entrepreneur

A CRAFTSMAN’S LEGACY
The Chocolatiers

 

Host Eric Gorges combs the country for America’s finest craftsmen, documenting what it means to be a modern-day maker. In each episode, Eric explains the history of an old-world craft as it is practiced in America today.

 

The Chocolatiers
Eric meets Dan and Jael Rattigan at their chocolate factory in Asheville, NC. Eric lives out his lifetime dream of working with chocolate.

 

HIKI NŌ
Episode #807 – What I Learned

 

Viewers enjoy watching the final, PBS Hawai‘i approved versions of HIKI NŌ stories, but very few have any idea what the students go through to develop their stories to the point where they meet PBS Hawai‘i’s stringent on-air standards. This special episode explores the students’ learning processes by presenting four previously-aired HIKI NŌ stories, followed by behind-the-scenes “What I Learned” mini-documentaries on the experiences of the students who created the stories.

 

The stories featured (along with their corresponding “What I Learned” vignettes) include:

 

–A workspace created by and for students called The Canvas (pictured), from Kalani High School (O‘ahu);

 

–A blind performing arts teacher, from Hongwanji Mission School (O‘ahu);

 

–A Kaua‘i food truck entrepreneur, from Kaua‘i High School;

 

–A Navy-veteran amputee who is learning to live with pain, from Wai‘anae High School (O‘ahu).

 

This special episode is hosted by Kalani High School Senior Anya Carroll and Hongwanji Mission School 7th grader Teo Fukamizu.

 

This program encores Saturday, Dec. 24 at 12:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 25 at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website, www.pbshawaii.org/hikino.

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Henk Rogers

 

Henk Rogers is well known for his contributions to the video gaming industry – most notably, his involvement with Tetris, one of the world’s top selling video games. The visionary, entrepreneur and philanthropist now seeks to make Hawaii a global model for energy independence with his non-profit, Blue Planet Foundation. “I always had a deep-rooted feeling that whatever it is that I wanted to do, I could do it,” says Rogers.

 

Henk Rogers Audio

 

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I was in England about twelve years ago—no, twenty-two years ago. Oh, my gosh; time flies. I was at a trade show for the computer business, and I was talking to this person and telling them, Yeah, I made this decision never to wear a suit, and never work nine-to-five. And the person goes, Henk, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wearing anything except a suit. Do you even own a pair of jeans? That was the question. And I’m going, Oh, my god, I don’t own a pair of jeans. So, I immediately went out and bought a pair of jeans. You know, you could say that fashion wise, it’s been downhill ever since too.

 

You know. Now, I fight places that don’t allow me to wear jeans.

 

Wearing jeans didn’t stop Hawaii Business Magazine from naming Henk Rogers CEO of the Year for 2015. Henk Rogers has made a fortune in the video gaming industry, most notably for bringing Tetris, one of the world’s top-selling videogames, from Russia to the rest of the world. More recently, this visionary entrepreneur and philanthropist has turned his talents to no less than saving the planet. He wants salvation to come through renewable energy, starting with Hawaii becoming a global model for energy independence. Henk Rogers, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Henk Brouwer Rogers may be best known in Hawaii for starting the Blue Planet Foundation, which is dedicated to ending the use of carbon-based fuels. This nonprofit organization was instrumental in convincing the Hawaii State Legislature to commit to a goal of making Hawaii 100 percent energy self-sufficient by 2045. Rogers didn’t always have a passion for energy sustainability; rather, he was driven by his love of board games and computers to launch his highly successful career in video gaming.

 

I was born in the Netherlands, and I lived there ‘til I was eleven. And my mother married an American when I was seven years old. My name is Rogers as a result. A Mr. Rogers from New York.

 

What was your name before that?

 

Brouwer; my mother’s maiden name is Brouwer, which is the Dutch version of Brewer. So, if you look at the Heineken bottle, it says Heineken Brouwer, which is Heineken Brewers. So eleven years. And it’s my middle name now, by the way, ‘cause when I moved to the states, I didn’t have a middle name, and everybody kept asking me, What’s your middle name? So, I just put my grandfather’s name as my middle name, since he had all daughters. Eleven years in Holland, then eight years in New York City. I went to junior high school and high school in New York City.

 

Did you learn English in New York City?

 

In New York City. I spoke no English before I landed. And it’s interesting, ‘cause my American father didn’t speak Dutch, and the way we communicated was in German. So, I used to speak German. So, New York City; I lived there four years in Queens, four years in Manhattan. I went to Stuyvesant High School, which some people will know.

 

Which is a fabulous high school.

 

Fabulous high school.

 

Where you learned, what? What did you …

 

Computer science.

 

Oh …

 

Basically, in my four years at Stuyvesant, I had one elective. And you know, my entire career since has been based on that one elective.

 

So, you graduated from Stuyvesant High School.

 

I … dropped out of Stuyvesant High School.

 

Oh, you dropped out?

Didn’t like that one elective.

 

No, I never got tired of the elective, but you know, I had taken that, and there was no more follow-up courses in that. So, everything else was just like …

 

How old were you when you dropped out?

 

Oh, I would have graduated, if I’d just stuck out the last year. I did graduate in New York City, but not from Stuyvesant. And I was convinced that I was never going to go to university. But my next stop was Hawaii.

 

Why was it Hawaii?

 

It was a stop on the way to Japan for my family. My father is an avid Go player, or was an avid Go player, and I think that’s a big part of the reason why he wanted to move the family to Japan. Another reason could be that he looked at me, and he saw like a serious Hippie. I’d turned into a Hippie, and he didn’t want the rest of his sons to become so, I don’t know, wild, whatever.

 

And so, he’s off to Japan, and you think it’s to play Go. Now, you were heavily influenced by games of strategy as a kid; weren’t you?

 

Well, you know, when I was a kid, say in Holland, you know, the game of strategy was Monopoly. So, I was pretty good at playing Monopoly.

 

And you liked board games?

