“…I got back to the beach, drew some inspiration from there….” —Tori Praver on her latest swimwear collection

Sister Acts

What glass ceiling? These hardworking women take the lead in their respective fields.

They say behind every good man is a great woman…

…However, if the adage was specific to these nine ladies in a particular, perhaps the saying should go on to mention that behind every great woman is an unparalleled drive to succeed; the ability to juggle multiple roles and finally, the prowess to make it all come together seamlessly, or at the very least, make it appear that way. From real estate development and education to fashion and entertainment, these women have worked their way to the top-one meeting, one design sketch, one hotel group, at a time.

Tori Praver, Maya Soetoro-Ng courtesy of subjects; Donna Tanoue photo by Dana Edmunds, courtesy Bank of Hawaii; Roseann Grippo photo by Eugene Kam Photography

In the realm of entertainment, we focus on Kika Matsumoto of Kika Inc. She has coordinated renown artists such as Jack Johnson and C&K (Cecilio and Kapono) to perform during the Dalai Lama’s visit to Hawai’i, as well as booked entertainers for fundraisers and conventions like the Pillars of Peace Convention. Matsumoto grew her namesake company over the last three decades to become one of the most prominent entertainment companies in Hawai’i. Providing entertainment services throughout the state, she stages more than 4,000 events a year, which include one-man shows to mega conventions comprising more than 300 entertainers. Working ’round the clock with phone and email access at all times, Matsumoto views her job as “helping people” rather than “labor.”

“We are all in business to support ourselves,” she says. “Some view money as the root of all evil, but money can also do wonderful things if you use it to make a difference, to really help others, and give back to those who have given to you. When you are in business only to make money, that is when it [can become] evil.”

Matsumoto credits the success of her thriving business to her friends-the support they’ve given her. She adds that no favor goes unnoticed. “I will always remember what they have done for me, and help them in any way possible.” Matsumoto believes that her purpose in life is to “help, learn and teach,” and with the favors and support she has gotten from others, she hopes to return the favor and pay it forward to others.

Additionally, in the midst of her busy schedule of coordinating entertainment for hotel lounges, company functions, weddings and conventions, she hosts an animal clinic at her house where all the profits benefit the Joey’s Feline Friends and no-kill animal shelters. She also tries to donate her services to companies and events that promote worthy causes.

While Matsumoto is occupied with providing top-notch entertainment to venues such as resorts, Roseann Grippo is busy running one. She runs the legendary Kahala Hotel and Resort and is surrounded by grandeur on a daily basis. Amidst the behind-the-scenes work of overseeing the luxury hotel and its grounds, meeting and greeting the likes of U.S. presidents and imperial guests are also part of “the job.” But it’s a part Grippo relishes. “I walk the property from one end to the other throughout the day… It is a great way to see what is going on and touch base with all our guests.”

And while The Kahala touts a one-ofa-kind experience, Grippo too, is unique in her role-she is the first female GM in the hotel’s history. Though its major coup for her, she’s generous in naming the people she feels helped her along her road to success.

Grippo’s greatest mentor was her father Frank; and recalling her days with Starwood, she cites Starwood GM Kelly Sanders for allowing her “to think outside the box,” as well as SVP of Sales Organization Christie Hicks. Grippo reveals, “I do not just consider her a mentor, I consider her an icon and my true inspiration. Christie proved to me 20 years ago that I could push the proverbial glass ceiling, and being a woman in a male-dominated industry was not a hindrance but a blessing.”

Her brother may be a source of inspiration for millions, but Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng gives her students the tools and proper foundation to pursue their aspirations. While she may be recognized as the “First Sister,” sibling to President Barack Obama, many know her as a passionate educator who is a well-respected teacher and professor, author, loving mother and wife.

She wrote her 2011 children’s book Ladder to the Moon in honor of her mother and her daughter, Suhaila. It was her mother, Ann Dunham, who encouraged Soetoro-Ng to use what made her unique as her strongest assets.

“When I was a teenager, my mother told me to make use of my personal multiculturalism, to appreciate my exposure to many worlds and my ability to move between them,” she says. Soetoro-Ng admits that she resisted mother’s advice, as any adolescent would. “Later, I realized that it is indeed a great gift to have access to many ways of being and seeing.” She now uses that knowledge through the University of Hawai’i, East-West Center, and several nonprofits to “build bridges between cultures and people. In Hawai’i, we are all fortunate enough to be asked to dance between worlds,” she explains.

