COURTESY OF RON DAHLQUIST
The McBarnet family, is shown at the family beachhouse on Maui. In the front row are Logan, left, Jennifer, Mary Jane, Alex Sr., Gill (holding Tara), Will and Eddie; standing in the back row are Alex Jr., Maren, Alec and Terry. CLICK FOR LARGE
Retirement gave birth to an oil firm
The McBarnets' many business interests have served Maui and Lanai for two decades
On the day he retired from his accounting job at Maui's Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. in 1981, Alex McBarnet's wife, Mary Jane, had a message for him.
"My mother told him, 'I married you for breakfast and dinner -- not for lunch,' " recalls the couple's eldest son, Alec McBarnet.
So at age 65, the new retiree mortgaged the family home and embarked on a new business delivering products for Chevron to the oil company's various clients across the Valley Isle.
Maui Oil Co. was born.
"He knew the Chevron guys from when he worked at HC&S," says Terry McBarnet, the couple's other son. "They had heard he was going to retire and they knew he was a real honest guy, a good manager, and they thought that he would probably be a pretty good guy to handle their product ...
"He worked real hard and he expanded into Lanai, doing the same thing, and then he just slowly but surely built the business up."
Although Alex died in 2001, at 84, the family business continues through sons Alec, 58, and Terry, 56, who share the president and vice president duties of Maui Oil Co. and Lanai Oil Co.
With about 35 employees, the brothers continue the work started by their father, delivering gasoline and other Chevron products to stations on both islands. They also own and operate Paia Chevron gas station, and have just opened a 120-foot tunnel car wash.
"They seem extremely concerned and committed to their employees, first and foremost," says Melissa Pavlicek, an oil industry lobbyist who has known the brothers for about five years. "They shy away from the limelight, but they are very concerned about the Maui community ... and just seem like really great people."
The brothers' interests are not limited to oil and gasoline. In 2000, they launched a property management company, Brothers LLC.
Meanwhile, Terry's wife, Gill, launched Ruwanga Publishing in 1984, and is the author of 11 children's books well-known throughout Hawaii.
Her first book, "The Whale Who Wanted to be Small," was published in 1985, and four other titles, "The Goodnight Gecko," "The Shark Who Learned a Lesson," "The Brave Little Turtle" and "Gecko Hide and Seek" are currently listed among the top five hot sellers among children's books on www.booklineshawaii.com.
For all of their business interests, the McBarnets recently completed construction of a 6,000-square-foot office building in Kahului, next to the new car wash. Later this year, says Terry, they will start design on a new double-hulled barge for Lanai to be ready by 2015.
"I think their dad would be very proud to see what his boys have done," said Gill McBarnet. "They've got a very good thing going and they're diversifying."
Both brothers credit their parents with instilling in them the work ethic, and the genes -- mom Mary Jane is a vibrant 84 years old -- that has helped the businesses thrive.
"They did it as a couple and they agreed that, 'Yeah, this is something we're going to do,'" says Terry. "My mom said, 'Let's go for it.' That's how it all panned out.
"My dad, he came a really long way, and he did it with being a totally honest and fair kind of guy."
Alex McBarnet came a long way figuratively, and literally.
Born in 1917 in the central African country of Rhodesia, then known as Southern Rhodesia, Alex McBarnet was only 2 years old when he lost his mother to a flu epidemic, says Terry.
"His dad was an underground miner out in very rural areas where little kids couldn't really survive, so they were all shipped off to sort of a life without a parent -- kind of an orphan-type life," he said.
Their father would go on to fight in World War II before heading off to India, where he worked for Shell Oil Co. It was in India where he met Mary Jane, a Punahou and University of California-Berkeley graduate who was working at the American consulate there.
The couple would eventually move to California for a short time before heading out to Hawaii, where Mary Jane's family has had roots since the 1880s. They settled on Maui in the 1950s.
"It's the story of Hawaii," says Alec. "All of us are immigrants in one way or another, just in different generations that's all."
The connection to Africa doesn't end there.
Terry's wife, Gill, is from Zimbabwe, where her grandparents essentially raised Alex and his siblings after their mother's death from the flu epidemic. Gill's father became a childhood friend of Alex. As those two kept in touch, their children would eventually meet during one of Terry's many trips to Africa.
Today, the brothers each have three children, Alec also has a hanai son, all with varied interests.
While none, at this point, seem to be the heir apparent to run the oil business, that doesn't mean it won't maintain the feel of a family operation.
"I think the largest philosophy we have is that the community's been real good to us and we need to be good to that," says Alec. "I know that's kind of hokey, but that's the reality.
"We're a plantation family, the community's been good to us and hopefully we're good to it. ... In that sense, I think it will always remain a family business."