 

Oh, yeah; board games. Board games are great, and I did a lot of it when I got to Hawaii. You know, at the University, we had a group called The ARRG; The Alternative Recreational Realities Group of Hawaii.

 

Now, were you a Hippie at UH as well?

 

I’m still a Hippie. I just get dressed up a little less wild from time to time. So, I’m in Hawaii, it’s been a year. Two weeks of waiting for my dad turn into a year, and so finally, the family is ready to move. But by that time, I was going to UH, because I could get computer time there. And that was the one thing that I was interested in. So, I was going to night school, taking all the computer classes.

 

What did you intend to do as a Hippie, slash, computer guy?

 

I had no intentions. I just knew that computers were the way of the future.

 

Did you graduate from the University?

 

No; I dropped out. So, I had a disagreement with my dad about where I went to university. He wanted me to go to university in Japan, study philosophy, which is what he studied. He dropped out. Studied philosophy, and dropped out. And so, he wanted me to study philosophy.   And I said, You know, I appreciate philosophy, but I need something practical. My grandfather was an engineer. In fact, I found out later that my father was an engineer, and his father was an engineer. I’m the only non-engineer, but you could say that I’m a computer engineer. And so, University had a good computer science program, and so I said, No, I gotta stay behind. As a result of my disagreement with my father, I worked my way through college. I used to do everything; I drove Charley’s Taxi. And so, the idea is, if you’re working to pay for studying something, it better be something useful. And so, at the end of three years, they called me in. Mr. Rogers, you haven’t taken any of your core requirements. And I said, Yeah, I know, and I have no intention. They said, Well, then you’re not going to graduate. And I said, Well, that’s okay. I don’t actually need the paper; I just need the knowledge. And I really got a lot out of going to UH, and I never after that ever had an occasion where somebody asked me for a piece of paper. You know, a degree.

 

You would eventually do what your father wanted you to do, and that’s go to Japan.

 

Yes. I don’t know that my father wanted me specifically to go to Japan. He just didn’t want me to stay behind. And I appreciate that. What eventually got me to go to Japan was, I fell in love with a girl.

I’d been to Japan several times, but I was there, and she was there, and I said, I’m not going back. I called my friend and said, You can have my car. And I told my friends, Throw out all my stuff, just keep this box of uh, computer tapes. I still have this box, and I don’t know how I’m ever going to read that stuff. So, I left everything behind.

 

Henk Rogers married Akemi and stayed in Japan for the next eighteen years. For the first six of those years, he worked in his father’s gem business. When personal computers started to take off, he decided it was time to meld his love of computers and games, and strike out on his own. The result was his invention of a computer game called Black Onyx.

 

When I started my company, I used my Hawaii experience of ARRG, which was playing Dungeons & Dragons. And personal computers happened, and I thought, This is my chance. So, I made the first roleplaying game in Japan. But I didn’t speak, read, or write Japanese, and I hacked that computer and got my wife to try to read something in the manual, but she knows nothing about computers. And so, that was also like hocus-pocus that was coming out of them. Anyway, I hacked my way through the game, made it. So, there were no roleplaying games before The Black Onyx, and it became the number-one game in 1984, and it was the number-two game in 1985. So, it had a two-year reign. And now, something like thirty percent of all games in Japan are roleplaying games. So, you know, people that are in the industry that meet me and find out that I wrote Black Onyx, they say, Oh, my god, you’re the reason I’m in this industry, you know.

 

Wow.

 

And that makes me feel good.

 

So, it’s almost as if you you’ve always liked strategy and games, and you translated your interest in board games to the computer platform.

 

Yeah; absolutely. And it’s the same thing; you’ve got to think about what reward do you want to give the player, at what pace, to keep them interested in continuing the adventure.

 

And it’s a very logical process for you. If this, then that; if that, then this.

 

Oh, yeah. So, computer programming is like the best. Because once you tell it what to do, you give it specific instruction, it will do that forever.

 

Henk Rogers started his publishing company Bullet-Proof Software to market Black Onyx. It became one of the largest game publishers in Japan at the time, and soon, Rogers was traveling around the world, looking for new games to publish. That’s when he discovered Tetris, a game that a programmer in the Soviet Union had developed. Rogers saw its potential, and was determined to buy the international publishing rights to it.

 

Basically, I would say that what happened to me in the Soviet Union is, you have a society where everybody is watching everybody, and they’re very careful what they say. And I walk in, and I’m relaxed, and you know, ask me anything about my business. I don’t have any secrets. And so, I was just friendly, and that is just a strange thing for them. That is not how they do business; it’s all power trips. My power trip is stronger than your power trip, and if you don’t listen to me, I’m gonna get such-and-so to do that to you. You are, you know, blah-blah-blah.

 

But to get their attention, didn’t you have to have power?

 

No; I just had to have honesty. And so, I said, You know, I don’t have a lot of money, I’m not a big business, but I’ll give you a fair share of the money. They had a previous arrangement, where they had licensed the rights to Tetris for personal computers. And just to give you an example, they were getting six percent of … six percent, of six percent. And by the time they figured out that six percent of six percent is zero, you know, a year had passed. And I said, No, that’s not how you do it. This is the retail price; okay? And I will give you a percentage of the retail price, or a flat number. And so, that number will never go down. And if I have, you know, sublicenses, I will make sure that you get your share of the retail price. And that was something they’d never heard before. That’s one thing. And then, another was, we had to do a contract. And I saw the original contract that they had, and it was terrible; they were being spanked. Because they don’t recognize intellectual property in the Soviet Union; therefore, they had no knowledge of how to write an intellectual property contract.

 

So, when somebody came to them and said, This is the contract, take it or leave it … what could they say? They didn’t know what to argue about. And I was the opposite. I called my lawyer—and at that time, it took eight hours to make a phone call out of the Soviet Union. You had to sit by your phone, and if you’re not there when the phone call came through, you had to wait and start again. So, I called my lawyer in Japan. I said, I need a contract. It’s got to be no more than twenty pages, and it cannot use any big words, ‘cause I have to explain every word in this contract to the Soviets. And it’s gotta cover all the bases, and it’s gotta be fair; it’s gotta have stuff in it for me, and it’s gotta have stuff in it for them. So, I got the fax, and they couldn’t believe it; you know, it was a fair contract. If I didn’t pay on time, there was a penalty, for example, blah-blah-blah, and all this. And so, at the end of the day, they chose me. ‘Cause, you know, there were other people that were going after those same rights, and they chose me, and it wasn’t because I had the most money, or I had the most power; it was because I was the most honest. Yeah.

