The Wizard Of Connectivity
Led by president and general manager John Komeiji, Hawaiian Telcom remains a force in a highly competitive tech industry.
HAWAIIAN TELCOM IS A:
C. phone company
D. technology company
If you chose “D,” go to the head of the class. If you’re confused and wonder why those other terms no longer define Hawaiian Telcom, hold the phone. We have a caller for you.
His name is John T. Komeiji, president and general manager of Hawaiian Telcom.
Explaining how a 135-year kama‘āina company evolves into Hawai‘i’s largest technology enterprise dials up Komeiji’s passion and enthusiasm. He tells Hawaiian Telcom’s story every day as he leads and guides the course of a progressive, multifaceted communications link to the world.
Once managing only landlines, Hawaiian Telcom today is an integrated communications provider of high-speed internet, data, video entertainment, local and long-distance voice services.
Supported by a next-generation fiber network and 24/7 operations center, the company provides critical infrastructure and connectivity to Hawai‘i’s consumers, businesses and government operations.
Hawaiian Telcom’s latest technology includes a 9,300-mile undersea cable that spans from Southeast Asia to California. Considering the millions of users that rely on the SEA-US undersea cable, it is impressive technical wizardry.
That makes Komeiji Hawai‘i’s wizard of connectivity.
Hawai‘i may be the most remote landmass in the world, but that doesn’t restrict its intellectual and technical capability and credentials. Hawaiian Telcom is a shining example of how a local company can be a feisty force in a highly competitive industry and emerge a leader worthy of community aplomb.
Because telecommunications take place wirelessly these days, we take for granted the caliber of talent and progressive thinking that creates and sustains this service.
As Komeiji puts it, “People think things happen magically.”
He’s right. What consumers want is to be connected to callers, data and entertainment when they want, how they want, and at lightning speed. Buffering is a turn-off.
“I get that,” Komeiji says. With the choices users have today on competing networks and smart devices, the landscape of electronic communications has changed dramatically. To keep up with the times while providing what customers and clients demand, Hawaiian Telcom invests heavily in upholding Hawai‘i’s broadband capacity and capability.
“People in Hawai‘i are early adopters of new technology,” Komeiji contends. “They like new ground and devices.”
To accommodate that fiber frenzy, Hawaiian Telcom recently fortified its scale and operations in a merger with Cincinnati Bell, its new parent company. Is this a good match, and how will it affect subscribers in Hawai‘i?
Komeiji has a lot to say about that. But before we lay it on the line, let’s learn more about the man who calls the shots from 1177 Bishop St.
Before joining Hawaiian Telcom as general counsel in 2008, Komeiji, 65, was a corporate litigator for 30 years. He served as senior partner at Watanabe Ing & Komeiji LLP, focusing on complex commercial, personal injury and professional liability cases.
The University Laboratory School grad has a bachelor’s from UH Mānoa and a juris doctorate from Hasting College of Law in San Francisco.
If you don’t know him from his professional credentials and many community service roles, you might remember the kid from Papakōlea Community Park, where he was a program leader during his college days.
Can’t get more local than that, huh?
“Well, yes, you can,” he responds. “I was hānaied (informally adopted) by the Puhas, a family in Papakōlea, and I have hānai brothers and sisters in Papakōlea till today.”
His immediate family consists of wife Kalowena, a consultant; oldest daughter Kawena, a UH-West O‘ahu librarian; and younger daughter Mahina, a Radford High School English teacher.
His corporate family consists of over 1,300 employees at Hawaiian Telcom who are engineers, software developers, network monitors, customer service personnel and field operators.
“When Walter Dods, Hawaiian Telcom board chairman, first offered me an opportunity to join the company, I welcomed the chance to get involved in operations,” Komeiji recalls. “Among my assignments was leading support services that includes fleet security, building management, communications, safety and environmental issues.”
As Hawaiian Telcom’s chief administrative officer and general counsel, he handled external affairs, government liaison, human resources, information technology and order management system, legal, project management and delivery.
