Every Wednesday Evening, for more than 90 minutes, the Hogan Entrepreneurs at Chaminade University meet with one of the entrepreneurial leaders of Hawaii and beyond. These sessions are intense and students are expected to wring all the important information they can from each speaker. Many sessions lead to important relationships between the students and these leaders -- from mentoring, to internships, to jobs and on occasion, even to partnerships.
One such speaker every year is Gary Hogan, the CEO/President of Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts/Royal Pacific Air, and son of the Hogan Program's benefactors -- Ed and Lynn Hogan. Gary is also Chairman of the Hogan Program's Advisory Board. He was interviewed recently by Sam Galloway, a Senior Hogan student from Ohio.
Sam: Why did the Hogan Family Foundation decide to fund an Entrepreneurial Program at Chaminade?
Gary: It's a family decision. I was also on the Chaminade board of Regents at the time. I looked at it as a way I could contribute to the university. Even if you come up with a great idea, if you don't have the right leader it's going to fail. I knew Chaminade had great leaders and was enthusiastic about getting it started.
Sam: The program has been at Chaminade for more than 12 years. How is it going?
Gary: It's going great. Most new businesses usually fail after the first three. It's sustaining itself and doing really well. We have increased the funds to branch out more and be even more relevant.
I was having a dinner at a restaurant with my wife and the waitress was talking about how she just moved here and is going to Chaminade. I asked her why she picked Chaminade and she goes "Well, they've got this great Hogan Entrepreneurial Program," and I said "Wow!" I told my wife later, "That's when you know it's successful." I never told the waitress who I was. But it felt good, really good.
Sam: I came to Chaminade for soccer and then I later found out about the Hogan Entrepreneurial Program. It's been the glue that made me stick around. How do you measure the program's success?
Gary: The enrollment process. The tough interviews one needs to go through to get in. The Advisory Board members who mentor, teach and provide internships. The engagement of students in social service and in starting student businesses. The growth of the network in -- and outside -- the classroom.
Sam: What do you expect from the advisors?
Gary: Their enthusiastic commitment. We only meet twice a year. They mentor students, but we don't ask for a financial commitment. We're looking more for their participation and the other things they can bring to the table.
Sam: Are you happy with how the advisory board has progressed so far?
Gary: We have a great group of advisors and they do participate significantly.
Sam: You obviously feel entrepreneurs can be developed. Do you think people can simply be born entrepreneurs?
Gary: I think they definitely can be developed, but there also has to be something in that person that you're pulling out of them. Like professional athletes, you're always going to have some people that are born with the skills and some who aren't. Sometimes they have a great idea, but can't take it to the next level. By learning the entrepreneurial processes and skills they can build a team. Myself, I like to build a strong team to make up for my weaknesses.
Sam: Who are some of your mentors?
Gary: One of my mentors for the past 20 years is Pat Birmingham who was President of Sheraton Hotels. He only had an 8th grade education. Started as a bellman for Sheraton, but worked his way up to being President of Asia Pacific, and Europe. Quite a success story.
My relationship with my dad is very strong. It's hard to have your dad as a mentor when you're in your teens and twenties and you think you know more than he does. But, when you are in your 30s and 40s you realize maybe he was right. I was always listening, I just wasn't always following. So all the advice he gave me over the years, I now put to use. I joined the YPO (Young Presidents Organization) when I was 34-years-old. Wow, what an eye opener! You've got a lot of young entrepreneurial presidents trying to find their way. You meet these guys and learn -- hey, we all have all the same problems. So you start to network and learn from each other.
Sam: We Hogan students sometimes wonder what we could provide our mentors in return for everything that they're doing for us.
Gary: Just listen and ask a lot of questions!
Sam: Do you think entrepreneurial concepts can be applied in other sectors -- say, government, the military, corporations, educational institutions, etc.?
Gary: Absolutely. It's going to be a hard road but that's exactly where it should be applied. A lot of things in government have been pushed to the private sector and need to be improved and made efficient. Government doesn't need to grow bigger and take over more things -- it's been proven time and time again that they don't always do that very well. We saw that recently with the "Obamacare" website. There are a lot of things that also get tied up in the military bureaucracy because they too don't handle things efficiently. So it costs more, with more delays. Most politicians have never run a business. If you're going to create regulations and taxes on corporations or small business you should understand what they go through to make payroll or stay in business or expand.
Sam: Is Hawaii a good place or a tough place to be an entrepreneur? Why?
Gary: I think it's tough. Tourism is always, in my mind, the main economic force in the island. I thought Hawaii could be the next Silicon Valley, but you need to get the government to support it 100 percent. You need to give tax credits and other incentives to get people to come here to invest their money. That's how we brought back the film industry. We killed the film industry once because we overburdened them. A tax incentive can get me to buy another airplane that I thought I couldn't afford. That's creating jobs, commerce, and building the economy. Look at the superferry. A lot of farmers and companies used the superferry. Then it got killed. People then say: "I don't know if I want to make that commitment in Hawaii because I don't know if it's sustainable. I may lose everything." So they go elsewhere.
Sam: The Hogan Program mantra is "Doing business things which make social sense and doing social things which make business sense." Why?
Gary: In doing business you want to be a good steward to the land and to the community, to give back. It's what we teach the students. You may make a lot of money, but make sure when you do it, that you are being responsible to your community, to your employees, to everyone you touch. We have students who graduated and are making a bit of money and we're seeing them write small checks to the program. It's kind of neat they're doing that. It's also like that with our foundation -- we donate back to a lot of different causes. We want to make sure that our students know to be socially responsible.
Sam: How entrepreneurial is the hotel and travel business?
Gary: It's as entrepreneurial as you want it to be. We never felt like we were a big corporation. We always try to keep ourselves small, very light on our feet. A lot of hotel companies have great ideas but they need to run it up a corporate flag pole and maybe three months later get an approval. The idea may have been tweaked so badly that it doesn't work anymore. We can implement something new the next day. It's not always successful but if it fails we do something else or the idea morphs into something else. It really changes the dynamic of all the associates because they're part of the process of creating things. It opens up everybody's minds and of course you have to celebrate it and make sure you give credit where it's due. The role of management is to make people want to get up in the morning and get dressed and go to work. Once you find that kind of fit, others feel it too and it makes for a good community.
Sam: I saw the cool sport cars and a weight set, so obviously you're happy to be coming into work every day. How do you stay entrepreneurial and on your toes?
Gary: Some days you feel like you're in maintenance mode only. Nothing new is clicking. A good friend of mine told me to get back out in the field when that happens -- walk around. You immediately start to see things differently. I hate sitting behind my desk. That's why I go to the outer islands every week because it stimulates me to see things. I need to "touch" the field. Some people's best ideas come from sitting down and cranking it out on paper. Not me, I need to be in the fight.