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HMSA Member News > Board Member ProfileSpring 2010 IS Magazine

Net Returns

Banker Kathy Fujihara-Chong enjoys helping others succeed.

By Chance Gusukuma

Kathy Fujihara-Chong studied in Tokyo, London, and on the Mainland before she became a banker, but her cosmopolitan experiences started with an intriguing job listing at the University of Hawai‘i (UH) at Manoa.

During her freshman year at UH, “I saw a job listing that said ISO,” recalls Fujihara-Chong, chuckling. “I thought of iso peanuts.” For the next two-and-a-half years, she worked at the UH International Student Office, helping students from all over the world.

Motivated by her interaction with foreign students, Fujihara-Chong applied for and won a Japan Airlines scholarship to study at Sophia University in Tokyo. It was an eye-opening experience for a young woman who had never before left the Islands. Upon her return to UH, Fujihara-Chong worked at the Pacific Asian Management Institute while earning a bachelor’s degree in finance, then studied at the London School of Economics as a Rotary International Scholar.

While completing her MBA at Northwestern University in 1981, Bank of Hawaii contacted her about a position to install a new cost and profitability reporting system. The one-year project and the prospect of working with the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen and two Mainland banks appealed to Fujihara-Chong. “I was attracted by the one-year commitment,” she admits with a laugh, “and it ended up being 28 years!” Since then, she has held various positions in commercial and branch banking, lending and operations.

Despite her busy schedule as a senior executive vice president at the bank, Fujihara-Chong has been active with several community organizations. She served as president of the Waikïkï Community Center from 1997 to 1998, was a board member of Ronald McDonald House Charities for nine years, and most recently was a member of the Small Business Association advisory committee. Last April, Fujihara-Chong was elected to HMSA’s board of directors. “I’ve been very impressed by the strong commitment of HMSA’s leadership to serve our community,” she says. “The organization has a long history of success in ensuring that we have access to quality health care.”

Talk of health care prompts Fujihara-Chong to express admiration for her late aunt, Florence (Amuro) Huntington, a manager at the Leahi Hospital pharmacy. Huntington lobbied the Legislature to pass a law allowing pharmacists to offer consumers the option of generic drugs. “My aunt felt that not everyone could afford brand-name drugs,” Fujihara-Chong says, describing how Huntington knocked on the doors of lawmakers at the State Capitol to win support for the bill. “As a nisei girl from Maui, she was truly a role model and showed me what could be achieved.”

Like many an akamai banker, Fujihara-Chong can deliver a crisp brief on “creating value” for customers and shareholders. But she also can reflect on the gratification she gets from mentoring young professionals or helping businesses achieve their goals. It’s a common theme that dates all the way back to her work with international students. “This has been the most rewarding part of it all, whether it has been helping students, bank clients or staff to succeed,” she says. “Now as an HMSA board member, I hope to contribute to the effort of addressing the increasing challenges of providing access to health care.”

Last fall, Fujihara-Chong and her husband, Stanley Chong, joined the ranks of “empty nesters.” Their son is studying at a language institute in Japan, and their daughter is finishing up her first year at Claremont McKenna College in California. With more personal time, Fujihara-Chong has picked up tennis again. “It’s great exercise, it’s healthy, and it’s a fun way to socialize with others,” she says.

 
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