 

Did you know what you were onto then? Because even now, you’re hip-deep in Tetris. It’s still a big business for you.

 

Yeah. I did not know what I was onto. Well, I knew I was onto a little bit, because I’d already gone to Nintendo, Nintendo of America, and I’d already made a handshake deal with Mr. Arakawa. I said, Mr. Arakawa, this game is perfect for Gameboy. Now, Nintendo has a policy in Japan; they just sell the machine, and the software comes separate. But in the US, they had a policy always to include one game with the hardware. So, if you bought an NES, it started with a game, and if you bought a Gameboy, it started with a game. And so, he said, Why should I included Tetris? He said, I have Mario, I can just include Mario. I said, If you include Mario, then Gameboy will be for little boys, but if you include Tetris, Gameboy will be for everybody. That choice is yours. And so, he talked it over with his people, and obviously came up to the same conclusion.

 

Good argument.

 

Yeah. So, it was a good business. And so, I had a deal in my hand when I went to Moscow. And then, I basically fought for that end of it.

 

You know, it occurs to me as you speak that people your age, sixty-two at this time, many people. they’re not into the games and they don’t realize what a huge business this is.

 

The game business is bigger than the movie business. Sometimes, I see young people, and they go, I want to be a game designer, I want to get into the game business. And it really isn’t what it used to be, you know. I made that first game by myself, pretty much. I did all the programming, did all the graphics, and did all the planning and the thinking and everything. And today, you know, it takes teams of people to make a game. And how many of those teams are there? There are hundreds of thousands of those teams. So, to get into the game business today, you can’t just be good; you have to be brilliant.

 

Henk Rogers and his organization have continued to develop videogames, making multi-millions of dollars from new products, including for mobile devices and buying and selling copyright licenses. He moved his family back to Hawaii and was carrying out his businesses from here, when he started to think about what he wanted to do next with his life. The answer came to him in a most unexpected way.

 

I found myself in the back of an ambulance with a hundred percent blockage of the widow-maker. That is the artery, the biggest artery in your heart, and it will kill you if it’s blocked. And so, I was lucky, ‘cause I kind of felt it coming, and they called an ambulance for me, and so I was already on the way to Straub. And then, I realized … because they were gonna take me in for observation. They said, There’s nothing really wrong with you, we’ll just take you in for observation, we won’t even turn on the siren. The siren went on, the guy who was taking care of me was in the cockpit talking to the hospital. I didn’t hear, but I knew he was saying, This guy is not even gonna make it, get an operating room ready, blah-blah-blah. And I’m back there; first, I said, You gotta be kidding me, I haven’t spent any of the money yet. You know. I was going, Oh, is this some kind of a joke? I worked so hard all my life, and finally sell my company, get a bunch of money, and I’m on the way out? And then, the second thing I said is, No, I’m not going, I still have stuff to do. And it’s kind of like, I thought, you know, what are the things that I’d always talked to myself that I was gonna get done in life, and that I hadn’t even started? And that just made me say, No, I’m gonna do this. And so, I was in the hospital recovering, and the next couple weeks I didn’t go back to work. I had my chance to think about my bucket list, and I said, These are missions in life. And the first mission came to me in the back of the newspaper. It was like … in the back of the newspaper, a story about coral. Oh, by the way, we’re gonna kill all the coral in the world by the end of the century. And you know, I moved to Hawaii, and I fell in love with the ocean. I used to dive, surf on the North Shore, and I couldn’t believe that we would do something so callous as to kill all the coral in the world. Islands are made out of coral. And you know, you look a little bit further, and it’s like a third of the life in the ocean is dependent on the coral existing. So, I said, No, no, we’re not allowed to do that. What’s causing that? It’s ocean acidification. What’s causing that? Carbon dioxide going into the ocean is causing that. So then, my first mission is to end the use of carbon-based fuel. And so, I started the foundation, and recently, we had a big success in Hawaii, that Hawaii has made the mandate that we’re gonna be a hundred percent renewable by 2045 for electricity. And that is a huge step in the right direction.

 

And your Blue Planet Foundation had a role in that.

 

Oh, I would say we’re the ones who created that legislation and fought for it. You know, ‘cause when you create a piece of legislation, then you have to work with all the politicians, and you gotta get enough politicians to get behind it to get it passed. So, it’s not good enough to just come up with the words, ‘cause it’s all the pushing that goes on. I guess it’s called lobbying.

 

Yes, it is. You mentioned your ranch; it’s Puu Waawaa on the Kona side of the Big Island.

 

Yes.

 

And it is all renewable energy; it’s off the grid.

 

We’re off the grid. So, what we do at the ranch, I built an energy lab. And originally, I wanted to just study storage, ‘cause the thing that’s stopping renewables, meaning solar and wind, is that they’re intermittent. Which means that sometimes there’s wind, and sometimes there’s not. And in the daytime there’s light, and in the nighttime there’s not. So, you get a lot of energy, and then you have shift it to a time when you don’t have energy. That requires storage. And it can be pumped hydro, it can be batteries, it can be anything; flywheels.

 

But whatever it is, it’s expensive.

 

Not necessarily; not necessarily. I mean, you know, if you’re the first one, and you’re the only one, yes, it’s expensive. But if everybody’s doing it, then the price comes down. Like solar panels used to be expensive. But now, I mean, pretty much anybody can have solar panels. So, all these things which are expensive can be made cheaper if you make them in volume, and if there’s competition. So, the same thing goes with storage. So, in the beginning, it’s expensive. But I mean, it’s like, okay, so the rich guys get to have the plasma television that cost twenty thousand dollars, but now you can go to Costco and buy one for five hundred bucks. The same thing. It’s a little different technology, but it does the same thing. And so, storage is gonna be like that.

