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HMSA Member News > Board Member ProfileWinter 2012 IS Magazine

Leaping Leader

John T. Komeiji jumped into a telecommunications company in transition.

By Chance Gusukuma

John T. Komeiji has a piece of the bungee cord that suspended him high above New Zealand’s Kawarau Bridge in 2007 – a souvenir of his leap off the 141-foot platform above Queenstown.

“I wasn’t scared,” he says, running his thumb over the thick, braided chunk of latex rubber. “I figured all this would have to break for me to fall, and I knew that wasn’t going to happen.”

The following year, Komeiji wasn’t daunted by making the jump from his partnership at the law firm Watanabe, Ing and Komeiji to Hawaiian Telcom, which was facing severe financial challenges.

After 30 years as a top-notch litigator at the well-connected firm, why did Komeiji join the local executive management team charged with transforming Hawaiian Telecom into a nimble, innovative, and profitable communications and technology company? “I always wanted to see if I could be a leader within a business organization,” Komeiji says. “I knew I could be a leader within a law firm, but that’s a very different organization from Hawaiian Telcom, so it’s a personal challenge.”

As Hawaiian Telcom’s senior vice president and general counsel, Komeiji oversees 140 employees spread across corporate communications, the company’s fleet, physical plant, security, environmental issues, procurement, warehousing, and human resources.

He freely admits that he had no prior experience in those areas. But, he says, “I think I fit this job perfectly in the sense that this is a company that has had a lot of challenges. We’ve had a lot of problems that we’ve had to work on, so I really enjoy that.”

Last year shaped up as a pivotal point for the company. After emerging from bankruptcy in November 2010, Hawaiian Telcom turned a profit in three consecutive quarters in 2011.

The rocky process of rebuilding back-office functions and systems and returning them to Hawai‘i finally appeared to be stabilizing. A rebranding campaign reinvigorated the company’s public image. And Hawaiian Telcom rolled out new products and services – including digital TV – for consumers and businesses.

A longtime board member of the Boys & Girls Club of Hawaii, Komeiji says that the general public often doesn’t appreciate how much local businesses give back to the community. In fact, he says, private sector support has been critical during the current economic downturn, when a lot of government funding has been cut. “You know, we’re in a big slump right now. It would be even worse if businesses pulled all of the support that they gave or lessened that.”

As board chairman of the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific (REHAB), he’s currently building support for a $17-million capital campaign. He’s also excited about REHAB’s role as one of 10 rehabilitation centers across the nation partnering with California-based Berkeley Bionics to test a battery-powered “eLEGS” exoskeleton to enable paraplegics to walk.

Komeiji serves on the finance committee of the HMSA Board of Directors. “Hopefully, I can contribute to making HMSA a better organization,” he says. He was impressed when he learned about the number of health and wellness initiatives HMSA has spearheaded in the community. “I was pretty inspired that all these things were going on.”

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