Financial vision runs in her family
Although she's the president of her family financial firm, Kalei Cadinha-Pua'a traveled the career path that first took her away — she got married, moved to Sāmoa and proved herself working on training initiatives for the U.S. Department of Labor.
"I had to know what my value was, what I was worth and what I was capable of doing without any family support," Cadinha-Pua'a said.
"That was the best experience of my life; the most difficult but the best," she said, because it demonstrated that what she accomplished came from the work she did and not her connections — not because she was somebody's daughter or niece or went to Punahou.
Cadinha & Co. is an investment counseling firm that focuses on managing and growing the assets of those with at least $1 million to invest. The client list of the Honolulu-based firm includes individuals, institutions and 401(k) retirement plans.
Her father, Harlan J. Cadinha, founded the financial investment company 30 years ago. The company thrived and now serves more than 500 wealthy clients with more than $700 million to invest and has earned a place as one of the state's largest investment advisory firms.
She said her time in Sāmoa proved a turning point.
"It cut that cord from the family that needed to be done," she said. "I had to be completely responsible for my decisions. I gained the confidence from that knowing that everything I did was a direct result of my efforts."
She also set some ground rules for the office:
"We don't discuss family at work. He (her father) tries to every now and then. We don't discuss work at Thanksgiving and other family times."
She said that arrangement works, and she loves the opportunity to work with her father and brother and the 20 people who make up the company.
Cadinha-Pua'a usually gets to work by 2:30 in the morning, and works a full day before heading off for family activities with her husband and their three daughters. She thrives on the pace, but admits, "I just crash and burn Friday night."
But she feels fortunate to do what she loves. She recalls her dad first gave her stock when she was 7 years old and explained a bit about how it worked. She didn't feel particularly thrilled to get shares of a pharmaceutical company but rose to the task.
The next year when he told her he'd give her more stock, she asked for McDonald's after researching if the burger restaurant was publicly traded.
"I am one who really enjoys the challenge," she said. "It's just the natural curiosity, it's always wanting to know. I think it's what gets us ahead of our competitors."
By studying policies, news and asset valuations, they can track market trends.
"We believe it's important to know what's ahead," Cadinha-Pua'a said. "If we see risk, we take it out of their portfolio."
And that tracking paid off when they sensed risk with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lenders when most investors still had 20 percent of their holdings in such investments. And they got their clients out early.
"The joys of this business are making those big trend calls and being right on them. There's nothing sweeter than that and knowing that you can look your clients in the eyes and say I saved you from this," she said.
In college, the 5-foot-7 volleyball player won a spot as an outside hitter, a position normally dominated by players 6 feet or taller. "I challenge all barriers. That's my nature."
Cadinha-Pua'a had worked in and around the family business all her life but explored different career paths, had earned her teaching credentials and taught in San Diego and Hawai'i. She worked in a physical therapist's office and explored that as a career.
Then she returned to school at Chaminade University to start in pre-med. There she met the man she would marry and moved to Sāmoa with him.
After having two of their three children, they were ready to move home to Hawai'i. And she kept looking at rejoining the business.
And the family company has an interesting history as well. In 2000, her father made a deal to sell his company to a larger private equity firm, which was acquired by an even larger firm.
Within the bigger and bigger companies, things changed. Cadinha-Pua'a and another top executive, Neil Rose, left the company in 2006 to start their own firm.
Their loss prompted a re-evaluation, and her father ended up buying back the company later that year and merged with the company she and Rose had formed. And she's happy to be back.
"Our business is a service business built on a reputation so that others know that you can trust us and that we're fair," she said.