 

And you’re already off the grid at your home in Honolulu, and on the ranch.

 

Yes. So, we were studying storage, and we finally decided that we were gonna just get off the grid on the Big Island. And so, we tested the different storage technologies, and now we ended up with a battery technology that basically runs by itself, and it doesn’t get hot. Most batteries, you have to be very careful with them, because they can overheat and catch on fire, blah-blah-blah. This chemistry is nothing like that. What’s in your phone or in my Tesla is lithium cobalt. And what’s in the batteries that are sitting in my home is lithium iron phosphate. Lithium iron phosphate is a chemistry that doesn’t get hot. You could drive a nail through it, and it doesn’t go crazy. And if you do that with lithium cobalt, you’re asking for trouble. And so, doesn’t require any cooling system. And Sony makes them. So, Sony, you know, they’re a big company; they’ve been making batteries for thirty years.   They’ve been making this particular chemistry for like eight years, and they’ve tested, and tested, and tested them. I mean, their company reputation goes, you know, into their product, and so, they gave us a ten-year warranty, which is as good as anything in the industry.

 

 

And you think that it’ll be just a matter of a short time before battery power gets accepted and cheap enough to distribute.

 

Yes.

 

What are some of the things that prepared you to have the career you did, which was something you made up yourself? You didn’t follow a template for it. What were some of the formative things along the way?

 

I think one of the things is that I always had a deep-rooted feeling that whatever it is that I wanted to do, I could do it.

 

Where did that come from?

 

I think it came from New York. It’s it’s kind of an attitude that we had in high school. We stopped the war in Vietnam. Okay; we didn’t specifically, but we were part of it. And that kind of energy, the feeling that youth can change the world, and that is a very important feeling. And I need the young people in Hawaii to have that feeling; they need to take ownership of their future, and make Hawaii the example of sustainability.

 

You know, through all of the big ideas and the big pushes, and the big deals you’ve made, you’ve had a very stable family life.

 

I think my family has had the same ups and downs as any family. But now that I’ve sort of retired from the business—you know, I was a Japanese businessman. This nine-to-five wasn’t nine-to-five; it was nine-to … fifteen, or whatever. It’s like, crazy, hard work in the old days. Now, I have much more time to spend with my family.

 

You’re still CEO, though.

 

I’m CEO of several companies. But no, actually, the main business is the computer game business. My daughter is the CEO.

 

I see.

 

I’m the chairman.

 

So, what about the ones that you are CEO of?

 

Um …

 

You have a different definition?

 

No, no, no. No. So I try not to be CEO, as much as possible. I try to be the visionary, and so, I’m the chairman of a lot of companies, but I’m not necessarily the CEO. I don’t do day-to-day, and I don’t go to the office unless I have a meeting. So, it’s a new way of operating, and it gives me much more time to travel, and I do a lot of conferences and speaking at conferences, and connecting to people in other places.

 

So, for many years of your career, you were really not home with family.

 

Yes.

 

They sacrificed that.

 

Well, the worst time was when I was programming. Programming takes twenty hours a day. I would sleep for a couple of hours, and do programming the rest of the time. I never got to see my family. My wife was a computer widow, is what they call it. And many programmers still go through that. They start programming, and they can’t stop until the middle of the night sometime, and so they don’t have a life. And pretty soon, you figure out, Well, I can’t run a company this way, I can’t program and run a company well. And I can’t, like, do that and expect to be kind of a contribution to my family. It’s not just about bringing home money; it’s about, you know, being there when children are going through, I don’t know, teenager crises. And we’ve had our share of all of that.

 

Henk Rogers: husband, father, grandfather, computer programmer, entrepreneur, visionary, chairman, and perhaps one day, off the grid planet superhero. Mahalo to Henk Rogers of Honolulu and Kona for sharing his life story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

You have how many siblings?

 

Oh, my goodness. Okay. So, there’s my bio dad, and my mom who had only me. My mom was a single mom, and I never knew my bio daddy. So, he went off and I had no contact with him, because basically, they didn’t get married. Then, she married Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers and my mom had seven children. So, six boys and one girl … and they adopted one. So, there’s nine of the original family, and we grew up together. Then, Mr. Rogers, in his infinite wisdom, had a second family, as if nine wasn’t enough, and he had two more children, daughters. So, that makes it up to eleven. And then, he passed away. And so, I’d heard that my biological father was still alive, so I found a way to contact him when I was fifty years old, my bio dad, and I found out that I have four more siblings. So, I have two sisters and two brothers on that side, that are blood-related to me. And I found out one of them lives in Hawaii, in Hawi. And then he … again, I think men are very … they’re not the smartest about this kind of thing. He left his wife with four children, and married another woman who had already six children. So, that makes it twenty-one.

 

Wow!

 

So … yeah; I’m one of twenty-one.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Yamada

 

Susan Yamada is Executive Director of the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Shidler College of Business. Yamada calls herself an “accidental entrepreneur,” with a career that moved from hospitality to publishing to leading tech companies. After a successful life in Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom, she came home to Hawaii, never needing to work again. But in this phase of her life, she has dedicated herself to giving back to her community by mentoring young future entrepreneurs.

 

This program is available in high-definition and will be rebroadcast on Wed., July 20 at 11:00 pm and Sun., July 24 at 4:00 pm.

 

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Transcript

 

I just talked with a CEO of a large company who said, If I’m feeling comfortable, I suspect something is wrong. Something has to be wrong.

 

Yeah. I think there always needs to be that level of discomfort, because that means you’re pushing things, you know, whether it’s your company, your programs, yourself personally. So, people go, Why? Why do you want to do that? And I think the more you do that—and pushing your comfort zone, in my mind, is taking risks. And it’s not like, yeah, I’m gonna jump off a cliff and hope, you know, I have my parachute. It’s really calculated risks that you’re trying to take. And I think what that does is, it really builds confidence that, Hey, I can do it, I can talk to Leslie on TV, and everything was good, and I didn’t die. And all those culmination of experiences, I think, gives you the confidence to move forward and do other things in the future. It gave me the confidence to move from one industry to another industry, it gave me the confidence to take risks that, you know, others may not have taken, and know that it’s not gonna be the end of the world if it fails, because I’m building a skillset that I can then transfer to something else.

