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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 9, 2008

She gave up stability to pursue dream

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Age: 45

Title: President, Hawai'i Public Policy Advocates LLC; state director, National Federation of Independent Business; and executive director, Society for Human Resource Management Hawaii Chapter

Born: LaGrange, Ill.

High School: Baldwin High School, Maui

College: University of Hawai'i, BA, JD

Breakthrough job: Committee clerk at the state House of Representatives

Little-known fact: Attended Hamburger University in Oakbrook, Ill., while working as a public relations account executive for McDonald's Restaurants of Hawaii.

Mentors: Hawai'i attorneys Elizabeth Ishii, Anna Elento Sneed and Beadie Dawson

Major challenge: Advocating for small businesses at the state Capitol. Business owners are too busy running their companies to be lobbying.

Hobbies: Swimming at the beach with my two children.

Books recently read: "The Art of War for Women," by Chin-Ning Chu; "The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court," by Jeffrey Toobin; and "The Closers," by Ben Gay III.

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Melissa Pavlicek is president of Hawai'i Public Policy Advocates, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, and executive director of the Society for Human Resource Management Hawaii Chapter.

Q. Which one of these is your "day" job?

A. Hawai'i Public Policy Advocates is my day job, and National Federation of Independent Business and the Society for Human Resource Management are clients of my company. They have hired my company to serve as the executive director of their organization. We have several other nonprofits who work with us that like to leverage our resources, and we can make it more cost-effective for them to outsource their executive director rather than hire a full-time professional staff of their own.

Q. Is that a common practice?

A. There are a number of nonprofits like that, especially in these difficult economic times. The cost of paying for employees is a challenge. So if you can outsource some expertise, and we have, for example, staff who are familiar with membership marketing and how to manage Web sites for associations, then they can get the benefit of not having to teach someone from scratch.

Q. Why did you start Hawai'i Public Policy Advocates?

A. I worked at a law firm and my husband worked at a law firm for many years and he also worked in the governor's office, and we both loved doing legislative advocacy and working with nonprofits. Three years ago I went to a women's conference, and I just sat there thinking, "I really would like to follow my own dream of having my own company and work mainly with nonprofits." So I went back and quit my job, started my own company and asked my husband to quit his job. We've grown to seven employees, and we do mainly government relations consulting and managing nonprofits.

Q. That must have been a big risk to quit a stable job.

A. What I experienced attending this conference and hearing inspirational stories from women around the world is that sometimes staying in the same place has its own risk and not following your dream has its downsides, too. I never considered it to be a risk.

Q. You're a business owner and an advocate, what do you see as the major challenges that are facing businesses here?

A. In this last legislative session and in this upcoming legislative session, there's a lot of talk about bills that would add to the cost of doing business, or make it more difficult for business owners. One of those is a law that would allow unions to organize without having the secret ballot process. That's called "card check," and it passed our state Legislature. The governor vetoed it, and it was not passed on an override vote. I expect that may come up again. It's a particular challenge not just because that bill would make it more burdensome on employers, I think it is a very unfair way to do organizing. It's hard because small-business owners don't have the time or resources to go up and lobby at the Capitol. So while it's great that they pool their membership dues and hire me to do that for them, we also need them to be up there at the Capitol and talking directly to their own legislators. But it's really tough when you're trying to make payroll to make time to go out and set up at the Capitol for a hearing.

Q. Do you introduce your own measures?

A. For small businesses, we've often been told by legislators that we'd be better off by coming up with bills we like, rather than always fighting bills we don't like. But it's the nature of small-business owners. They really want to be left free of government regulation. They don't want to be putting legislation up there.

There is a bill we've been advocating for many years and last year it seemed to have a little life, but didn't make it in the end. That was to allow limited liability company owners to exclude themselves from worker's comp. This is one of those crazy extra burdens where if you are the owner of, and I am, an LLC, I have to buy worker's comp on myself. If I get injured on the job, I probably will let my health insurance cover it. There's no reason to have an extra worker's comp coverage for the owner. If I own a corporation, I don't have to pay that. It's just a quirk in the law, and we've never gotten that passed.

Q. You are also on the boards of the Legal Aid Society of Hawai'i, Lawyers for Equal Justice, and 'Olelo Community Television. You have two children. How do you find the time to do all of this?

A. I'm busy, but I feel like time is short and we have to fill our days with all of the things that we're passionate about. I really believe in the missions of Legal Aid and Lawyers for Equal Justice. These are two organizations that advocate for people who can't afford lawyers.

Q. What's your business philosophy?

A. I really want to be able to give my clients excellent service, and I feel like one thing that I do, and it might be a little bit different from other legislative advocates, is I have to be willing to stand behind it myself and be willing to write a letter to the editor with my own name signed on it. I don't simply make appointments for people to meet with legislators. I'm willing to go there and say, "I believe in this."

Q. You attended the McDonald's Hamburger University. Is that a real school?

A. They have a campus. It's McDonald's' own campus, and I worked for McDonald's restaurants here as an outside public relations consultant with Communications Pacific. It was a fabulous experience. I was only there for a few weeks for marketing kinds of things.

Q. What did you gain from that experience?

A. One of the things that I was surprised to learn was how sophisticated McDonald's is in strategic planning and marketing and devising themes for advertising and looking at trends in population and age demographics and those kinds of things. It is quite a science, and I really enjoyed my time working in public relations. It gave me a good foundation and really instilled in me the belief that almost every job is a communications job.

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.