Catherine Ngo, the 57-year-old president and ceo of central pacific bank, is dedicated to the bottom line and was instrumental in the post-recession turnaround for Hawai‘i’s fourth-largest bank.
But that doesn’t mean her focus is all about the money. Spending more than 20 years in financial services, has taught Ngo that a successful career in banking is just as much about people and relationships as it as about the cash.
Her longtime mentor, Central Pacific Bank Chairman John Dean, calls her a rare kind of winner, someone who won’t celebrate until the entire team succeeds.
“I’ve known her since the early 1990s and during that time she’s never been focused on herself. She wants everyone to do well. She very much wants to win, but to her that means that everyone associated with her wins, too,” Dean explains.
Dean says Ngo’s leadership skills and emphasis on living the bank’s core values—teamwork, integrity and exceptional service—made her Central Pacific Bank Board’s unanimous choice to serve as his successor when he stepped down in 2015.
“She’s team, team, team,” Dean says. “Integrity is her middle name and she’s driven to achieve exceptional results.”
The bank board’s selection made Ngo the first female CEO and president of Central Pacific Bank. She’s also one of only two female heads of a publicly traded company in Hawai‘i; the other is Hawaiian Electric Company’s Connie Lau.
Ngo attributes her success to hard work, luck, cultivating the right relationships and being willing to pursue new opportunities.
“It’s important to get comfortable being in a zone of discomfort,” she says.
Pursuing opportunities was the bedrock of her childhood, explains Ngo, who was the daughter of a Chinese immigrant couple who left the Philippines in the late 1950s and moved to Virginia to give their future family a better start in life.
Ngo’s family was the only Chinese family in the neighborhood and she and her older and younger brother were the only Asian kids in their school, but she says the family didn’t experience discrimination because of their ancestry.
They followed the lead of their mother, Ling Ngo, who founded Williamsburg’s FISH Inc., a nonprofit, as a way to show her gratefulness for all the blessings that they received in their new home. The 40-year strong ministry still provides food, hygiene products, clothing and housewares to people in crisis situations.
“There’s someone on call every day of the week if there’s a need in Williamsburg. Giving back was a strong value in our family,” she says.
Ngo says she’s grateful for the values that her parents instilled in her and for their sacrifices, which provided her with a strong work ethic and a good education. She’s also grateful to her grandparents, who shared their old-fashioned values during the summers that she spent with them in Mandaluyong, a little town outside of Metro Manila.
“It was a diﬀerent culture—one where values and family were very important,” she recalls. “It also helped me grow up with a real appreciation for hard work.”
Ngo went on to earn a law degree from the University of Virginia. Her first job after law school was at a large Dallas, Texas firm that focused on corporate and security law, primarily for finance institutions.
She followed her husband Bob Hines, who recently retired from the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, to California where he served as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps at Fort Ord. There she transitioned form a private law practice into banking when she became an executive vice president and the first in-house legal counsel for Silicon Valley Bank.
In the early 2000s, she was asked to serve as Chief Operating Officer of Alliant Partners, an investment-banking subsidiary of Silicon Valley Bank. The assignment was a challenge because the culture of the investment bank was diﬀerent than the commercial bank, she says.
“It was a very tough endeavor to really integrate those two organizations,” she explains. “One thing that I learned from that experience [is that] it’s critical to the success of an organization that the culture of all employees are in sync and onboard with the values. Only if we have fully engaged employees, can we deliver the customer experience. ”
She brought those earlier work experiences to Hawai‘i when Dean, whom she knew from her Silicon Valley days, encouraged her to join Central Pacific Bank in 2010 as executive vice president and chief administrative officer. Here she has worked to upgrade technology, while maintaining a bank culture that honors its legacy by emphasizing people and core values.
“We share stories about how we are meeting our core values and one of the highest awards given is the core values award, which we present at a holiday party with close to 1,000 in attendance,” she says.
Ngo says moving up at Central Pacific Bank requires a commitment to displaying core values and working well with others.
Bank employees are oﬀered three paid-days per year to participate in nonprofit activities and the Central Pacific Bank Foundation makes grants to various Hawai‘i non-profits, she says.
“Beyond the monetary contributions, our employees are rolling up their sleeves every day to help non-profits,” Ngo says.
During last year’s “Central Pacific Bank Walks for You” event, employees raised $108,000 for the Hawaiian Humane Society, Hawaii Literacy, Friends of Youth Outreach and Lanakila Meals on Wheels.
Over the past eight years, employees and customers have contributed more than $1 million to the Angel Tree program, which provides Christmas presents to those in need.
Ngo says she measures her own success by how well she and other bank employees are meeting the needs of customers and the community. She’s a member of the Catholic Charities advisory board and serves as a member of the University of Hawai‘i Foundation board of trustees, where she is active on the investment and the women in philanthropy committees.
Donna Vuchinich, president and CEO of the University of Hawai‘i Foundation, says Ngo adds a lot of value to the board.
“We couldn’t do this work without her,” Vuchinich explains. “Every time that we need her, she steps up.”
Alicia Moy, Hawaii Gas president and CEO, says she met Catherine Ngo through Aloha United Way and now is proud to count her among Hawaii Gas’s board members. Moy says her respect for Ngo has grown over the years as she has watched Ngo stand up for her beliefs, even on controversial topics.
“She gives a voice to others who may be afraid to speak up,” Moy says. “Catherine sees the big picture but also does her homework, so she knows the details. She’s thoughtful and deliberate. She spends the time to really understand all sides of an issue before coming to a conclusion. When she has a conviction, she works hard to bring other leaders together.”
While Ngo is known for working tirelessly to reach her goals, she always makes time to reflect on what’s important to her. In the end, she says that she is most concerned about “whether I’ve made a difference in someone’s lives or whether we’ve made a diﬀerence as an organization.”