They Mean Business
Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i’s Young Professionals Program prepares the state’s future leaders through mentorship, networking and service.
Composed of more than 2,000 businesses statewide, Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i has within its membership just as many top-level executives leading the state toward a better tomorrow. And part of being that guiding force includes mentoring the up-and-coming professionals ready to make their mark.
Through Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i’s Young Professionals Program, those latter proverbial new kids on the block get an opportunity to learn from the state’s top C-suite executives in a variety of industries — plus a ton of other cool stuff, too. Since 2011, the YP Program has been providing young people under age 40 with opportunities to grow professionally through a formal mentorship program, networking events, development classes, field trips/tours and civic engagement opportunities. (Visit cochawaii.org/ypprogram to learn more and apply.)
“This is a great opportunity for anyone wanting to grow in their career, whether you’re a junior, mid-level or senior manager, or even a young executive,” says Butch Galdeira, president of Diamond Bakery. “My title was manager when I started with YP five years ago.”
As a new YP member, Galdeira was given the chance to connect with a mentor in the community and selected Mayor Rick Blangiardi, who was then the general manager for Hawai‘i News Now.
“I had heard Rick speak at a fundraiser many years ago, and I was inspired. On the application, it asked me to list the top three of who I wanted to mentor me, and I listed Rick as my first, second and third choice; I think I wrote in fourth and fifth, too,” Galdeira jokes. “To this day we continue the mentorship; he has become a friend, mentor and father figure to me.”
The longevity of relationships is common among YP members and their advisers, including for incoming YP Program chair Bianca Mordasini, who was paired with HEMIC CEO Marty Welch for her mentorship program.
“In addition to being able to meet with him monthly on an informal basis and garner career advice, he walked me through a major career change decision, bringing me to my current role at Shidler,” notes Mordasini, who serves as the senior director of alumni and external relations at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Shidler College of Business. “Tied to this, I had been acquainted with Unyong Nakata (former executive director of development at Shidler) through the YP Program. She had informed me about the great opportunity at Shidler, and was my former manager. Now, here I am today, working at Shidler six years later, and still in touch with both Marty and Unyong.”
This theme continues with Blair Suzuki, president and CEO of Koa Restoration & Maintenance. He participated in the mentorship program at the start of the pandemic, when he was paired with Ann Teranishi, the then-chief operating officer of American Savings Bank.
“I found it incredibly valuable to have a mentor and sounding board during such a difficult and uncertain time to learn and bounce ideas off of,” Suzuki says. “Ann and I have remained good friends since then, and I am grateful for her guidance and support.”
Mentorship is but just one element of the YP Program. Arguably the most impactful are the peer-to-peer relationships that form as a result of membership.
“YP provides opportunity to make connections; over time, these connections turn into influences,” shares Jen Lau, executive vice president of Finance Enterprises. “Also, you build a great network of those you can reach out to bounce ideas, for guidance, expertise and thought-leadership.”
It’s evident that having mentors who give back has influenced YP members, who in turn give back to the community by volunteering.
Galdeira, for instance, is a commissioner for the Honolulu Fire Department. Lau, meanwhile, serves on the boards for Girl Scouts of Hawai‘i, GIFT Foundation of Hawai‘i and East-West Center Foundation.
“Through the YP Program, I’ve met some amazing people, and I’ve learned a lot from their insights and advice,” adds Suzuki, who is vice-chairperson for the Governor’s State Advisory Board on Veterans’ Services and board president for Housing Hawai‘i’s Future. “I’ve also been introduced to several nonprofit organizations doing great work in our communities, and have had the opportunity to get involved and sit on local nonprofit boards.”
According to Lau, the YP Program is also a good way to stay informed about important topics, issues, trends and practices, including leadership authenticity,
negotiation skills, how to have difficult conversations and navigating stakeholder dynamics.
“You can really just have discussions about what other leaders are doing, what their challenges are, sharing an open dialogue,” adds Galdeira. “The best way to grow is to have unfiltered conversations, where egos are left at the door and you can talk the good, the bad and the ugly.”
This open line of communication also comes in handy when banding together to solve real-life issues facing the state, including most recently how expensive it is to reside in Hawai‘i.
“This year, the YP program launched the first-ever YP Cost of Living Summit, where young professionals were able to gather and start conversations with community leaders about tackling this issue,” notes Suzuki.
And while the YP Program is all about professional and community development, a lot of personal growth happens as well.
“Many life-long friendships were fostered through the program, starting off in a professional setting at first, then evolving to really deep personal relationships,” says Mordasini. “Many of my YPers have been invited to my wedding, baby shower, and the list goes on. Many of us are also new moms, so I’m constantly asking for advice and support! About 75% of my ‘close friends’ group’ are connections forged through the YP Program. The community we’ve built here is truly incomparable.”
YP’s Top Performers
While most Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i Young Professionals Program members are early into their careers, a handful have risen to top positions at a young age.
• BLAIR SUZUKI, president and CEO of Koa Restoration & Maintenance
• JEN LAU, executive vice president of Finance Enterprise
• BUTCH GALDEIRA, president of Diamond Bakery
• CAROLINE CARL, executive director of Hawai‘i Energy
• ROB NELSON, president of Finance Factors
• LJ DUENAS, executive director of Alzheimer’s Association
• TREVOR ABARZUA, president and executive director of Waikīkī Business Improvement District Association