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HMSA Member News > Board Member ProfileSpring 2011 IS Magazine

Banking on Healthy Communities

First Hawaiian Bank’s president believes rewards go beyond net gains.

By Craig DeSilva

Bob Harrison sees a lot of numbers as president of Hawai‘i’s largest bank. However, the numbers that impress him the most come from Kokua Mai, the company’s employee community-giving program to benefit local charities. More than 90 percent of the bank’s employees participate in the campaign, giving more than $500,000 every year. Since its inception in 2007, the program has raised nearly $2.5 million.

“You can’t make people give, they have to want to,” says Harrison, who has been with First Hawaiian for 15 years. “One of First Hawaiian’s core values is ‘caring,’ and our employees show that they care through their generosity. Although things are tight in this economy, it’s tremendous that virtually everybody participates.”

In addition to raising money through Kokua Mai, bank employees serve on hundreds of nonprofit organizations and volunteer in schools, churches, youth athletics, food drives, and other charities. “It’s part of our corporate culture,” Harrison says proudly.

Harrison leads by example. He volunteers on several community boards, including Aloha Harvest, a local nonprofit organization that collects food from hotels, grocery stores, and restaurants to donate to homeless and domestic abuse shelters and other organizations. Harrison has been with the organization since its founding in 1999. Modeled after New York City’s City Harvest, Aloha Harvest delivers about 400,000 pounds of food a year to Hawai‘i’s needy. “There’s no reason in today’s society for people to be hungry,” he says.

Harrison joined HMSA’s board of directors in 2010, and serves on its finance committee. He has quickly learned how everyone, not just health plans and businesses, has a stake in keeping quality health care affordable, especially with the health care reform law. “If you talk about basic things that people should have – it’s food, shelter, and access to health care. We’re ahead compared to many states due to the Prepaid Health Care Act,” he adds.

Harrison grew up in Tucson, Ariz., but he’s deeply rooted in Hawai‘i. He moved here after graduating from high school and lived with his brother, who was getting a Ph.D. at the University of Hawai‘i. He worked in construction and taught scuba diving, then later joined the Navy in hopes of becoming a commercial diver. Harrison soon learned that diving wasn’t the career for him, so he attended UH and then finished his bachelor’s degree in mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles.

After graduating with a master’s degree in business administration from Cornell University, he worked as an associate in corporate finance at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City. He and his wife, a kama’aina whom he met at UH, decided in 1990 that it was time to return to the Islands to raise a family. They have a son and daughter attending college on the Mainland, and are raising a younger daughter. On weekends, he enjoys going on family hiking and camping trips.

Although he spends most of the day at the First Hawaiian Center in Downtown Honolulu, Harrison and the company’s executives make it a point during the holidays to visit every bank branch, including those on the Neighbor Islands and Guam. They acknowledge their employees’ contributions to the bank and the community.

“Our tradition of caring for each other and our community started with our bank’s founder, Charles Reed Bishop. The healthier the community is, the better it is for the people of Hawai‘i,” he says.

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