 

Susan Yamada’s confidence has taken her from playing football in the streets of Kaneohe to leading tech companies during the dot-com boom. Even with her crazy work hours and success on the West Coast, she never lost sight of home. Susan Yamada, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Susan Yamada, raised in Windward Oahu, was an accidental entrepreneur who did very well in the Silicon Valley dot-com industry. She was so successful that when she returned to Hawaii to raise her children, she didn’t ever have to work for pay again. Yet, she does. Today, Yamada is the executive director of PACE; that’s the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship within the Shilder College of Business at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She’s mentoring Hawaii’s future entrepreneurs. Yamada grew up in Kaneohe, where she realized at a young age that she loved to compete.

 

Kind of a Rockwell-ian childhood. You know, my dad had his own business selling plywood in town, in Kalihi. My mom was a schoolteacher, so she taught kindergarten at Heeia Elementary School. And I have two brothers; one older than me, two years, and one younger than I am.

 

So, you’re the only girl, and you’re the middle child.

 

Yes.

 

Does that say anything about you?

 

Hm … that’s a good question. I think it says a lot about me in that I grew up playing more baseball than with dolls. I remember one Christmas I got a hairdryer, and that turned into a nice little pistol.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

So, yeah.

 

And you’re athletic.

 

I love athletics. Growing up, we played in the neighborhood, right? Baseball, football, with all the neighborhood kids. So, yeah, I love sports.

 

Did you play in the street?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

In the street.

 

And the cars had to wait a little bit ‘til you could get off the road?

 

Luckily, we lived on a dead end, but you know, every time the ball went into, like, the mean neighbor’s house, you know, everybody ran away.

[CHUCKLE]

 

Whoever hit the ball into that yard had to go get it; right? So, it was just kinda like that. Okay; pass the telephone pole, that’s a touchdown. Okay. And then, this manhole cover, that’s home plate. So, it was really cool.

 

That’s interesting that you were an athlete and a tomboy. So, does that mean competition might have been easier for you when you hit the business world? ‘Cause in those days, women were still …

 

Yeah; that’s interesting.

 

–treated differently.

 

I think my competitiveness helped me. I don’t like to lose. You know, I like to set my goals and achieve them. But I think when I set out on my business career, that really wasn’t kind of foremost in my mind.

 

What was high school like for you? I mean, public high school in Hawaii.

 

Yeah.

 

Everyone has fond memories, or maybe not so fond.

 

Yeah; it was a lot of fun. You know, I went to public schools all the way up to Castle. And so, some kids you knew, and then you know more kids as you go to King. And that’s when, I don’t know, there’s like four or five elementary schools in the Kaneohe area that all matriculate to King Intermediate. And so, I got to know a lot more friends at King Intermediate, and then we all went up to Castle. And you know, I just met a ton of friends, and we remain friends to this day. You know, every Christmas, we have a gathering and we get together, and we just laugh and laugh.

 

Did your parents explicitly tell you about life? Did they give you advice, or was it leading by example?

 

[CHUCKLE] Yeah; well, career-wise anyway, my mom gave me advice. And she said, Be a schoolteacher, because schoolteachers, you get the summer off, all the holidays, when your kids are off you’ll be off too. So from that point, I wasn’t a really good listener. But, you know, I think the fundamental values that they exhibited themselves about being hardworking, being honest, being a contributing member of society; they totally led by example. And I feel that that’s the foundation for my life. And on that, you grow, you know, who you are, what you become, and things like that.

 

Your father owned his own business, and then sold it; right?

 

Yes. Yeah; so, that was great, because growing up in elementary school, he had his own business, and on weekends, he’d let one or two of us come over to his—and it was a pretty small place. And you know, we’d just kinda be messing around. And he had uh, a plywood business as well as some hardware supplies. And so, all the scrap wood, we’d just be building stuff, and sometimes he’d tell us to clean out the hardware area, so we’d do that. All so we could have like, this Boulevard Saimin plate lunch for lunch. And that was like, the best Saturday, was to be able to go with Dad to work.

 

When you were raised, I imagine your parents really weren’t giving you water bottles and …

 

Oh, we drank from the hose.

 

–and helicoptering.

 

We drank from the hose. [CHUCKLE]

 

And telling you, Don’t come back ‘til—I bet you they said, Don’t come back ‘til dusk, or …

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

How did you raise you kids? Differently than that?

 

You know, it’s very different, and it’s unfortunate, really. When I was growing up, it was like, you know, you had something to eat for breakfast, you were out, you were playing all day. When you got hungry, you know, you came home, you made yourself a sandwich, you went back out again, and you had to come home when you saw Dad’s car coming down the road, because you’re either gonna have to do yardwork, or dinner’s gonna be ready soon. And so, we had so much freedom. You know, we’d get on our bikes, we’d ride down to the river, catch fifty fish, put ‘em all in an aquarium and try to name ‘em all. I mean, it’s crazy; right? And you know, I’m sad for my kids that they couldn’t have that level of freedom at that young age anymore.

 

Well, why couldn’t they?

 

You know, I don’t know how much is reality and how much is perception in parenting at this point, where you know, even if my kids, when they were in elementary school were playing in the front yard, I felt like I had to be out in front

 

watching. If there’s even a miniscule chance that your kid’s gonna get abducted, then of course, you’re gonna be out front and you’re gonna be watching. But it’s just a different world. And because, you know, our neighborhood wasn’t full of kids, you know, you would have to have play dates, you would have to invite kids over to play with them. And you know, when you were talking about helicopter parents, you know, I don’t think I am one. But, you are, when your kids are young, kind of setting their life up. It’s less creative for them, I think, at this point. You know, that’s where I think some of the old charm, I guess, of Hawaii is being lost. And I was just commenting to my friends; I go, I know I’m getting old because I’m grumbling a lot now about how it used to be and how it is now, and how it’s, you know, losing some of that ohana, that inclusive community sometimes.

