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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 27, 2006

Leadership corner

Full interview with Daryl A. Ishizaki

Interviewed by Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

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Age: 49

Title: Honolulu District Manager (started as a postal carrier and had 13 or 14 postal service jobs in 26 years).

Organization: U.S. Postal Service

Born: San Jose, Calif.

High School: James Lick High School, class of 1973

College: San Jose State University, economics degree, 1978; University of California at Berkeley; University of Phoenix, MBA in international business.

Breakthrough job: Captain of high school basketball and football teams

Little-known fact: "I left San Jose State before grad school and spent four months back-packing through Europe."

Mentor: Darrell Deitz, then district manager of marketing and communications for the San Jose district of the Postal Service.

Major challenge: "Having my wife (Carrie) finish her career in San Jose. She kind of heads up the Superior Court clerks in San Jose while she's giving me the opportunity to work in Hawai'i and fulfill one of my dreams. I've always wanted to work in Hawai'i. I feel comfortable here. I feel this is home to me." Daughter Kayla, 13, remains in San Jose. Daughter Kirian, 18, plays point guard at the University of California at Irvine on a full basketball scholarship.

Books recently read: "Memoirs of a Geisha."

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Q. You mentioned you're hapa.

A. German-Japanese. My dad went into the service from internment camp. He spent time in the 442 but then was taken into an intelligence group doing decode work. I know he was stationed in Chicago when he met my mom, who was an entertainer. It was tough bringing her home to the family. She was the first non-Japanese brought into the family so it was a real test for them.

Q. How do you see the challenge of running the Postal Service in Hawai'i, where you have small rural offices and big urban ones on different islands?

A. I was postmaster in San Jose and the postmaster in San Francisco so I've had a wide variety of experiences in handling different types of post offices, some very metropolitan and some very rural. I had an opportunity to meet a quite diverse variety of customers and level of customer expectations. There were farmers and individuals out in country homes and they had they same kind of environment that I'm experiencing here in terms of customer diversity. The work ethic and culture here of the employees is at such a high standard. You can see it in everything we do. We have one of the best plants I've ever seen in the Postal Service. The station managers and post masters in Hawai'i seem to not only care about the customers, but they really truly care about the employees they work with and serve. As a whole, it's a cut above the rest.

Q. You want to visit every single station every quarter in a district that covers Hawai'i, Guam, Saipan, Rota and American Samoa?

A. Every quarter it's my intention to visit my post offices and offices. Clearly I'm not going to meet with all of them. The ones I won't be able to visit every quarter are Guam, American Samoa and others that extend almost to the Philippines. So far, I have visited 40 percent of all of the offices in the district. On the Big Island, I've visited all but two and all but two on Maui. I'm an active district manager. I believe that sitting behind my desk is not what Hawai'i really needs. I want to be involved not only with the community but with the employees and the offices that I serve. You need to lead by example and you need to be close to where your people need you. One of the litmus tests that good leaders have is if they step back and ask themselves, 'If I were to be elected to this position, would I be the individual that the people I serve select?' As a district manager, I don't deliver any mail. But what I do is make sure my people have the kind of support and resources and training that allow them to be successful. I can better support those areas by understanding what their needs are.

Q. What kind of changes can we expect in the upcoming year?

A. We really feel like we're going to get mail to the outer islands faster. We have an initiative to get all carriers off the street by 5 o'clock on all the Islands. In fact, we're 80 percent there. Nationwide, they're looking to get carriers off the street by 6. But in Honolulu, 6 just isn't good enough. Everybody knows the traffic is tough if you don't leave by a certain time. Understanding the work habits of customers is extremely important what time people come home and want to read their mail. I want my employees to know that it's health first, family second and career third. In order to walk that talk, I need to make sure I don't have carriers on the street in the dark. I need to make sure I have them in vehicles that are working and I've got them in facilities that are in good repair. I need to make sure that if there are unsafe conditions out there, that I'm going to take care of them. Getting carriers off the street not only solves the customers' problems, but tells the carriers that I care about them personally. I'm also looking to improve the delivery conditions in the field. There are many boxes and roads that, frankly, aren't the same as before. I want to make sure we have boxes in safe locations. I want to eliminate mail theft so no matter where you are you don't have to worry about someone rifling through it. The sanctity of the mail is a concern to everyone.

Q. If a postal customer believes there is an unsafe box location or has another security suggestion, who do they contact?

A. The first thing they do is contact their postal carrier or post office manager that serves them. We are looking at every box in the Islands to make sure we have them in safe locations. Some of them used to be on two-lane roads that were hardly frequented and now the carrier can hardly get out and stop at the box without their tires being halfway up on the road.

Q. When did you first realize you enjoyed being a leader?

A. My family came back after the internment in Hart Mountain (Wyoming) to San Jose and were farmers. We farmed lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cucumbers. My first taste of leadership occurred when I started in sports. As a local neighborhood boy and a farm boy, I was always looking for opportunities to get off the farm. There could be no one more happier than a 6-foot-2 individual who didn't have to cut lettuce anymore. I grew up in a family of seven boys (including five foster brothers) and I had one older brother. But I was always the captain of the team. I was the captain of the basketball team and football team in high school, although to be quite honest I was an average player. They didn't choose me because I was the most talented. I believed they chose me because I had the skills to bring people together, to get them fired up and all together under one vision. Being the captain of the teams early on let me know that I really wanted to take a leadership role, be responsible for encouraging players and be able to represent in some way some leadership qualities. Later, when I left college, my first job was at Verbatim, a 5 1/4 floppy disc company, and I was the youngest production manager in the company at the time at age 23. There was a large Asian community of employees Filipino, Vietnamese, Indian workers. The cultures were very diverse. Each one of the individuals were intricate parts of a team that needed to understand that different skill levels needed to come together to produce the final result. I couldn't have done any one of those individual things, but as a coach and someone who could put the right people at the right place at the right time was something I had experience with. The real lesson is that when you're working with individuals it's all about relationship management.

Q. Talk about your mentor, Darrell Deitz, of the San Jose district of the Postal Service.

A. I wanted to hook my wagon to someone who had the potential for developing other people. I looked for that in professors and I looked for that in leaders. I found this individual (Deitz) who was a real good coach and mentor and found a position and had to take a downgrade. A lesson I learned is that sometimes you have to take a step back to take three steps forward. Rather than wait and look for a certain position in San Jose, this was a good opportunity with this individual who seemed to be an up and comer, someone who was developing people. If I took a lateral position working with someone who didn't seem to be as energetic, who didn't seem to be on the cusp of the energy level I was looking for, I might have to sacrifice opportunity. In the next three years, he gave me opportunities I never would have had with another operation or another part of the Postal Service.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.