Currently Na Hoku’s Chairman and CEO, Ed Sultan keeps the family biz alive and very, very well.
AS THE CO-INVENTOR OF NA HOKU, ED SULTAN HAS A LOT OF MOTIVATING “CARATS” IN HIS LIFE.
But those who know him would say that it’s family—those at home, those at work and those he counts among his friends—that really gets this third-generation jeweler going. Ed is the grandson of Edward D. Sultan Sr., who established The Sultan Company in 1924 and later passed it to his son, Edward D. Sultan Jr., who went by “Eddie.”
Under Sultan’s father Eddie, the business grew into the largest jewelry manufacturing and distribution company in the Pacific Region by expanding into Guam, American Samoa, Australia, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Edward D. Sultan III, who goes by “Ed,” joined the family business in 1985 and is now the company’s Chairman and CEO. He launched Na Hoku in 2000 along with his partner Steve Bookatz, who is the company president and COO. Despite the challenges of the early 1990s recession, 9/11 and the Great Recession in 2009, the company is 10 times the size in terms of revenue that it was in 1992 when the youngest Sultan became its top leader. There are now 535 employees who work at 55 stores, across 13 states including Hawai‘i, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Flor- ida, Colorado and California.
“When I took over in 1992, the company was really struggling. Our costs were higher than our revenue, that’s hard to fix,” Sultan says. “We did a lot of very difficult things, but the best thing that we did is that we got to growing the business. When sales are strong, it makes it easier.”
How did Sultan and his team do it? For starters, focused on retail and manufacturing rather than wholesale, a company concentration of the past. They also tied the Na Hoku brand to the brand of Hawai‘i and based it on Hawai‘i’s core family-friendly values.
“Our company is by and built with people from Hawai‘i. We treat people with aloha,” he says.
“When we started Na Hoku his father came and said, ‘I think you guys are crazy, but go ahead and do this,’” Bookatz says. “His father was my partner and a very close friend. He was a great man, but he never handed anything to Ed. Certainly, the company, but he made him work for it. Some guys that get the opportunity that he did don’t know what to do with it, but he did.”
Sultan began honing his work ethic in junior high as a paperboy for the Honolulu Advertiser and working lemonade stands. Later, he worked many jobs in the family business, but didn’t see it as a career choice until after graduating from the University of Colorado.
“I had a job lined up in investment banking, but I was going to take a year off skiing in Colorado first,” Sultan says. “I never made it. My dad’s partner recruited me into taking a temporary job for the summer running our stores in San Francisco. Then the Maui district manager job opened up and what 22-year-old passes up a great job on Maui?”
Sultan recalls working so hard in those early days that he only took four days of vacation in the first decade. But Sultan’s single-minded work focus changed on Sept. 1, 2001, the day he married Rae, which he still calls “the happiest day of my life.”
Despite his work responsibilities, Sultan says he comes home for dinner nearly every night and enjoys nothing more than being a husband and a father to their two children—16-year-old Ella and 12-year-old Walker.
Herb Conley, who is a partner in Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Hawaii, says the “amazing balance” that his friend of 30 years has achieved has always impressed him in his life. “He obviously adores his family and spends a tremendous amount of time with them. He also loves his friends,” Conley says.
Conley adds that balance extends to Na Hoku, which he would describe as Sultan’s “third child.”
“It’s not easy being a third generation anything, especially a business owner, and he’s proven his value by continuing to expand the business in a thoughtful and logical way to make it stronger than when he found it,” he says.
Sultan says he learned much from his father, who was a savvy businessman. However, their styles differ in that Ed is more of a participatory leader than his father, who got his leadership training in the U.S. Army.
Sultan says he’s often remembered his father’s advice when grappling with challenges as well as the fact that his family’s focus has always been on the long game.
“The third generation usually screws it up. I’m very aware of it and it scares the hell out of me. I work very hard not to screw it up,” he says.
Josh Feldman, president and CEO of another Hawai‘i family business, Tori Richard, says Na Hoku’s roots go back nearly 100 years in part because of Sultan’s commitment, vision and ability to marshal employee support.
“Ed has a positivity in nearly everything he does. He’s able to look at all situations in the most positive way, often reminding us that happiness is a choice made possible by having, ‘an attitude of gratitude,’” Feldman says.
Sultan says that’s because he is grateful for his family, his friends and the opportunity to run a business that makes people happy.
“How lucky am I to be in the business of making really beautiful things that make people happy? We’re not saving people’s lives, but still there’s something really nice about it,” he says.