 

After Susan Yamada earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, she went into the hotel industry. Eventually, her love of the ocean led her to greater opportunities.

 

I learned some interesting things that they don’t teach you at the Travel Industry Management School. And that’s when you work at a hotel chain, if you want to move up, many times you have to transfer out of one hotel into another. And at the time, I know it’s hard to believe, but there was just one Marriott in the State, and that was on Maui. That was the first Marriott that they built. And so, I was there, and then I found out I would have to travel. So, my big goal in life after the university was to move to Maui.

 

Why?

 

Because my cousins were there, and I used to spend all my summers there, and I just loved the lifestyle there; it’s just so laid back. But I found that, you know, being single and in my twenties, after about two and a half years, it was just a really small place. And so, it was time for my promotion, or I was up for promotion, and so, they asked if I wanted to either go to, I think it was Torrance or Santa Clara. So, I got out the map, because to that point I had been out of state once. And I went on my second trip right before I moved, but I knew nothing; right? So, I looked to see what the proximity of those two areas was to the beach. So …

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Santa Clara looked much closer. So, I chose Santa Clara. And little did I know that Santa Clara is Silicon Valley. So, that was … a good move on my part, but I can’t say that I planned it.

 

And you had the beach.

 

Yeah.

 

But, you know, you’re going there to work in the hotel industry, not to work in Silicon Valley.

 

Yes; uh-huh. And so, that’s what I thought; it was just a next step, I would go there, spend two years there, and then I would come back home. And so, I got there, and … and this is why I feel a lot of local kids, they should really get out, because it’s such a big world. You know, I thought tourism; hey, being from Hawaii, wanting to stay in Hawaii, that’s where my career opportunities were gonna be. And when I got to Silicon Valley, it was just like, Oh, my gosh. It was just … you know, drinking from a fire hose, there were so many different opportunities. So, I went, I got my MBA after two and a years at the Santa Clara Marriott. And then, I got into the technology industry.

 

Susan Yamada left the hotel industry to pursue work that would give her experience in running a business. She got an opportunity to test her skills when she was offered a job at Upside Magazine, a publication that was on the cutting edge of the digital revolution, and groundbreaking in its time.

 

What did you do in those years between your MBA and that?

 

Okay; so I was a research analyst for the technology industry for a couple years, and I worked in a head injury rehab organization, doing the business side of it. My father-in-law had a contact with a magazine publisher, and he said, I’ve got a failing magazine that needs to get turned around, and I’m looking for somebody to run it. And so, I think maybe it was four years out of my MBA, my father-in-law introduced me to this guy. And that’s how I got my first opportunity to run a company. And it was a failing company.

 

What was that transition like?

 

The one thing that I learned is, business is business, no matter what you’re hawking. So whether you’re in the hotel business, or whether—you know, I was a consultant soon after researcher and analyst, you know, you have a product and you need to sell it. And so, that, I think, was one of the first lessons that I had of, Okay, how do you make money? You know, what is my business, and how do you make money.

So, you go from head injuries and research and analysis to magazine publishing.

 

Yes.

 

Of course, that is in the middle of, at that time, a digital revolution.

 

Right. So, the internet was just starting to come out and be a big player. And so, the magazine that we had—and again, it’s hard to believe, but there was no wired, when you picked up Business Week, they didn’t have an extensive editorial about the technology industry. Technology industry was just starting to come out. The PC was just kinda transforming all kinds of things. We were trying to figure out all the different things PCs could do. So, our magazine really focused on those sorts of needs to a higher level audience. So, they were executives within the technology industry that wanted to know what other people were doing, because the future of technology was still unlimited.

 

So, did that put you in touch with the titans of technology?

 

Yeah; yeah. So, every month, we would have an interview with one of the leaders in the technology industry, whether it was Bill Gates, or Larry Ellison. It was just an incredible time. And I’m not sure it would be so easy to get those interviews today. But during that time, you know … most definitely.

 

And did you think that was your calling, magazines?

 

I loved it. Yeah. It wasn’t so much magazines as it was I loved the fact that you never knew if you were gonna make payroll.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I know; I know. And people were like, That would drive me nuts. And you know, obviously, it wasn’t just like wishing. You actually put together a plan and start implementing the plan. But when things start working, it’s so exciting to see that.

 

Susan Yamada was the publisher of Upside Magazine for five and a half years. During that time, the magazine became profitable, and the connections she made there opened doors to new opportunities in the digital revolution.

 

That’s when the internet was starting to take off. And that was a super-exciting time. It was like the second coming of the Gold Rush in California, because there was so much excitement in the Bay Area. People were flocking to the Bay Area to take part in, you know, the internet mania. You know, if you graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree and you were halfway decent, you were making six figures already. It took me all my career to that point, to get up to that point. And here these kids are, and just because there was such a shortage

 

of talent, they were making incredible money; there was so much money going around in the Bay Area at that time.

 

And so, what did you do? What was your next step?

 

I joined an internet startup company called Trustee. And if you look at a lot of the major websites now, they all have privacy statements, and many of them have a Trustee seal. And it was an interesting time, because the internet was so new, privacy was an issue. Privacy of your personal information; your name, your address, your phone number. Because the internet is a global marketplace, and unlike the United States, the European union considers your personal information yours. In the United States, any information you give, that’s a database for somebody to sell. And we used to sell that database extensively when I was at Upside. Now, we’re dealing with the fact of having to train U.S. websites that they have to state what they’re using that information they’re collecting it for, and they have to do it.

 

Your company came up with that limitation?

 

Yeah; right.

 

And Trustee is still working?

 

Still there; yeah. Still operational? Wow. So, what happened to your time there? Because

 

clearly, you don’t do that anymore.

