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Big Isle native takes reins at state chamber


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Sherry Menor-McNamara is racking up a number of “firsts” in her career.

The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, the state’s largest business organization, recently named her president and CEO, replacing Jim Tollefson who will retire on Aug. 31. She’ll then become the chamber’s youngest president and CEO, and its first female top executive, in the organization’s 162-year history.

She will also be the first chamber CEO whose roots are firmly planted on Hawaii Island.

Menor-McNamara’s grandparents emigrated from the Philippines to Pahoa. She attended Hilo Union School and graduated from Waiakea High in 1989. Her father, the late Barney Menor, was born and raised in Hilo and served as a Hawaii state senator and as Hawaii County managing director.

Former state Sen. Ron Menor is her cousin, and former state Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Menor, the first person of Filipino descent named to the court, is her uncle. Her mother, Naomi, still owns and operates Naomi’s World Travel in Hilo.

Recently, Menor-McNamara was in Hilo to celebrate a family birthday, one of a handful of times each year that the busy mover and shaker finds time to come home.

“There’s such a sense of community (in Hilo),” she said in a phone interview from Honolulu. “It’s really shaped me as a person. The sense of collaboration, working together, the humility and respect for one another. It’s always in me. I grew up in that environment.

“When I go back, I always feel recharged,” she said.

Menor-McNamara, 41, joined the chamber as the director of business advocacy in 2006 and was promoted to vice president for business advocacy and government affairs a year later, becoming an authority on business issues at the state legislature. In 2012, she took on the role of chief operating officer in addition to her advocacy work, handling day-to-day operations of the chamber and overseeing membership services, marketing and the events department.

Before joining the chamber, Menor-McNamara was the events manager for ESPN Sports’ Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. She also worked for Sony Pictures Entertainment, and other leading corporations, and for the Hawaii State Legislature, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, and in the executive office of the president. Along the way she’s lived in Tokyo, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and London, and has resided in Honolulu since 2001.

“With all those comparisons, you learn to appreciate where you come from,” she said.

She’s a leader on numerous public service boards and nonprofit committees and last year was recognized as one of the “Top 20 People To Watch” by Hawaii Business magazine.

“Sherry is the perfect person to take over leadership of the chamber,” said Dr. Virginia Pressler, former chamber chair and executive vice president and chief strategic officer of Hawaii Pacific Health. “She is well respected by government officials and the business community and she knows the business of the chamber exceptionally well.”

Pressler is impressed with Menor-McNamara’s “vision, strategic acumen, and knowledge of the community. She is tireless, dedicated, and very bright. I have the utmost confidence that she will lead us well.”

Menor-McNamara counts Pressler as one of her mentors, but it was Naomi Menor who instilled her with the character, work ethic, and understanding of small business that shapes her views. She knows how hard her mom worked and struggled as a small business owner.

“It’s an easy task to represent,” Menor-McNamara said. “Seeing her struggle to put three kids through college, giving up her life to make her kids successful.”

“Ganbatte,” the Japanese word for “giving it all you got,” was what her mother, who was raised in Japan, always told her.

“I had the right upbringing and values to know what it takes,” Menor-McNamara said. “Never be afraid to take initiative, while being mindful and respecting of others.”

Established in 1850, the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii is the leading organization for business in the state with more than 1,000 member companies representing more than 200,000 employees.

Menor-McNamara is not the only Big Island resident in a leadership position on the Hawaii chamber. Barry Taniguchi, president of KTA Super Stores, is chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, making it the first time that the president and CEO, and the chairman of the board, are both not only from Neighbor Islands but from the Big Island.

“It’s a great honor,” she said. “It represents the Big Island well.”

Her goals include making the chamber “more proactive than reactive,” shaping the state’s business climate with new initiatives in the Legislature, and reaching out more to members.

Collaboration is key.

“We formed an alliance,” she said, an informal group of more than the traditional members of the chamber, including restaurants, the building trades and retail merchants among 20 different business organizations that regularly meets to expand the chamber’s voice. “That goes a long way. Listen to others, take all perspectives into consideration, take initiatives,” she said. “It’s good to collaborate with the rest of the state.”

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