The range of responsibility shows he’s adept at maximizing efficiency and encouraging innovation. All are done within the watchful gaze of a regulated industry.
“Regulation goes with the territory,” he admits, “but my wish is for far less regulation and an even playing field in a fiercely competitive environment.”
All the bundling and unbundling that subscribers face in making service choices is a ritual in consumer advocacy.
“There are remnants of regulation from the1960s and ’70s that don’t fit in the 21st century,” Komeiji says. “There are inherent lags between regulation and precise controls.”
So in an ever-changing industry spurred by progressive minds, how does one harness strong partnerships that empower best practices?
Hello, Cincinnati Bell.
In July, Ohio-based Cincinnati Bell completed its acquisition of Hawaiian Telcom in a cash-and-stock deal worth $650 million. The two companies kept their separate local identities and operations, honoring existing union labor agreements.
“We’ve had a relationship with Cincinnati Bell for years,” Komeiji reflects. “We share knowledge on new approaches and best practices, trade notes on competition and have similar business plans to roll out as much fiber as possible.”
More importantly, both companies have kindred corporate cultures.
“It’s an eastside company with Midwestern values,” Komeiji says.
“There’s a genuine regard for family and community.”
“Smaller players like Hawai‘i often have to prove that it can bring value to a partnership,” he says. “We in Hawai‘i have proven that we can compete in any area. Our marks of excellence define our relationships, and set the bar for mutual respect and dynamics.”
The window of opportunity for advancement opens widely as well.
Cincinnati Bell has already tapped Hilo-born Sunshine Topping, Hawaiian Telcom’s vice president of human resources, for corporate-wide responsibility and training across all of its companies. Talent knows no geographic bounds.
What’s been the reaction to the merger?
“People want to support the local guy,” Komeiji says. “They want us to succeed, but I didn’t realize the depth of that sentiment within Hawai‘i. It reinforces our heartfelt commitment to keeping people connected.”
Leigh Fox, president and chief executive officer of Cincinnati Bell, calls the merger a “significant development for us and our customers, bringing us one step closer to delivering more competitive products and services, including continuing to expand the Next Generation Fiber Network to customers across Hawai‘i.”
The outlook is hopeful, yet veiled in caution as the forces of change play havoc with the most carefully plotted business plan.
Trend watchers such as the Deloitte organization asserts, “The telecom sector continues to be at the epicenter for growth, innovation and disruption for virtually any industry. Mobile devices and related broadband connectivity continue to be more and more embedded in the fabric of society today, and they are key in driving the momentum around some key trends such as video streaming, Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile payments.”
Experts further suggest that telecom services have become commoditized and are not succeeding in efforts to monetize the flood of data running through their networks. If one is a telecom executive at this critical juncture, priorities are to modernize operations and refine one’s strategic identity (value proposition) for the future, such as what can be offered to customers five or 10 years from now.
With the recent alliance of Hawaiian Telcom and Cincinnati Bell, Komeiji and his team seem geared to meet the challenge.
So the next time you see a Hawaiian Telcom truck in your neighborhood, go ahead and flash the driver a shaka sign. It says it all.
1883: King David Kalakaua grants charter to provide telephone service in Hawai‘i.
1902: First direct link to U.S. mainland via undersea telegraph cable.
1957: Built first submarine telephone cable connecting Hawai‘i to U.S. mainland.
1964: Built first trans-Pacific submarine cable connecting Hawai‘i to Japan and U.S mainland.
1977: First fiber optic link installed in Hawai‘i at Camp Smith.
1998: Launched high-speed internet service.
2011: Launched Hawaiian Telecom TV.
2015: Launched Hawai‘i’s fastest 1 Gig (gigabit-per-second) internet.
2017: Southeast Asia-United States (SEA-US) cable, most technologically advanced trans-Pacific fiber cable connecting Indonesia, the Philippines, Guam, Hawai‘i and California, goes into service.