 

You know, the first time a big site came in, like the first time Yahoo said they were gonna use our seal, you know, the crowd goes wild; right? But, you know, when Microsoft comes in, it’s like, Mm, all right. Then, when, you know, Netscape was really big at that time came in, it’s just so anticlimactic already. It’s like you were expecting it to happen. And I don’t know; for me, it just kinda gets boring, really. So … I just find eighteen to twenty-four months, it’s time to move on.

 

Now, it seems to me that at that time, there were very few women, probably very few Asian women.

 

M-hm.

 

Very few Asians, period.

 

Yeah.

 

What was that like for you?

 

My married name was Scott, so it was Susan Scott. And when I would make an appointment to see people, they were expecting Susan Scott; right? And so, I think first impressions are very important. And I think if I went in on the mainland as Susan Yamada, there would be a ton of stereotypes. I don’t know; I think it’s just human nature. But right in that little time when they were like, looking around in the waiting room for this Susan—

 

Where’s the blond?

 

Yeah.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s exactly right. A tall, statuesque blond woman; right? Isn’t that what you would think? And so, right in that moment of confusion, it was my time to make a good impression. So, you know, that’s when I would just be, you know, very forthright and go, Hi, I’m, you know, Susan, and just try and break any stereotype they may have had about me already. So, I use that as one specific example. But the one thing that I felt about the technology industry is, for the most part, it’s gender-neutral. It’s like, What can you help me with? And if you have the skillsets, I never felt like gender was a big, big issue.

 

But you did have to get in the door.

 

Totally. Yeah.

 

Susan Yamada moved back to Hawaii in 2001. She had made enough money to retire, and she spent her time raising her children and volunteering in the community. Over time, plans changed, and in 2008, Yamada started working part-time at the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship in the Shidler College of Business at the UH. That turned into a fulltime role.

 

The job with Shidler, I mean, it’s not something I have to do, but it’s something that I’ve come to love to do. And part of it is a bigger issue of being able to give back to Hawaii. I mean, it’s been fantastic for me, it’s where my roots are, I love it here. The seventeen years I was in Silicon Valley, you know, my main purpose was a goal that took me too long to attain, ‘cause as I told you before, it was just supposed to be two years that I was up there, was to come back. Because this is my home. And so, having the opportunity to be able to give

 

back to my community through the university, because I’m very passionate about education, it’s an honor for me to do that. So, yeah; I could be messing around and playing golf all day, but I don’t think I’d get the same level of fulfillment.

 

In your opinion, what are the things that drive entrepreneurs? I mean, are they very different, and you can’t generalize, or do they tend to be hardwired in a certain way?

 

I think there are certain characteristics that make a successful entrepreneur. Number one is, they have to have a vision and drive. And they can’t be easily dissuaded. You know, so you talk about entrepreneurship and passion a lot. And I think a big part of that is passion; it is very important. You need to be able to really believe that what you’re providing will be a significant improvement to your life, whoever your buyer is. And the first year, the first two years, the first five years, it’s very, very difficult, and you have to work really hard. So, I think the work ethic and passion are two things that we always look for. And then, there’s the coach-ability stand point.

 

It seems like such a tough deal, where an entrepreneur has to be able to be able to persevere, despite rejection and hard times, and yet, has to know when they’re hearing advice that they really should take and leave it, do something else.

 

Exactly. I mean, it is not easy, for sure. But it is something that almost every single startup will go through at some point.

 

Have you ever been wrong in saying, That’s not gonna work, don’t do it?

 

Rarely do I say that. Because, you know what? If I was that smart, I would be … I don’t know, sitting on a beach right now; right? ‘Cause you never know; right?

 

So, what do you say?

 

If they wanted to open a restaurant, for example, serving hamburgers in Waikiki, the first question I would ask is, How are you different from these ten other competitors that are—

 

So, you ask probing questions so that they make their own conclusions.

 

Now, if you are different, right, if you’re a Korean style taco truck, for example, which is wildly successful in L.A., okay, maybe that’s enough of a difference; right? If you have a social media campaign … I need to see different. I can’t see the same. Because if you’re copying the same thing, it’s very, very, very tough. A goal is hard work. And if you’re easily dissuaded from your idea, or you don’t have that passion, or perseverance, not gonna happen.

 

And how do people even support themselves for four or five ideas, while they’re just refining this?

 

Yeah. So, that’s what I tell my students. I go, If you ever have entrepreneurial aspirations, do it now. You don’t have kids, you don’t have to pay, you know, for tuitions, you don’t have to pay a mortgage or your car loan. I said, You have the least to lose right now, so do it now.

 

But whoever doesn’t have that when they’re an adult?

 

And that’s where it gets much harder. But it is possible. So, you know, I was adult when I started my business. So it’s possible; you can do it. You just have to be able to manage what resources you have.

 

And yet, Susan Yamada credits her time away from Hawaii for challenging her to grow in ways that she may not have if she’d stayed home.

 

If people could have seen you in Silicon Valley at the time they were working at their jobs in Honolulu, would you have had a markedly different style from your style now?

 

I think I’m more forward, and I’m less concerned about what people think about what I say. So, maybe less filter. And I think part of that has to do with, you know, where I am today or who I am today, and not being overly concerned about, am I gonna get a promotion, or what are people gonna think about me. I mean, they can think whatever they want to think, actually. It’s just who I am, it’s what my opinion is. And we can agree to disagree, and I’m perfectly happy with that. I don’t have to win an argument. So, I think, you know, it has changed me. I think it’s given me more confidence to say what I want to say, and just be who I am, and not try to be someone that someone else wants me to be.

 

Do you recall being that way before?

 

I think when you’re younger, you’re a lot more insecure. And so, you know, you take everything to heart, and maybe you create self-perception issues that might not even be there. But I think the great thing about getting older is … who cares?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You know,I am who I am, and you know, I try to be a good person. And so,I try and let that guide me. I have mentors for everything; right? For how do I raise my kids, to you know, business mentors, to you know, my friends from high school; right? They all form this very informal kitchen cabinet, if you will. And so that I can call them and share different things with them, and get feedback.

