Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, April 29, 1997

Bancorp Hawaii
gets a ‘Pacific’ name

FOR a couple of strong reasons that may be a wake-up call to politicians and other businesses in Hawaii, Bancorp Hawaii has been dumped as the name for our biggest financial institution.

The word "bank" no longer describes its activities accurately. America's biggest banks have branched into areas that used to be limited to savings/loan and insurance firms.

And Bancorp Hawaii had spread into the Pacific Islands, the Asian Rim, California and Arizona. Where 95 percent of its profits once came from Hawaii less than 60 percent do now. Its main expansion areas seem to lie outside the state.

Thus last Friday stockholders accepted a management recommendation to rename their company Pacific Century Financial Corp. The valuable Bank of Hawaii name will stay on its banks in Hawaii and many Pacific islands. But its trust company now is Pacific Century Trust. Its investment and leasing groups also now have the Pacific Century name, as will some of its insurance subsidiaries and mainland and Asian operations.

"Our region is the Pacific with Hawaii in the center," says Lawrence M. Johnson, chief executive officer.

Forty-two years ago Bank of Hawaii was a stodgy operation that waited for customers to bring in their money so the bank could lend it out and make a profit. On the diagonally opposite corner at Bishop and King Streets in the center of Honolulu its rival, Bishop National Bank, was much the same.

Then at the end of 1955 disgruntled Bank of Hawaii directors brought in a young, aggressive financial services man, Rudolph A. Peterson, from the West Coast to shake things up.

Peterson began scouring for customers instead of waiting for them to come. He began the expansion of services that culminated in last week's name change. He also started a 39-year-long dynasty of officers with similar philosophies. Johnson is the first CEO not from the Peterson dynasty but this month got a letter from Peterson, now 92, and retired as Bank of America CEO, applauding his course.

The Peterson gang plus Johnson have grown the company's assets to $14 billion compared to $8 billion for its rival, First Hawaiian, formerly Bishop, which was No. 1 in 1955. Diversification and good management made the difference, Johnson says.

When Johnson and his associates decided a new name was needed "Pacific" was an obvious part of it because it defines their region of operations. But that wasn't enough, they felt.

They spotted an open copy of the Far Eastern Economic Review on Johnson's desk with a lead article about "the Pacific Century." That sounds just right, they decided.

Local market testing on the new name and a new logo with obvious affinity to the Bancorp Hawaii logo led to a final decision to go forward. As an added fillip, Pacific Century Financial will be 100 years old and start its second century on Dec. 17.

INSTEAD of deserting Hawaii, Johnson, who is locally born and educated, is speaking out stronger than any recent predecessor in local advocacy roles.

He joined with union leaders to personally testify at City Council for adoption of the new Waikiki Special Design District. He also joined labor in asking the Legislature to give the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau an extra $10 million to accelerate tourism promotion.

Public speeches by him and his associate executives have been stressing the need for Hawaii to keep pace with globalism. Hawaii no longer can operate in isolation from the world, they stress. The same old ways won't be good enough.

New Zealand Series

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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