An assistant professor at UH Manoa’s College of Education, she says that the idea of a community-school relationship is something to strive for. “… I believe that we need schools to sponsor service, leadership and community engagement. I believe that we need to plant seeds of peace in our keiki, to persuade them to be empathetic and loving adults, moving imaginatively beyond retaliation, violence or self-destruction.”

She is also planning to write more children’s books. “I’m currently under contract to write a young adult novel, Yellow Wood about a 16-year-old peacemaker named Savita.”

To escape a hectic schedule she turns to her family. “We plant trees and pull up invasive limu from the ocean,” she says. “We find time for things like yoga, zumba, journal writing and gathering with our hui of old friends under the banyan tree.”

Soetoro-Ng deftly dances between worlds of work and home, striving for peace and harmony, just like her mother taught her.

For award-winning fashion designer Anne Namba, the future is always bright and varied, much like the gorgeous clothes she creates. While she is known for her one-of-a-kind pieces created from kimono, she finds her inspiration everywhere.

“Basically, when you’re a creative person, you just look at everything,” she says. She points out that inspiration has come to her via a children’s book, furniture and once, even a great advertisement. “If you look at everything with a creative eye, everything you look at inspires you. It’s nothing in particular, but everything in particular.” On the creative process, Namba agrees that insight comes and goes. “Sometimes, I can’t produce stuff fast enough. Sometimes, it’s a fervor. Then, there are those days when nothing’s working,” she explains with a laugh.

As a seasoned designer and business-woman, she does have some advice for budding designers. While she has benefitted from advice from many people concerning all parts of her life, she encourages people to learn the ropes. “I have a lot of interns,” she says. “I always tell them, ‘get a job; learn on someone else’s dime.’ There’s a lot more to being a designer. You need business sense-it’s much more than just having good designs. Luckily, I was able to find people who know what they are doing. I’m better at using that time and energy doing what I can do. Learn first, then build a great team.”

This busy designer and businesswoman, who’s now working on a new collection, is also a mother and wife. To manage her days, Namba believes in strict organization. “You have to schedule yourself,” she says. “I usually organize myself on a weekly basis.”

And that new collection? “It has a more modern, contemporary, urban feel,” she says of the direction that’s adjusted for the changes in her customers’ needs. One change for the woman known for her kimono and obi designs is that she’s working on some washable designs for the collection. “It’s for the woman who’s not a generation ‘Y’ or ‘X,’ but wouldn’t mind being mistaken for one.”

Where some look to former colleagues or high-profile personalities for motivation, Kathy Inouye, Kobayashi Group partner and COO, looks a generation ahead. She admits, “I am inspired by my kids, and I’m impressed that they’ve turned out to be better than whatever my husband and I aspired to be in our lives… they are creative and inspirational.”

Humble words, considering Inouye herself serves as a source of inspiration for many whom she has crossed paths with. Whether in the boardroom at her Hokua offices, or serving as a board member for a nonprofit, Inouye gives any venture impetus to succeed.

Being in real estate development-in a world of contract discussions and construction litigations-various projects are always in the works and often-times give rise to intense scenarios.

One of the most interesting negotiations in which Inouye played a pivotal role involved Hokua years ago. Inouye says, “We were trying to execute a construction contract before the end of the year-this was over the Christmas holiday-and the president of the company was at the other end of the table… It was 11 p.m. and there we were, eating Altoids or whatever was there at that time. I said, ‘Look, we have to sign this by the end of the year…’ Even now, he jokes about how I made him stay till past 11 that night.”

With respected individuals at Kobayshi Group’s helm, it’s no surprise that the tenet of cultivating “long term relationships, knowing the value of a good product and standing behind it,” has carved a stellar reputation for the firm.

In contrast, tragedy was the catalyst for Shelley Wilson to start her own business. She was seriously injured at 18, and realized there was a need for home care in the islands. She founded Wilson Homecare at 21 years of age and now, she’s the president of Wilson Care Group, the largest private home healthcare service provider in Hawai’i, employing more than 400 people.

