Leadership Corner: Mark E. Recktenwald
Interviewed by Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
Organization: State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs
High school: Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Mass.
College: A.B. in anthropology, Harvard University; juris doctor, University of Chicago Law School
Breakthrough job: Serving as assistant U.S. attorney. "It gave me the opportunity to be a trial lawyer and to prosecute white-collar cases such as bank fraud, healthcare fraud and environmental crimes," Recktenwald said.
Little-known fact: "When I arrived in Hawai'i from the Mainland in 1980, the first person I met when I walked off the plane was my future wife, Gailynn," Recktenwald said. "Contrary to what some people say, I was not a mail-order husband. I was coming to Hawai'i for work and Gailynn had come to the airport to give me a ride into town."
Major challenge: "Keeping a healthy balance between my professional responsibilities and my family life," Recktenwald said.
Book recently read: "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson
Hobbies: Running, swimming, playing sports with his children, Andrew, 16, and Sarah, 12. "Andrew is learning to throw a curve ball, Sarah is learning to hit one," he said. "And I'm trying to learn how to catch it."
Mentor: The late U.S. District Judge Harold M. Fong. "He was a brilliant judge and was always fair and courteous," Recktenwald said. "His former law clerks feel so strongly about him that we still visit his grave and have lunch with Mrs. Fong every year."
Q. What are the most pressing issues facing your department?
A. Reducing the cost of doing business in Hawai'i and vigorously protecting the interests of consumers. Increases in the cost of insurance workers' compensation, health and liability are hurting businesses and individuals alike. And consumers are faced with risks such as identity theft and other scams.
Q. What are some common misconceptions about the DCCA?
A. Many people don't realize the scope of what we do. We regulate industries ranging from insurance to cable television to banking. We license more than 40 different vocations and professions from architects to veterinarians. We advocate for the public in front of the Public Utilities Commission on issues ranging from electricity rate hikes to the sale of Verizon (Hawai'i). And our Office of Consumer Protection enforces the law against unfair and deceptive trade practices.
Q. What are your short- and long-term goals?
A. In the short term, we want to make more of the department's services available online. We recently rolled out a project called Hawai'i Business Express, which allows a new business to make the necessary filings with DCCA, the tax and labor departments in one online transaction. (More than 1,200 businesses were created online since fall 2004.) We want to expand that service. Long term, we want to ensure that the strong economy we currently have continues, while protecting the quality of life that makes Hawai'i unique. One area of long-term potential is the Business Action Center on Nimitz Highway, which we hope will become part of DCCA. The center has helped thousands of small businesses navigate the requirements that government places on business and we hope to expand its services to additional areas of the state.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
A. The most rewarding part is working with the staff at DCCA. They are hard-working, talented and committed to public service. DCCA has received high ratings for customer satisfaction in several recent surveys, which shows how seriously our employees take customer service. The most challenging part is keeping focused on our goals and not getting distracted too much by the ups and downs of daily events.
Q. Do you think the business climate in Hawai'i has changed from previous administrations?
A. We've made substantial progress in establishing a more business-friendly environment, although much more remains to be done. At DCCA, we started by cutting the fees that we charge for the services we provide by more than $10 million. We've also worked to reduce costs for businesses and consumers by working for the passage of laws that allow members of trade associations to negotiate group rates for health insurance that reduce frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits and that allow residential contractors the right to repair alleged defects before litigation is filed. More broadly, the Lingle-Aiona administration established a more collaborative approach toward issues such as occupational safety and reformed procurement laws. And we've worked to promote new opportunities for Hawai'i businesses. In short, the message has been that business will be treated in a manner that is fair and even-handed with a level playing field for all. All of this helps build confidence in the future within the business community.
Q. What else do you think needs to be done to improve the business climate here?
A. We need to reduce the costs of doing business such as the high cost of obtaining insurance coverage. One way to keep that cost under control is to effectively investigate and prosecute insurance fraud. Right now our Insurance Division has that power only for automobile insurance fraud and they've had a great impact in that area. We asked the Legislature to expand that authority to cover all lines of insurance but, unfortunately, that bill did not pass. As a former white-collar fraud prosecutor, I know that these are difficult cases that require specialized knowledge and commitment to prosecute. We think our Insurance Division brings all of that to the table and hope that in the future the Legislature will agree with us.
Q. What are, in your opinion, important qualities every leader should possess?
A. Listen to your co-workers and customers and incorporate the best of their ideas into your decisions. Be fair and honest and explain clearly what your expectations are and the reasons for your decisions. Recognize and reward excellence. And finally, try to keep it fun. Everybody performs better when they enjoy what they do.