Sunday, December 19, 2004

Executive Domain

Walter A. Dods Jr. is awash in colors after being presented "The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star" on Friday by the Consulate-General of Japan in Honolulu.

BancWest CEO Walter Dods
is stepping out of the spotlight
after a 36-year career

It's only fitting that Walter A. Dods Jr.'s office in First Hawaiian Center should sit 29 floors above ground level. A symbol, perhaps, of how far he has risen since he started working as a mail boy at First Insurance 45 years ago.

Labeled by some as the most powerful man in the state, Dods is retiring at the end of this month as chief executive of the largest and most profitable company in Hawaii.

Although he will remain as nonexecutive chairman of First Hawaiian and its Honolulu-based parent, BancWest Corp., it won't be the same. Nearly half of Dods' 36 years at the bank have been spent as CEO.

"Its amazing how fast it's gone by," said Dods, who is now in his 16th year at the controls. "I've rarely taken a vacation. I've rarely been bored. It's been exciting. The bank has been a wonderful place to work and the culture is incredible. And it's gone by in the blink of an eye."

Dods, who built BancWest into one of the 25 largest bank holding companies in the United States, said the bank isn't through growing. Now owned by French investment giant BNP Paribas SA, he said he expects BancWest's assets to double to $100 billion from its present $50 billion within five years.

"This is just the beginning for BancWest," Dods said. "We have a very financially strong parent who has given us the green light to continue to grow because BancWest is one of the top performers in the BNP system."

Dods, who was honored at the bank's Christmas party on Dec. 8 at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, said in retrospect that he's "shocked" at the path his career has taken.

"I had absolutely nothing in my background that prepared me for the many miracles I experienced in my life," Dods said. "I started off as a mail boy out of high school and I've been blessed with a wonderful life. I've had many great mentors who have helped me along the way, and a loving and supporting family that encouraged me. My message to young people in Hawaii is if I can do it, anybody can do it."

Walter Dods stands with his family after receiving an award Friday from the Consulate- General of Japan. From left, Walter III, Lauren, Dods, wife Diane, Chris and Peter.

Don Horner, who will succeed Dods on Jan. 1 as CEO of First Hawaiian, chuckles at the power label that some have bestowed upon Dods.

"I think it's comical, and you can quote me, because in the years that I've known Walter, I've never seen him exercise any 'power.' I'm serious," Horner said.

"Walter's not about power. Walter's about taking care of his employees, his customers and his community. He enjoys those accolades with a sense of humor because I can tell you he does not take them seriously. If he did take them seriously, he wouldn't be able to leave the stage."

Dods said he's never given much thought to where he'd be today it he hadn't gone into banking.

"I still might be in a service station pumping gas," said Dods, recalling one of the three jobs he worked simultaneously during high school.

He would work weekends pumping gas at an Aina Haina service station, bag groceries at Foodland on Mondays through Thursdays after school, and on Sunday night wash dishes at Aina Haina Chop Suey.

"Every Sunday night I cried because the dishes were stacked up to the ceiling," Dods said.

His dishwashing days, though, might not be behind him. At First Hawaiian's Christmas party, a video chronicling his life was shown to the guests. One of the shots was of his wife, Diane, who was asked if she was happy about Dods' retirement. As she was giving her approval, a camera was zooming down on a desk that contained a list of household chores she had for him to do.

In another video segment, his daughter Lauren, a junior at the University of Southern California, was shown pushing a button that imploded the old First Hawaiian building in 1994. Standing next to the new First Hawaiian Center that opened on that same site in 1996, she asks if it would be OK to blow this one up, too.

Walter Dods prepared to make the first cut of his aloha cake earlier this month at the company's Christmas party.

All three of his sons also had parts in the video. One son, Walter III, is seen in Dods' office with three phones wrapped around his neck trying to make reservations for restaurants and airline tickets. His son then commented how bad it will be for the family when his dad retires because the bank had provided Dods with three secretaries.

Another son, Chris, is shown in the video looking at the book "Cooking for Dummies," in which he says to Dods that there must be something in the book about how to operate a microwave.

Dods' youngest son, Peter, is seen standing in front of one of the bank's "Yes, you can" signs and suggesting that Dods adopt a program at home like, "Dad, can I borrow the car?" "Yes, you can."

Even Dods' five secretaries -- spanning his career from the 1970s to the present -- got into the act at the party by doing the hula for him in person to the tune of his favorite song, "Waikiki."

"That really choked me up," Dods said.

Nearly 100 percent of the bank's 1,400 Oahu employees attended the party to bid farewell and many of them showed their appreciation by contributing to a fund to purchase more than 100 miniature copper statues -- many of them adorning Dods' office -- that had been purchased by the bank from Hawaii-born artist Satoru Abe.

