Think Inc.
A forum for Hawaii's
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Sunday, June 2, 2002

Learning to adapt

Evolving with the environment | What it means to be local changed



Successful business leaders
master the art of evolving
with the environment

By Jerry Glover and Gordon Jones

For the past six weeks we have focused on adaptation and effective leadership. Four important requirements for adaptive leadership have been discussed: cultural competency; effective acquisition and use of knowledge; creating synergy from diversity; and holistic vision. In this article we provide examples of people who have demonstrated these four qualities for leading adaptively.

Our first example is Hawaii resident Loy Weston, former chief executive officer of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan. Weston's adaptiveness as a leader has been the key to his success.

When Weston was hired by Kentucky Fried Chicken in the late 1970s to establish a fast-food franchise subsidiary in Japan, KFC headquarters in the United States and the Japanese partner, Mitsubishi Corp., had very different ideas about how to build the business in Japan. In order to create the successful business venture that he did, Weston had to design and create a business that reconciled the opposing values of the Japanese partner and the KFC headquarters.

The Japanese business environment challenged all his previously held notions for how to take care of accounting, daily operations, marketing, human resources and business development. Weston took the strengths of both the American and Japanese business systems and created an adaptive corporation, one that bridged the cultural gaps between the two international partners.

Some of the solutions he came up with included changing the store design to fit the limited space in Tokyo, modifying the advertising theme used in the United States to fit consumers in Japan, and treating employees as long-term assets instead of short-term and disposable.

Not only did he survive these early dilemmas, he built one of the most successful and profitable restaurant franchise businesses in history. KFC Japan developed into 800 stores in the 10 years Weston was in Japan.

Our second example is Bill Gates, specifically when he was developing the China market for Microsoft.

Gates, an icon of the information age, provides an example of an organizational leader who did not let previous success in other countries get in the way of potential success in a new context. Initially, Microsoft's efforts to build relations in the Peoples' Republic of China and expand into that country were not as successful as he had planned.

When a Chinese leader told Gates to "spend some time in China to get to know the country," Gates, his wife, anžd another couple toured China for a month, biking in the countryside to become familiar with the Chinese ways of doing things.

Gates learned from the experience and, as a result, rethought his strategy for developing Microsoft in China. For example, he revised his approach to include: 1) training locals so that Microsoft could employ them to manage their interests in the PRC; 2) overlooking different values on intellectual property with the longer-term vision of market domination in the PRC context; and 3) adapting Microsoft to the PRC's ways of doing business for long-term competitiveness. A decade later and Microsoft has a strong hold on one of the largest markets for software in the world.

The third example is Hawaii Pacific University President Chatt Wright. Over the years, we have watched Wright build HPU into a globally-connected and successful educational institution. He has always been open to new ideas, while simultaneously insisting on fiscal responsibility and quality for how the University operates.

We recall a situation that illustrates his adaptiveness. In 1998, the Asian monetary crisis had caused great concern at HPU. We were worried that we would lose a large number of students from that region. Wright called a meeting of faculty to discuss what his strategy would be to respond to this potential crisis.

Some of the faculty were expecting the worst; downsizing, program cutbacks, and a "doom and gloom" speech. Instead many were surprised to hear his creative plan.

He told us he was going to invest a sizable amount of funds and many of HPU's resources to develop our profile in student markets in Europe, South America and Africa.

So, if we lost student from one region we would make up for it with students from other previously untapped regions. Five years later we can look back and see that his plan, adapting to contextual changes in the global market for students, was successful. Fortunately, we still have our Asian students and we have also expanded our influence to other regions of the world.

The fourth example is Tomasi Vuetilovoni, member of parliament and minister for commerce in Fiji. We have known most of Fiji's current leaders for the past decade as we worked with them via the Change Leadership Forum in Fiji. Vuetilovoni is as comfortable in a board of directors meeting in Melbourne as he is drinking kava on a mat in his village in Raki Raki.

We have watched him build the largest and most successful corporation in the South Pacific region in the 1990s, then move into government after the coup two years ago.

He and the other leaders in his party are now attempting to build a new Fiji, a nation that recognizes the importance of the traditional village structure while also operating as a Western-style democracy.

