By CAROLYN LUCCAS-ZENK
Stephens Media Hawaii
Jason Fujimoto, 32, is the fifth generation to work at HPM Building Supply, an employee-owned company founded by his great-great-grandfather. Growing up, his parents and grandparents often told him stories about how the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis destroyed the company’s Hilo facility.
Fujimoto said their accounts were hard to relate to until he went to Japan as a part of an intense four-day cultural and leadership training program offered by the Hawaii Asia Pacific Association, also known as HAPA. Fujimoto, HPM Building Supply senior vice president and chief operating officer, was among the young business leaders sent to the Tohoku region, which was damaged by the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Fujimoto listened to Hideko Oikawa, a denim factory owner, recount how 120 villagers lived in her factory for four months after their homes were destroyed. Among them were children who lost their parents. The villagers had no electricity and limited food. Hearing her “tear-jerking powerful story, told with tremendous passion and conviction,” was at times very emotional, he said.
Fujimoto also met the founder of an inspiring entrepreneurial center that’s helping spur economic growth and address infrastructure needs, as well as assisting with other efforts. Other memorable experiences were staying with a fishing family and learning how they harvest seafood, as well as working on a farm, where they helped clear and beautify land, making it easier to harvest the camellia nut. This nut is used to produce body and cooking oil.
“In essence, this was a journey of the heart,” Fujimoto said. “It exposed us to touching experiences, strengthened relationships, left us with a tremendous amount of fulfillment and helped us become more well-rounded, balanced leaders.”
Fujimoto couldn’t help but reflect about what’s really important in life each time he learned about how communities are turning suffering into human triumph. For him, it’s building positive relationships and making meaningful contributions — both of which can be applied to business.
The trip, which ended Thursday, was part of HAPA’s Executives in Residence, a program that aims to develop the next generation of leaders in Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific region. Founded in 2004, HAPA is comprised of 55 top-level Hawaii executives, business owners, and influential community leaders. These members selected the up-and-coming business leaders from their respective industries, said Warren Haruki, a HAPA executive member and Grove Farm Co. president.
The trip’s theme was “Leading from the Heart.” The Hawaii group met up with many of the same business and community leaders that they hosted last year in Hawaii. Together, they participated in various community service projects, leadership training seminars, and cultural immersion and bonding activities. The Hawaii delegation and Japan group plans to collaborate on a future project.
Haruki said cross-cultural experiences like this Japan trip are a huge asset for those who are interested in increasing their knowledge and expertise of the Asia-Pacific region, as well as identifying opportunities to forge new relationships, strengthen existing ones and lead to possible ventures. Being in a foreign country also forced the participants to learn how to communicate effectively and master consensus building. Both skills are useful in business, he added.
HAPA members annually travel to an area in the Asia-Pacific region to discover new insights and ideas. The association’s new 2012 class of Executives in Residence recently hosted 10 Korean leaders in Honolulu and Kauai. Future networking opportunities will be developed between the Korean delegation and Hawaii’s young business leaders, Haruki said.
Email Carolyn Lucas-Zenk at email@example.com.