"I wanted to keep (the party) light-hearted because I am down to earth," Dods said. "I started at the bottom, and when you start at the bottom, you look at things quite differently."

Dods was thrust into the bank's top office in late 1989 when his boss at First Hawaiian -- then-chairman and CEO John Bellinger -- died suddenly while then-president Dods was attending a business meeting in Budapest, Hungary. Dods called his sudden elevation to the top spot "traumatic" because he wasn't totally prepared. He vowed to himself that he wouldn't let that happen again to the bank.

"I've been thinking about it for quite awhile," the 63-year-old Dods said about his retirement. "I always wanted to do the right thing."

He's leaving the bank in a solid financial position. At the end of 1989, the bank's holding company, then known as First Hawaiian Inc., had $5.1 billion in total assets. At the end of this year it will have more than $50 billion. BancWest also has 541 branches in 17 Western and Midwestern states, as well as on Guam and Saipan.

"Walter really was never a great manager because he was a bit unorthodox," Horner said. "That wasn't his strong suit and he would tell you that, too. But Walter was always a great leader. He always did the right thing. And at the end of the day, when you're in the CEO's office, it really isn't about how you do things, it's more important what you do because you really have a lot of managers around you to do the right things. The really difficult job of a CEO is making the right call."

Lawrence Johnson, who retired as chairman and CEO of Bank of Hawaii in 2000, said Dods is leaving an imprint on the community.

"Walter and I were fierce competitors for many years," Johnson said. "However, we frequently worked closely together on many community projects. When it came to making Hawaii a better place, we were teammates. He has made a huge difference not only to First Hawaiian Bank but to thousands of others that he has touched along the way. All of Hawaii should be proud of his many accomplishments."

As much as Dods feels comfortable with his decision to step down, he knows he will suffer some withdrawal pangs.

"I'm very close to the people in the bank so I think I will go through an adjustment period," he said. "But I won't miss the paperwork."

Don McGrath, who has been with San Francisco-based Bank of the West since 1980 and negotiated the 1998 merger with First Hawaiian that created BancWest, will remain as president of BancWest and take on the holding company's CEO title. Horner, who has been at First Hawaiian for 26 years, will retain his position as president while also becoming CEO. Horner will relinquish his role as chief operating officer.

"We have two fabulous executives," Dods said. "I like to call them the Dons. Don McGrath is a very experienced executive who was running Bank of the West long before I came along. He's a smart executive and has built Bank of the West from a $6 billion company to $40 billion in the last seven years. He's done a spectacular job."

As for Horner, Dods said the bank won't miss a beat. "He came to us 26 years ago locally from Merrill Lynch and every assignment we've given him he's hit the ball out of the park," Dods said.

"He's more than ready. People say you can never replace this guy or that guy, but Don Horner will set his own records. He'll do a great job at the bank."

Although Dods' contract entitles him to have an office in First Hawaiian Center, he plans to keep a low profile by staying in the tower but on another floor in an office leased by Damon Estate, whom Dods serves as trustee.

Last month, First Hawaiian's board of directors named the 24,000-square-foot park area in front of First Hawaiian Center after Dods, calling it the "Walter A. Dods Jr. Plaza."

"We'll have space in the bank building (for an office for him), but I won't be in the bank," Dods said. "I want to stay away because I don't want to interfere in any way with Horner taking charge."

Dods said he has no regrets about deciding to stay put at the bank rather than running for governor in 2002.

"Once I make my decision, I move on," he said. "I'm not one to linger and fester with it."

Now, Dods is ready to move in a new direction -- a lot wiser than when he first began.

"It's like a rookie on a football team vs. a seasoned old veteran," said Dods, describing what he knows now compared with what he knew when he first took over for Bellinger. "I was full of enthusiasm, but I knew banking in general. I've learned a helluva lot since I took over. There's nothing like being put in the middle of a battle to do mergers and acquisitions. I've learned a tremen- dous amount."

Dods also will be walking away a very rich man. A study done by the Star-Bulletin earlier this year revealed that Dods was Hawaii's highest-paid executive in 2003 with a BancWest compensation package of $2.52 million.

A year earlier, he received $5.25 million in income, largely the result of BNP Paribas' acquisition of BancWest, which triggered a $2.99 million long-term incentive payout that otherwise would have been paid over three years. And in 2001, he netted $30 million pretax from the sale of his shares and stock options of BancWest in that same BNP deal.

Dods, who also receives compensation from some of the boards that he serves on, is reluctant to talk about his worth. But he does say that the thing he's most concerned about is the security of his family.

"I'm frightened to death about that when I think that I started with nothing," Dods said. "Money never was an objective with me. It was growing the bank, rewarding shareholders and my employees, and serving our community. My wife and I already have started making some major charitable donations, and once our family needs are taken care of, I intend to continue to contribute to my community."