We believe Vuetilovoni and the current government leaders will be successful in the difficult task they are facing. Why? Because they are not politicians. Instead, they are former successful business and community leaders who have answered the call to help put their nation back on track. But most importantly, Vuetilovoni and the others have the qualities we have described for adaptive leaders.

They think adaptively, and are demonstrating continuous learning and holistic vision as they rebuild Fiji.

Loy Weston, Bill Gates, Chatt Wright and Tomasi Vuetilovoni have something in common. They behave according to our four principles for leading adaptively.

They are cultural competent, effectively acquire and use knowledge, create synergy from diversity, and have holistic vision.

Finally, these leaders are persons who have managed to adapt successfully, over the long haul, to the circumstances they have been given.

Weston said, "I met the owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken and he asked me to take the KFC franchise to Japan and other parts of Asia. Easy. All we had to do was change the eating habits of two-thirds of the world's population. In Japan that meant a nation of about 120 million people. Ever try to pick up a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken with chop sticks?"

This concludes our series of articles on adaptive leadership. We would like to thank our readers for their interest and comments.

Jerry Glover is a professor of organizational change at Hawaii Pacific University and Gordon Jones is a professor of management information systems at HPU. They can be reached at and



A lesson in what it means
to be local changed
a perspective forever

A young friend of mine originally from Hilo told me the other day that I was not "local." She said I did not sound, dress or act it. I was surprised by her comments as I am keiki o ka aina and have been schooled and lived here all my life.

A few days later on a Friday, Destiny gave me lessons in what it means to be local, which, in turn, changed my prospective forever. My lessons began when I attended Henry Ayau's funeral in the morning. While I was waiting for the blessings to start, greeting old acquaintances and friends, a high school friend of Ayau's said to me as we surveyed the 1,500-plus people who had come to say "Aloha," "look around you, here was a man of modest means and he truly was the wealthiest of all."

The general manager of the Outrigger Canoe Club said in his eulogy, "It was his smile. He was kind and gentle, never disrespectful and always had a good word for everyone he met."

Afterward, I went to Mocha Java to have lunch and a young construction worker came by to say "hi" and reminded me he was bringing back some venison from his upcoming hunting trip to Molokai. I had met him just a few days before and had mentioned I like deer meat and now he was bringing some back for my friends and me and I had not even learned his last name.

Later that day, I attended the ceremonies and reception for the start of "Military Appreciation Week" on the battleship U.S.S. Missouri.

As I stood on the bow a guide came up to me. She was wearing the hat of the Marine Detachment group for the Missouri out of respect of the Marines, as her husband is a cunnery sergeant with them. As she and I looked back at the bridge and gun turrets of the ship I told her how my father had sailed on the Missouri's sister ship, the U.S.S. Maryland. We talked about my Dad and his experiences as a 23-year-old ensign living in war with the chaos and his fears, the losses of his friends and of situations that everlastingly altered his life.

She said her husband and she would soon be leaving for San Diego, but her years working on the Missouri and living here had given her an admiration and appreciation for the essence of our islands and had changed her for the better. She had experienced the greatest stories of America and learned about the goodness of the human spirit. She then took off her hat and gave it to me saying to always remember my father and what he and his generation had sacrificed. I was humbled to say the least.

I saw my young friend again after that day and told her she and I were both wrong about the meaning of "local." What I learned that day was being local is not about color, race, language, dress or how you "act." It is not about where you went to school or about the length of residence.

What it is about is the actions of being genuine and kind, having generosity and being trusting, gentle and loving. It is about love and respect for the spirit of our islands, a malama o ka aina, that somehow unites all people and cultures.

It is what we all talk about when we speak with reference to "Aloha" and if it's in your heart and soul. This word is really not a contrite expression created for the benefit of the tourist industry, it is the essence of being "local" and of all Hawaii.

Given this knowledge, I am confronted with questions about the future. While we move forward into the 21st century and seek changes to pull us out of our provincialism and parochialism, how do we remember not to lose these qualities that makes us so unique? How do we work to grow the quality of our lives but not become too homogenous with the rest of the world? How do we retain our delicate balance with our people, cultural and environment and continue this equilibrium?

Whatever the answers are, we all must work to preserve this legacy. It is our gift from the people who came before us and we must maintain it for our children who will come after us.

Stephany L. Sofos, a licensed real estate broker and appraiser, is president of SL Sofos and Company Ltd. She can be reached at

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