 

And do they always agree?

 

I have mentors for everything; right? For how do I raise my kids, to you know, business mentors, to you know, my friends from high school; right? They all form this very informal kitchen cabinet, if you will. And so that I can call them and share different things with them, and get feedback.

 

And do they always agree?

 

Who?

 

Your friends in the kitchen cabinet.

 

Oh, I don’t want them to agree with me.

 

You just want to hear some … how you would handle this, and then you decide what you do.

 

Because I don’t want them to tell me what to do. I want them to give me their opinion. Because they don’t what specifically I’m going through. And so, you take their opinion, and you make your own decision based on that.

 

But you never said formally to any of them, Would you be willing to be part of my kitchen cabinet?

 

No; no.

 

How did that evolve?

 

I just make them. [LAUGHTER] What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?

 

Professionally, the magazine. So, we brought in the chairman of the board, the guy who hired me. He eventually wanted the job back after it was profitable. And so, I did conferences; that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to get back into a startup routine. And we weren’t really quite seeing eye-to-eye on things, and I came home from a conference, and there was an envelope on my front door. And it was a termination letter. And so, it’s like, he didn’t even have the courtesy to call me. You know, it was something he gave me, something that wasn’t successful, I was able to turn it around. And I was like, How can this happen? How can the board allow something like that to happen? So, that professionally was probably the worst thing that ever happened to me.

 

Didn’t the magazine later go into bankruptcy?

 

Mm.

 

How long after that?

 

I think they expanded too quickly into the internet, and they put too many resources there, and they were under-capitalized, and so it didn’t work out. So, I think within the three years after that, it was pretty much on the ropes and down.

 

But that is quite the rejection, isn’t it? Especially after you’d put so much into it.

 

Yeah. After five years into it; right? And I didn’t think it was very well done, either.

 

Since you’ve headed PACE, what’s the best thing that’s come out of it?

 

I don’t think it would be a specific business idea. It’s the students that come out of there. You know, I see them going in, and I see them experiencing the joy of discovery, of the aha moments like, Ah, I get it; okay, I’ve gotta do this and this. And you know, they’re students; they’re so eager to please, they really want to do a good job. And when I see them working hard, when I see things coming together for them, I’m super-excited for them. Because what I think I’m doing is, I’m teaching them life lessons.

 

Susan Yamada is inspiring and challenging new generations of entrepreneurs through her passion and perseverance, qualities that continue to guide her own life. Mahalo to Susan Yamada of Honolulu for her enthusiasm and her commitment to serving our community. And mahalo to you for joining. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Do you see yourself making another change in the future?

 

Yeah; I definitely do. My son is in ninth grade now, and I’ve always said that— and this should be no shock to my boss, that once my son is into college, then I think that opens up a whole ‘nother chapter in my life as far as, what do I do next.

[END]

 

MR. SELFRIDGE SEASON 4 ON MASTERPIECE
Part 9 of 9

 

Jeremy Piven returns as the flamboyant American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge, who founded the famous London department store, Selfridges. Pioneering and reckless, with an almost manic energy, Selfridge creates a theater of retail where any topic or trend that is new, exciting, entertaining, or just eccentric, is showcased. In his personal life, as in his business, he is addicted to the sensational, which creates exciting complications for all concerned. Season Four picks up the Selfridge story in 1946.

 

Part 9 of 9
The press links Harry with Jimmy’s demise. Suppliers refuse to sell. Stockholders are up in arms. Meanwhile, the store’s 20th anniversary sale approaches. What’s Harry to do?

 

MR. SELFRIDGE SEASON 4 ON MASTERPIECE
Part 8 of 9

 

Jeremy Piven returns as the flamboyant American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge, who founded the famous London department store, Selfridges. Pioneering and reckless, with an almost manic energy, Selfridge creates a theater of retail where any topic or trend that is new, exciting, entertaining, or just eccentric, is showcased. In his personal life, as in his business, he is addicted to the sensational, which creates exciting complications for all concerned. Season Four picks up the Selfridge story in 1946.

 

Part 8 of 9
Josie takes on a new role and an old one. Whiteleys’ troubles lead Jimmy and Mr. Crabb to take a big risk. Found out, Jimmy takes desperate measures.

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
The Revolutionary Optimists

 

Amlan Ganguly is a lawyer-turned-social-entrepreneur who has transformed some of the poorest slums of Kolkata, India by empowering children to become leaders in improving health and sanitation, using street theater and dance.

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
Visionaries

FINDING YOUR ROOTS: Visionaries

 

Join Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., as he delves into the genealogy of 27 guests. Each story illuminates the vast patchwork of ethnicity, race and experience that makes up the fabric of America.

 

Visionaries
Discover how the ancestors of business mogul Richard Branson and architects Maya Lin and Frank Gehry took audacious risks to create opportunities, and how their luck, ingenuity and chutzpah was passed on to these three visionaries.

 

AMERICAN MASTERS
The Women’s List

 

Meet 15 women who have created and defined contemporary American culture. This documentary features intimate interviews with Madeleine Albright, Gloria Allred, Laurie Anderson, Sara Blakely, Margaret Cho, Edie Falco, Elizabeth Holmes, Betsey Johnson, Alicia Keys, Aimee Mullins, Nancy Pelosi, Rosie Perez, Shonda Rhimes, Wendy Williams and Nia Wordlaw. All trailblazers in their respective fields, these women share their experiences struggling against discrimination and overcoming challenges to make their voices heard and their influence felt.

 

POLDARK ON MASTERPIECE
Part 7 of 7

 

Captain Ross Poldark rides again in a swashbuckling new adaptation of the hit 1970s series. Aidan Turner stars as a redcoat who returns to Cornwall after the American Revolution; Eleanor Tomlinson plays the miner’s daughter taken in by the captain.

 

Part 7 of 7
When Verity makes her move, Poldark is blamed and events spiral out of control. An epidemic leads to tragedy. A shipwreck is both a blessing and a curse.

 

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