“Celebrating the Past, Honoring the Future” was the theme of the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce’s 14th annual Inauguration and Generational Award Celebration, which was held July 18 in the Coral Ballroom on the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Large banners at the event declared the chamber’s mission: “Foster friendships, Connect B2B (business to business) and Mälama ka‘äina (protect the land).”
Each speaker shared his or her own immigrant story, crediting their ancestors who bravely ventured from faraway lands. The Gannenmono were also honored for the seeds they planted in their new home.
Outgoing chair Brian Nishida highlighted HJCC’s three-year succession plan and five-year financial forecast. Nishida, whose “day job” is president and CEO of Step Stone Business Development, said HJCC’s mission also includes increasing value for members and the community.
The keynote address was presented by Central Pacific Bank president and CEO Catherine Ngo, who shared her personal and professional journey in a talk titled “Sustaining the Legacy of Our Forefathers.” The daughter of Chinese immigrants who moved to Virginia from the Philippines in the late 1950s, Ngo said she is grateful for her parents’ “simple, but unwavering values.” She said her parents never focused on racism despite living “in a neighborhood with Confederate flags and being the only nonwhite family.” Instead, they lived and expressed gratitude to their adopted homeland through a nonprofit ministry her mother established that provides food, hygiene products, clothing and housewares to people in crisis situations.
After earning a law degree in Virginia, Ngo worked for a law firm in Dallas that worked closely with financial institutions. She subsequently moved to California’s Silicon Valley, where she worked in the banking industry and met John Dean, current chair (and former president/CEO) of Central Pacific Bank. In 2010, Dean recruited Ngo to work for CPB in Hawai‘i.
Ngo said being an outsider gives her an objective view of the Islands. “More than any place, Hawai‘i has the most humble people, but with the richest culture.”
Ngo’s and the Gannenmono’s immigrant story include challenges faced by those who came to a new land where they embraced a new and strange language and culture. Ngo said she believed her parents, and the Gannenmono, likewise, sacrificed and stood strong because of “a dream of greater opportunities for future generations.
Honoring that sacrifice, Ngo said she was proud to work for Central Pacific Bank, which a small group of World War II AJA veterans founded in 1954 to help immigrant families build a life away from the plantations.
“What if everyone in Hawai‘i lived like an immigrant, striving for change?” Ngo asked the audience as she closed her talk.
Ngo’s talk was followed by the installation of Melanie Okazaki as HJCC’s 2018-19 chair by Gov. David Ige. Okazaki is the regional marketing manager for McDonald’s Restaurants of Hawai‘i.
She said one of the valuable lessons she learned in Japanese language school was to “be flexible in her thinking, respectful and to find a silver lining in everything.”
As she began her term as HJCC chair, Okazaki said, “We need to embrace who we are today with celebration and gratitude.”
The 2018 HJCC Generational Award was presented to the Nakamoto family, founders of Beretania Florist. The award honors locally owned or established Hawai‘i companies that have remained in the same family for at least two generations. The company should demonstrate sound corporate citizenship and be active supporters of the community. Previous awardees include Iida’s, ABC Stores, Y. Hata & Co., apparel company ‘IOLANI and Aloha Tofu.
A video created by JN Production Inc. detailed the story of Beretania Florist, which was established on Nov. 19, 1937, by Shigeichi and Yukie Nakamoto “to make people smile.” Their son Howard worked as a floral designer and deliveryman. In 1968, when it was time to pass the business on to Howard and his wife June, an important family meeting was called.
“My mother-in-law mentioned that in order for Howard to be successful, his wife has to work with him. That’s me!” June recalled in the video. She said she initially didn’t want to do it, but quit her hairdressing job and joined the family business.
A half-century later, Howard’s and June’s daughter, Celeste Nakamoto Farinas, owns and operates the business. Her son Reece is also involved, managing the company’s website, including taking his own product photos. Reece also brings lots of new ideas to the business. In a published article last year, he noted that fewer than 10 percent of businesses are passed on to the fourth generation.
While operating a multigenerational business has its challenges due to the various perspectives of the family members, the Nakamotos all agree on the reason for their success: “It’s so special to be part of the fabric of the community,” said Celeste. When customers visit Beretania Florist, they can be greeted by any one of multiple generations. “We all have a passion for the shop,” Celeste said.
“The Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce was started to help businesses like Beretania Florist,” noted Wayne Ishihara, HJCC president and CEO. “We share core values of hard work and giving back to the community, which shaped our future and spur innovation.”
A thunderous tejime –– the traditional Japanese rhythmic hand-clapping — capped off the event.