Leap of Fate

Sherry Menor-McNamara was born to lead. She now takes the reigns as president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii.

Uncertainty is a dirty word to most top executives in Hawai’i, but one of Sherry Menor-McNamara’s gifts is that she has learned how to turn this inevitable challenge of business to her advantage.

The first woman appointed to serve as president and CEO for the 162-year-old Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, Menor-McNamara is the kind of go-getter that won’t settle for the status quo or embrace comfort over innovation. She’s all about ganbatte, the Japanese version of “let’s go for it,” and butterflies, which in her case is more about tolerating risk and less about pretty creatures.

“My favorite expression is, ‘Refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies,'” says the 42-year-old Menor-McNamara, who is also the chamber’s first Japanese-Filipino president and CEO and its youngest top leader. “Essentially, if you’re not putting yourself out there and proposing new and innovative ideas, then you’re not doing your job effectively. You should always be evaluating things and thinking about ways to make them better.”

In Menor-McNamara’s case, that process starts early with a 3:45 a.m. wake up so she can kick start work before breaking at 5:30 a.m. for her own version of the hot seat – yoga, practiced in a 100-degree plus room. Afterward, it’s meetings and events until well into the evening, which if it ends earlier than expected, usually includes a second workout or run for the four-time marathoner.

It’s that kind of mindset that has turned Menor-McNamara from a Hilo farm girl into the kind of trailblazer that stubbornly refused to give up on a Honolulu marathon even after her knee buckled, fast-tracked a bill in 2010 that saved employers about $110 million in hefty unemployment insurance tax increases, and eagerly accepted a challenge from her chamber board to nearly double its recovering membership by 2016.

“Sure, its an ambitious goal, but you have to strive for something,” Menor-McNamara says.

Having that kind of attitude and drive at the helm of the chamber should prove transformational, said former classmate and colleague Bryan Andaya, chief operating officer of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.

“She’s always had a clear voice. Classmates looked up to her,” says Andaya, who is proud to be a fellow Waiakea High School Warrior. “She was class president all three years of high school and was student body president her senior year. She was one of the bright stars of the class of 1989. I’m proud of her and I think she has found her calling. She’ll work and ~ ght for local businesses.”

Randy Francisco, Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce president, agrees with Andaya’s assessment. Francisco first met Menor-McNamara when she started at the chamber in 2006 as director of business advocacy and got to know her as she rose through the ranks.

“Her local-style leadership has impressed me,” Francisco says. “She’s always working hard to ensure that our neighbor island voices are part of the discussion and solution,” Francisco says. “She’s a great example of a Big Island girl, who ascended into this position-she’s the president living in Honolulu but her style and values represent where she came from, the Big Island of Hawai’i.”

Not surprisingly, if you ask Menor-McNamara to expound on the secret of her success, she’ll tell you that the best lessons were taught by her mother, Naomi, and her father, Barney Menor, who served as a state representative and was a charter member of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai’i before his death in 1999.

“My mom stressed the values of hard work, education and integrity,” Menor-McNamara says. “She was from Japan and didn’t have a college education, but she started a small travel agency, which is still successful today.”

Her politically powerful father taught his middle child the importance of respect for people, solid relationships, helping others and doing what’s best for the greater good. Her uncle Ben Menor, a former state senator and the first Filipino justice on the Hawai’i Supreme Court, also served as a strong example of community accountability as has her cousin, Honolulu City Councilman Ron Menor. But, Menor-McNamara said she learned the value of hard work from her grandparents, who put her to work on their Pahoa farm.

Hilo served as a springboard to the world for Menor-McNamara, who went to college in Los Angeles and also lived in New York City, Washington D.C., London and Tokyo before returning home.

Prior to joining the Chamber, Menor-McNamara was the events manager for ESPN Sports’ Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl. She also worked for Sony Corporation, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Estee Lauder Company, Field Group, Elton John Production, 60 Minutes, the Hawai’i State Legislature, U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, and the Executive Office of the United States President.

Longtime friend and former law school classmate Marion Reyes-Burke says Menor-McNamara has never ceased to amaze her. From the time that she surprised her law school class with a rousing karaoke rendition of “Wild Thing” to breaking the Chamber’s glass ceiling.

“She’s quiet and reserved, but she’s got a fun side, too. She’s certainly somebody that no one should underestimate,” Reyes-Burke says. The chamber is a perfect job for her because she really enjoys lobbying and politics. Of course, I don’t think it’s any secret that someday she wants to run for office herself. I’m waiting for her to become Governor or a Supreme Court Justice. I think it’s just a matter of time because when she sets her mind on something, she really goes for it.”

But for now, Menor-McNamara says that she is very content to serve Hawai’i’s people through her work at the chamber.

“Getting named president and CEO of the Chamber was the best day of my life outside of the day that I married John McNamara,” she says. “I’m thrilled about the opportunity to serve the state I love and make a difference.”

Photo courtesy of Ryan Chun

Photo courtesy of Ryan Chun

Ryan Chun, President of Elite Parking Services

“This is our 21st year in business and I don’t even think that we’ve scratched the surface of what we can do,” says Ryan Chun, who founded Elite Parking Services from a pay phone at the end of an

Aloha Tower pier in 1992, following stints as a paper-boy, car detailer, and gas station manager.

The 42-year-old Chun says he still remembers when his business was so slow that he was parking cars himself and fought boredom by naming wharf rats. Now, it’s a thriving operation that works with more than 60 clients and employs nearly 500 workers.

“Many entrepreneurs bring themselves to failure because they have big egos and think they know everything,” Chun says. “I’m the jack of nothing. I understand my strengths and weaknesses, but am smart enough to get very talented people in the areas I need help.”

Still, few who know Chun would question how he got to where he is today. The consummate entrepreneur already was exhibiting strong business acumen at age 11 when he contracted his older brother to transport him around the island so that he could work three newspaper routes. That same kind of drive was evident, when Chun started the company’s hotel division in 1998 with the goal of making money in his sleep. Now, he’s expanding rapidly into the health care sector, a move that has added lots of new contracts and about 60 more jobs.

“The sky is the limit,” Chun says.

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