‘Doc’ Still Has The Personal Touch

Learning to value employees is just one of the many lessons learned by Richard “Doc” Kelley, the former president and

Before Richard Kelley helped grow Outrigger Hotels into a multinational hospitality chain, he worked as a pathologist at The Queen’s Hospital in the ’60s. Notwithstanding his busy schedule, he always found time to strike up a conversation with just about anyone he came in contact with. Body tissues and fluids and diseases in general he knew, but what the man known simply as “Doc” really valued was getting to know people and their stories.

“I liked my job because I got a chance to talk to the patients, the nurses and others,” says Kelley, 88, who resides in Colorado these days but whose heart remains in the islands. “To everybody in the hospital, I was kind of respected as the guy who wasn’t the ordinary doctor.”

Kelley’s days in medicine were short-lived, however, after his parents convinced him to give up his profession and help the family’s burgeoning hotelier enterprise. Thankfully, he was able to take that love for people with him and turn it into an essential part of the Outrigger brand.

Richard Kelley works the front desk during the early 1970s. PHOTO COURTESY COMMPAC

In discussing his soon-to-be-released memoir Paddling the Outrigger, Inspiration and Insights from the Journey of a Lifetime, the chairman emeritus of Outrigger Enterprises Group recalls being so fearful of losing contact with workers during those early days of hotel expansion that he developed a weekly company newsletter, called Saturday Briefings, to keep the lines of communication open.

“We had just acquired the Prince Kūhiō Hotel and, all of a sudden, we had an additional 200 to 400 employees. Because we were going to do more things remotely, I didn’t want to lose the friendship and closeness I had with them,” he recalls. “So, we started the newsletter and my wife was the one who worked on it. At first we did it quarterly, then we did it monthly and then we started running it weekly.”

Born in Waikīkī, Kelley is the oldest child of hoteliers Roy and Estelle Kelley. PHOTO COURTESY COMMPAC

But although the estimated 1,650 newsletters he generated from 1984 until the family sold the business in 2016 had “a great effect on people when the head of the company is talking directly to the employees,” Kelley never lost that personal touch with his workers.

“I made it a point to go down to housekeeping in the morning and have a cup of coffee with the housekeepers,” he says. “They’d begin to ask me questions and I would ask them some questions, too. That’s how we got to know each other much better.”

As much as he loved work, Kelley still found time to enjoy one of his favorite activities: surfing. PHOTOS COURTESY COMMPAC

It’s a lesson on mutual respect that Kelley hopes is not lost on today’s employers.

“What I hope to convey is this: If you treat your employees well, you’ll find that they’ll treat you well, they’ll treat your company well and they’ll treat the community well,” says the former president and CEO of the company.

Described as both memoir and business tutorial, Paddling the Outrigger pulls together Kelley’s thoughts on a variety of topics, including his birth and upbringing in Waikīkī, the history of Outrigger Hotels and his role in turning Hawai‘i into a premier global destination. He also muses on company principles such as “Hotel guest service is like a symphony” and “Ke ‘Ano Wa‘a” (the Outrigger Way) and reflects upon the importance of people like Dr. George Kanahele in helping the hotel chain embrace the traditions of Hawaiian culture.

The book’s official launch takes place Monday, Nov. 1, when the Hawai‘i Book & Music Festival hosts an online panel discussion. The hourlong session — which may be accessed at hawaiibookandmusicfestival.com — begins at noon.