So, it’s funny to learn that she did it in spite of some advice her father gave her. “[He] continued to tell me to get a ‘real job’ and stop with this nonsense of starting my own company,” she explains. “His discouragement seemed to only fuel my desire to be successful and follow my heart and passion in wanting to provide a service to care for those in need.” She obviously didn’t take his advice, and now he’s a proud father. “He says things have worked out pretty good for me.”

And, it is those in need who continue to fuel her fire. “The people we have the privilege of caring for inspire me,” she says. “I feel responsible to make the lives of every client easier, more peaceful, filled with greater happiness and provide them with the best care we can.”

As for what’s bringing her happiness, she credits her husband and their lives in the literal fast lane. “I have a life companion to share in the day-to-day, share in the triumphs and challenges, and support one another in our own individual professional worlds,” she says. “Some of our escapes … include adoring our pets, collecting and drinking wine, enjoying movies together and the occasional car race. We both happen to have a passion for cars and have two race cars we enjoy together-no fast driving on H-3, we save it for a track on the mainland.”

Though Tracy Walker hails from the mainland, hopping from one Hilton to the next brought her to her latest position as general manager of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. Walker is no stranger to the hotel realm, having worked for almost 25 years in the hotel industry. A ten-hour day is standard for Walker, which is probably a given-she happens to be in charge of the largest hotel in the Hilton family (since June 2012). It seems Walker has come full circle with her post here in Hawai’i. Having started her career with the Hilton in Burbank, Calif. in 2002, she was awarded a trip to Hilton Hawaiian Village back in the day for being “Employee of the Year.” A little more than a decade later, she’s returned permanently, running the 22-acre, beachfront resort. Just don’t ask her what a typical day is like. “The one constant in my job is that there really is no ‘typical’ day,” she says.

But in exchange for the long hours and the variety of hats Walker has to wear, the GM gets extreme satisfaction knowing that “our team is providing our guests with memorable experiences that will last a lifetime.”

Admittedly, Walker reveals that if she wasn’t in her current position, she sees herself teaching. Then again, her role gives her the chance to play teacher after all, when she mentors the next set of managers and helps them develop their hotel-industry savvy.

2013 is shaping up to be quite the eventful year for swimsuit model and designer, Tori Praver. She welcomed her first baby, a girl, in February. She has a new collection due out in the summer, and her wedding to long-time beau Danny Fuller is set for fall. The Maui native’s recent collections have been collaborations with Fuller (a surfer who hails from O’ahu) using his photography to create ethereal prints for her eponymous swimwear collection. Praver’s lifelong love affair with the beach lifestyle was the impetus behind her launching her brand, and she finds inspiration for her designs everywhere.

“I’m usually inspired by travel,” she says. “Simple and clean, pale colors … Things are light and soft. I got back to the beach, drew some inspiration from there-I spent the entire winter in Hawai’i. I do feel as if baby is influencing where I’m drawing inspiration [from].”

While her focus is on the milestones set for this year, she does have some predictions for her future. In a year, she sees herself as a busy mother expanding her RTW with cover-ups and sunglasses. “In 2014, there’ll be a full line of ready-to-wear, beach bags …,” she shares.

“In five years, probably by then, another baby,” she says with a smile. “Hopefully we would have moved back home to Hawai’i-most likely Kaua’i.” And of course, she’ll still be designing.

Donna Tanoue has come a long way since her first summer job at Dole Cannery when she was just 16 years old. The Kalani High School alum received her BA from University of Hawai’i, followed by her JD from Georgetown University Law Center. And it’s been achievement after achievement ever since.

Playing a supporting role to her husband, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, during his campaign is just one of the many hats Tanoue has worn. With an enviable list of career accomplishments, including serving as chairman of the FDIC from 1998-2001 and currently vice chairman of Bank of Hawaii and president of Bank of Hawaii Foundation (since 2002), Tanoue’s successes are nothing short of remarkable. But she says the support is mutual.

“Kirk and I have always tried to be supportive of one another’s career,” she says, “So I would think that this chapter of our lives [now that he’s mayor] will be consistent with that philosophy. I couldn’t have been FDIC chairman, without Kirk being completely supportive. Kirk moved to D.C. and held down the fort at a time when our daughter was very young, all the while keeping up his law practice long-distance.”

For those of us looking for our own road to success, though there may not be a universal formula, Tanoue’s approach to life should be heeded by all: Carpe diem (seize the day)… And, trust your gut!

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