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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Unproven is exactly what we don't need

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

So the members of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority are looking for a new leader and they say they're hoping to find a true visionary. Someone to crank up this sad and stagnant economic engine, someone to make Waikiki once again lay golden eggs by the dozen, someone to think outside the box and turn this place around.

Someone just like Evan Dobelle.

Uh, try wait, yeah?

Not to in any way disparage the new president of the University of Hawai'i, but the fact is, he hasn't done anything yet. He has sure talked the big talk, but he hasn't been around long enough to prove it in the walking.

That says nothing of his sincerity or ability. He simply hasn't had enough time to succeed or fail, just talk. How can the HTA look for someone like him when we don't really know what he's like yet? HTA members also mentioned wanting a chief executive with the leadership ability of University of Hawai'i football coach June Jones.

Not to in any way disparage the great June Jones, the closest thing this state has to royalty, but he hasn't been around very long, either, and though his first and this past season were certainly impressive, the one in-between was less than stellar.

Hawai'i is a strange place, where we tell ourselves we like "quiet but effective," but very quickly put our trust in "impressive but unproven."

Our heads are turned so quickly by flashy talk and big promises. Maybe it's a good thing, that it means we're not jaded. But we get into problems time and time again when we place value on big ideas from the outside as opposed to true understanding from the inside.

What the HTA needs is not an Evan Dobelle or a June Jones, but a Dave Shoji.

Someone with a proven ability to lead and a record of sustained success.

Someone who understands this place, its strengths and weaknesses, and knows how to make the best of who we are and what we've got.

Someone who is more concerned with success in the mission than personal gain.

Hawai'i's visitor industry won't benefit from ideas imported from Miami or the Bahamas or Cancun. The "it worked there, it'll work here" argument never plays to our strengths.

Instead of looking for a visionary who can bring in a suitcase of his or her very own plans for shaking this place up, someone to single-handedly fix everything by telling the industry what to do and how to do it, the HTA needs to look for a leader who can inspire the entire tourism industry to play at a new level, to work as a team, to play to Hawai'i's strengths. We don't need a speechmaker.

We don't need a showboat. We need someone who has already shown us what he or she can do.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.