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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 9, 2006

Leadership corner

Full interview with Tony Guerrero

Interviewed by Alan Yonan Jr.
Advertiser staff writer

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Age: 60

Organizations: President of Friends of Hawaii Charities; vice chairman of First Hawaiian Bank.

Born: Honolulu

High School: Saint Louis School

College: University of Portland

Breakthrough job: First Hawaiian Bank's management trainee program.

Little-known facts: Born two months premature; previously employed as a beach boy.

Mentors: The late John Bellinger, former chief executive officer of First Hawaiian Bank; Walter Dods, chairman of BancWest Corp. and First Hawaiian Bank, and former chief executive officer of First Hawaiian Bank; Buffalo Keaulana, former surfing champion and longtime lifeguard.

Major challenge: Keeping the passion under control.

Hobbies: Surfing, paddling, fishing, golfing.

Books recently read: "The Traveler's Gift: Seven decisions that Determine Personal Success" by Andy Andrews.

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Q. What are some of the qualities of a good leader in your view?

A. For me, number one, is you have to care for your people. You have to create an environment so they can win and be successful. I'm not one that orders people around. I'm not a micromanager, I like to do it by action. I always tell my people, I'll give you enough rope to do one of two things. First thing, I hope you climb the highest mountain with it. Second thing, if you don't want to, you can hang yourself with it. But I think leadership requires the ability to work with people and be humble enough to know it's not you doing the job, it's the people you've got surrounding you doing the job. And I've learned that especially from Walter Dods, big time. I've had several mentors, but he and John Bellinger, they both had a love affair with the community. And the record shows, they've given so much to the community. And that's basically the core value of First Hawaiian Bank.

Q. Can you explain the mission of the Friends of Hawaii Charities?

A. The mission of the Friends of Hawaii Charities is to raise money through sporting events that are televised so that we can help the women, the children, those in need. It's a two-fold mission. The first thing is to raise money for Hawai'i charities, but we don't want to do it the normal way with (charity) dinners, et cetera. We want to do it in a way so that we also put Hawai'i in the forefront. When you do that, then you have the ability to acquire sponsors. We want that local and national advertising. It does two things: It helps the economy, and it raises money for charity.

Q. Are there differences in the way leadership is practiced in the corporate world versus nonprofit organizations?

A. It's very similar, yet very different. When you're here at the bank and because of your position, people will listen to you. We like to discuss things. An old friend of mine told me discussion is good for the soul. But always in the back of your mind, you know that this is a job and you're getting paid for it. With volunteers, you have to be more compassionate and humble. I go to a point, when I'm at the Sony, especially, when I'm walking around and see a volunteer, I shake their hand and say thank you for the support. You've got to show you care. At a nonprofit you have to show a lot of compassion and caring.

Q. Many people may not be aware that the Friends of Hawaii Charities took over the former Hawaiian Open in 1998 and brought in Sony as the major sponsor. Was it a smooth transition?

A. You have to realize that first of all, the Hawaiian Open was a big tournament, and one of the founders was my mentor John Bellinger. That kind of put pressure on me when I headed up the committee to get a new sponsor, and I was fortunate enough to work with the Sony and the Moritas (Sony founders). I would say after two years, Sony really felt like it was a helluva good business decision. But unlike the Hawaiian Open, we had to make money. We had a risk. They pay us x amount of dollars to run the tournament, but that doesn't cover everything. We have to go out and sell something like $2 million worth of sponsorships, in addition to the sponsorship of Sony.

Q. Friends of Hawaii Charities last year raised $1 million through the Sony Open and other golf tournaments. What is the outlook in the coming years?

A. Our original goal when I started this off was a million dollars. The first year we raised about $225,000-$250,000, and we worked our way up from that. In 2007, we might raise that a bit. This tournament (Sony Open) probably has the capacity to raise maybe a million and a half for charity. The Sony is our major event. We also have the Champions Tour at Turtle Bay, which is a senior event. And we do the LPGA event at Turtle Bay for the women. With all three, the major goal is to raise money for those in need. Our other mission is to give something back to the community. With the Sony, $20 million of hard dollars comes into the state in that week and a half from the TV guys, to the people who come in and stay in the hotels, to all the vendors. The broadcast goes 12 hours live to the Mainland USA, primetime. Twenty hours live to Japan, and this year we're going to India, South Korea and China.

Q. There has been a lot written about how natural disasters such as hurricanes along the Gulf Coast and the South East Asian tsunami have resulted in a decline in charitable giving to other causes. Is this something you have noticed in Hawai'i?

A. Actually, no. As far as the (Sony) tournament itself, it's not like giving to Aloha United Way or other charities. It's a sporting event. We get sponsors and sponsors are paying because they want to be part of it. They want to entertain their customers. So its not like charity giving. The other part is the volunteers, who, of course, are giving their time. And we also have added The Friends Club, which has helped raise an additional $75,000 last year.

Q. You've been involved in the local sports scene for quite some time. Many of Hawai'i's top high school sports prospects when they graduate have to decide whether to play for a local college or accept an offer from a Mainland school. What would your advice to them be?

A. I think its something that's very personal. It's up to each individual. I was fortunate to have a whole bunch of rides to the Mainland. But I was going to be a beach boy. So I turned it all down. I winded up going to a small school that didn't play football and I ended up playing basketball and running track. I'm so glad I went away because I needed to go away. I was one of those rascals. And I learned a lot going to a small school, the University of Portland. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't have this job here. On the other hand, it's great playing in front of your hometown.