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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 7, 2010

True stories of hardship offer road maps to success


By Christine Thomas
Special to The Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Who better than David Heenan to pen a book about leaders who have faced dark times and come out with their star still shining? His many accomplishments, including his current role as a trustee of the Estate of James Campbell, include taking the University of Hawai'i College of Business helm in the '70s at just 35 years old and devising its now transformational focus on international business, turning a UH degree into one to be reckoned with.

It also makes sense, then, that at the start of "Bright Triumphs from Dark Hours," Heenan begins a series of inspirational case studies by spotlighting two educators: Joel Klein, who restored New York City's schools, and Shirley Ann Jackson, the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who later took Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's top job.

Heenan divides his profiles into three categories crusaders, combatants and comeback kids and draws not only from education but such genres as sports, the military, climbing and corporate downfalls.

While the tales are somehow meant to illuminate character traits and strategies for converting adversity into success, they are written as an intimate glimpse behind the scenes. "From these portrayals of people under duress," Heenan promises, "you'll discover the roadmaps for negotiating rugged terrain, guides for forging your own bright triumph."

Yet he does highlight six specific strategies at the start, delving into more detail at the book's close a list that somewhat ironically ends with "start now." And throughout each story, adages can be easily plucked, such as Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder's disciplined, "future-oriented" positive mentoring and ability to meld disparate folks into a team.

But even if you're not looking for how-tos for overcoming adversity, and perhaps even better if you're not, the profiles are most compelling for their almost fly-on-the-wall perspective and Heenan's personal access to each individual.

Joel Klein's story riveted because of the potential for applying his education strategies to American schools at large. The details behind Cmdr. Scott Waddle's confrontation of failure directly after his submarine sank the vessel Ehime Maru, killing nine Japanese, are particularly captivating, as is Gary Guller's rise to climb Mount Everest even after losing an arm, and Hawai'i's own Steve Case and the development of his post-AOL revolution plans.

Only a few seem to teeter on the edge of success, such as the tale of the American Indian teenage mother Sacagawea's repeated rescue of Lewis and Clark throughout their expedition to the west, which seems a bright triumph only depending on one's point of view.

And when discussing University of California-Berkeley women's basketball coach Joanne Boyle's impressive perseverance, describing Cal sidetracks him, and her portrait falls a bit flat. There are also times when his prose meanders, as if we're traversing synapses in his brain.

But above all, his either consciously or unconsciously Obama-like message of optimism and hope gives Heenan's book far reach unveiling remarkable lives and applicable winning strategies that, as he hopes, "carry the unmistakable accent of commitment and a willingness to act."

Read more of Christine Thomas' reviews at www.literarylotus.com.