Banks president roseBy Russ Lynch
NO matter how big First Hawaiian Bank got while he was running it, John Bellinger often approached his job like a small-town banker. Even when it involved lending millions, he trusted his own instinct about people more than he did their financial statements.
Not long before he died in 1989 at age 66, Bellinger described his feelings to a reporter. "You stay in your own back yard and deal with people you know something about," he said.
Kaimuki-born Bellinger also liked the fact that he was a "local boy" running a local bank.
But he was to become the dean of Hawaii's chief executives, outlasting those at other companies, where top officers sometimes moved on with startling speed. In that role, Bellinger had a strong influence on behalf of business in politics and government.
Bellinger made one of those rare progressions all the way from the bottom of a company to its top.
Bellinger joined what was then Bishop National Bank of Honolulu in 1942, working at a teller's window for $115 a month. He was a teller at the bank's Fort Shafter branch when he was drafted into the Army in 1946. He rejoined the bank in 1951 and moved up through various branch manager posts to become vice president and cashier in 1955.
The institution became First National Bank of Hawaii in 1960 and First Hawaiian Bank in 1969. That was the year Bellinger, at age 45, became president, one of the youngest bank presidents in the nation.