something breaks that’s beyond my strength, I don’t feel very strong, and as I age, I feel less strong. I lift weights, but it doesn’t make me feel capable. And on the way to Palmyra, when we had the big boat failure, I really needed Alex’s strength.

 

You’ve seen some amazing visuals at sea. I know you’ve described spinning dolphins.

 

Right.

 

What else at sea have you seen that’s amazing?

 

Well, one thing that I saw that was amazing, but I didn’t really realize it until later when I looked it up and read, it was pilot whales. And pilot whales are among the very few—I think there’s only two species, maybe three, in the world of animals that have menopause, and females live long after they stop reproducing. And pilot whales are one of them; Hawaii’s pilot whales. So, when they swam up to the boat, on my trip to Palmyra, they were the only whales that came to the boat. And then later, when I read about them, I thought, Well, there you go.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

They were coming over to see me, and that was a really good sign.

 

How’s that going for you? [CHUCKLE]

 

That was good.

 

Do you sleep well on the boat in the middle of the sea?

 

No. I don’t sleep hardly at all. I sleep; I feel like I’m not totally exhausted, but when I get somewhere, I sleep a lot. But I’m always on call.

 

And yet, you love being on a boat where you don’t sleep much?

 

Well, I’m not offshore that much. So, the trip from Mexico to the Marquesas that I did this year was a twenty-eight-day crossing. And that’s really a long, long crossing. And then, the rest of the year was just little trips, so you know, a day or two. And then when you get where you’re going, it’s a wonderful, peaceful anchorage usually, and you can sleep just fine.

 

How big is your boat? Tell me about your boat.

 

Oh, the boat’s thirty-seven feet. It’s French ketch, and it’s easy to single hand. It’s set up so you can single handed maintain the sails and do what you need to do by yourself. But it’s also roomy enough to sleep comfortably six people. So, there’s three separate cabins. It’s a center cockpit boat with an aft master cabin, and a center and a forward.

 

So, you could conceivably go alone, although that’s not advisable.

 

I could go alone. And people do go alone. I think part of it, too, it’s a social event. You know, it’s been really a good social thing for me to have, to be able to skipper the boat, and have friends come along. And as a biologist in Hawaii, I have a lot of friends who are really good on the water and they’ve been on research vessels, and they know the water, and they’re not afraid of big waves. And so, they may not necessarily know a lot about sailing, but they do what I tell them, and we’ve had a really good time.

 

You like being the skipper?

 

I do like being the skipper. I do. Sometimes, there’s times when I think it’d be really fun to just be on somebody else’s boat and let them worry about what’s going wrong, or where we’re going, or should we go all night, or should we pull in. But mostly, I like it. I enjoy it.

 

And you’re telling me menopause is what triggered all of this?

 

It is. I think, Leslie, I would have never gone on that sailboat by myself, unless I was really desperate and miserable.

 

I’m wondering if those people who you said thought you were crazy; did they think you were even crazier when you started taking the sailboat out virtually on your own?

 

That I was crazy when I got home?

 

Well, no; you know, once they heard you were—

 

When I got home, I was fine. [CHUCKLE] It cured me. [CHUCKLE] I think getting outside of my own self, and I think if there’s a lesson there, and I would never presume to tell anyone else what to do with their own. Menopause or misery, or midlife or early life crisis; I felt as confused and mixed up as I had when I was a teenager, with all those hormone storms and things, and trying to figure out what I was gonna be, where I was gonna go. And I came from a place where I really wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what. And this was the same kinda thing. And I thought, whatever happens, I’m losing it here, so it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be good. And if I never come back, or Craig and I don’t stay together, well, that’s just life.

 

Susan Scott has made it through many challenges. She continues to sail and explore with the same passion and wonder that she’s always had, and through her writing, we all get to tag along. Mahalo to Susan Scott of Oahu for sharing her stories 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.

 

Where are the places you’d still like to go?

 

Well, I’ve never seen the pyramids of Egypt, and that one of the pages of the National Geographics of the Imer [PHONETIC] sisters. And we talked about the pyramids. I remember that, and Easter Island, which I did get to see the moai. So that was good. So, I would like to go to Egypt, but there never seems to be a very good time, politically. I’m never sure.

 

Because think the open ocean is safer than Egypt.

 

Oh, I do; I do. I think it is.

 

[END]

AMERICAN MASTERS
Eva Hesse

AMERICAN MASTERS: Eva Hesse

 

In May 1970, Eva Hesse, a 34 year old German-born American artist cresting the wave of a swiftly rising career had her life cut short by a brain tumor. Interviews, high quality footage of Hesse’s artwork and archival imagery trace Hesse’s life and artistic path.

 

Preview

 

 

 

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]

 

 

 

COUNTRY MUSIC
The Rub (Beginnings – 1933)

COUNTRY MUSIC: The Rub (Beginnings – 1933) - The Carter Family

 

See how what was first called “hillbilly music” reaches new audiences through phonographs and radio, and launches the careers of country music’s first big stars, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

 

 

 

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]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mark Fukunaga

 

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

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Dec. 8, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Mark Fukunaga Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Was he an immigrant?

 

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

 

And was he intending to go back?

 

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

 

So he was willing to humble himself…

 

Yeah.

 

And, and risk a big move?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Another setback?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah, right.

 

Hmm, so he saved money, too.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That’s pretty amazing, too…

 

Yeah.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That’s a lot of bookkeeping.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

They did expect you to, right?

 

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

 

In Chicago?

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You were taking the calls?

 

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

 

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

 

Oh, yeah.

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

Rotting in their homes.

 

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

 

You liked cleaning gross food out of…

 

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

 

Just squeeze it in there?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So there were just two at that point?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What changes were made by you and Eric?

 

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

 

And were they doing well?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Let people go.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Where people wouldn’t need to own a car…

 

Right.

 

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

 

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

 

 

Does that phase you?

 

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

 

Uh, what’s the fourth generation looking like?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And she’s a millennial.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[END]

 

 

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
No Laughing Matter

FINDING YOUR ROOTS: No Laughing Matter

 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. shows comedians Seth Meyers, Tig Notaro and Sarah Silverman that their family trees are filled with people whose struggles laid the groundwork for their success. Gates also reveals to each one news of an unexpected DNA cousin.

 

Preview

 

 

 

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