"When people read that I've said that, I'll probably get 500 grant requests hitting my desk," Dods added with a laugh.

Certainly, Dods' won't be idle in his retirement. Besides continuing with his chairmanships of BancWest and First Hawaiian Bank, he will continue to serve as a director on Bank of the West, Maui Land & Pineapple Co. and as chairman of the Japan-Hawaii Economic Council. He also will be involved in his trustee position in the winding down of the Damon Estate and will continue serving on many other boards as well. Dods also is heading a local investor group that is teaming with the Washington, D.C.-based Carlyle Group in purchasing local telephone provider Verizon Hawaii.

"Not being a CEO instantly raises your relaxation quotient," Dods said earlier this week before jumping on a plane for a board meeting in San Francisco. "It's not so much that being busy is the problem. It's the stress of having everything stop at your desk. I've been a CEO almost half of my career at First Hawaiian."

Dods said his career highlights include the acquisitions of First Interstate Bank of Hawaii and Pioneer Fed Bancorp; merging First Hawaiian with Bank of the West; and taking BancWest "from a modest second place to the largest bank in Hawaii and the most profitable company of any kind in Hawaii."

Now, he said, it's time to turn over the reins to someone else.

"I'm sure there will be lots of withdrawal symptoms, but I think I've prepared as best as I could and feel over time it will work out fine," he said. I was committed to doing the right thing."


Dods' time

May 26, 1941: Born in Honolulu, first of seven children of Walter A. (Sr.) and Mildred Dods.
1959: Graduated from Saint Louis High School. Started work at First Insurance as a mail boy and "dead files clerk."
1965: Began working with Dillingham Corp. in community relations, later moving to advertising and marketing.
1963: Named Outstanding Jaycee in the Nation
1967: Graduated from University of Hawaii with a degree obtained while attending night school.
1968: Joined First National Bank of Hawaii as director of public relations and advertising. Oversaw name change to First Hawaiian Bank and soon began "The bank that says Yes" marketing campaign.
1970: Promoted to vice president, marketing division
1973: Promoted to senior vice president and chairman, marketing and research group
1978: Promoted to executive vice president, retail banking group
1984: At the age of 43, promoted to president of First Hawaiian Bank
1989: Chairman of Aloha United Way campaign on Oahu.
1989: Named as First Hawaiian chairman and chief executive officer after the sudden death of John Bellinger.
1990: Elected Hawaii chairman of Japan-Hawaii Economic Council, a position he still holds.
1991: Negotiated acquisition by First Hawaiian of First Interstate Bank of Hawaii (20 bran- ches, $858 million assets).
1992: Named Sales Person of the Year by sales and marketing executives of Honolulu
1993: Negotiated acquisition by First Hawaiian of Pioneer Federal Savings Bank (19 branches, $600 million assets).
1994: Named a trustee of the Estate of Samuel Mills Damon, one of Hawaii's largest private landowners.
1996: Opening of First Hawaiian Center, a new $175-million headquarters building that was Dods' dream for corner of Bishop and S. King streets.
1996: Expanded First Hawaiian to the mainland by acquiring 31 branches in Oregon, Washington and Idaho from U.S. Bancorp and acquiring American National Bank in Washington. Created a new Oregon-based subsidiary, Pacific One Bank.
1996: Elected president of American Bankers Association, the only Hawaii banker ever to head the nationwide group.
1997: Merged Pioneer Federal into First Hawaiian Bank.
1997: Elected to Bank Marketing Association Hall of Fame
1998: Elected to Federal Advisory Council to U.S. Federal Reserve, which advises the Federal Reserve Board on banking industry issues.
1998: Oversaw merger of First Hawaiian with San-Francisco-based Bank of the West, former subsidiary of Banque Nationale de Paris of France. First Hawaiian's parent company was renamed BancWest Corp. The $1 billion merger was the largest stock deal in history by a Hawaii company.
2000: Received Bishop Museum's Robert J. Pfeiffer Medal
2001: On behalf of BancWest, negotiated a merger agreement to accept BNP Paribas' offer to acquire the 55 percent of BancWest stock it did not already own for $35 in cash per share. The transaction was valued at $2.5 billion. Dods continued as chairman and CEO of both BancWest and First Hawaiian Bank.
2002: BancWest expanded into Southern California with the acquisition of United California Bank, the largest Los Angeles-based bank.
2004: Oversaw BancWest's expansion to 10 additional Western and Midwestern states with the acquisition of 150-branch Community First Bankshares, based in Fargo, N.D. BancWest became the seventh-largest Western bank holding company.
Dec. 17, 2004: Received "Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star," imperial honor from the government of Japan.
Dec. 31, 2004: Will retire as CEO of BancWest and First Hawaiian Bank, remaining as nonexecutive chairman of the board of both.

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