One man stands out

Critics say one trustee, Oswald
Stender, is doing a good job

By Rick Daysog

He's the voice crying out in the wilderness. The outcast. The man in the hot seat.

When Bishop Estate trustee Oswald Stender publicly criticized fellow trustees recently, it set off a political tremor that shook the foundations of the multibillion-dollar charitable trust.

The shock waves also rattled through state government, as Gov. Ben Cayetano called for Attorney General Margery Bronster to investigate the estate.

Critics of Bishop Estate describe this low-key ex-Marine as the conscience of the organization, a by-the-book manager who often is at odds with other trustees' agendas.

"He has been the one voice in the boardroom that has really stood up to do the right things," said Beadie Kanahele Dawson, attorney for Na Pua A Ke Ali'i Pauahi, an organization of Kamehameha Schools students, parents and alumni.

Oswald Stender

Dawson recalled that Stender was the only trustee who attended to concerns raised by students and alumni when they marched in May to protest trustees' management of the schools.

Early on, he was the only trustee who tried to get other trustees to hear out student and alumni grievances, Dawson said.

Longtime friend and Campbell Estate trustee Clint Churchill said Stender "clearly saw the right thing to do. His integrity is unquestioned."

He added: "He's a very principled person."

Stender declined to be interviewed for this story, and Bishop Estate did not comment. But privately, trustees have complained that Stender has gone along with other trustees on some of the issues that he has criticized.

An outsider

Friends and observers describe Stender as a hard-working and energetic manager who, in many ways, is an outsider in the Bishop Estate boardroom.

Whereas the majority of the trustees - former Maui Schools Superintendent Lokelani Lindsey, former state House Speaker Henry Peters and former state Senate President Richard Wong - come from a government or political environment, Stender comes from a business and trust background. Trustee Gerard Jervis is an attorney and businessman.

Stender also is the only trustee that is a Kamehameha Schools graduate.

"By his training, he's the most skillful guy there," said former state Rep. David Hagino, a longtime Bishop Estate watcher.

"I think he's the one and the only trustee in the history of the estate that understands the nature of charitable institutions."

Outside of his work with the Bishop Estate, Stender is a board member of Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc., Grace Pacific Corp. and the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. He also is a director of the Aloha United Way, the Hawaii Employers Council and the Pacific Housing Assistance Corp., a nonprofit group that provides housing for the elderly and low-income residents.

Before Bishop Estate

Stender came to Bishop Estate from the Estate of James Campbell, which he joined in 1958 as an assistant property manager. Between 1976 and 1988, he served as chief executive officer of the estate, playing a role in its development of Kapolei and its investments in mainland real estate markets.

Stender's ties with the Campbell Estate resurfaced recently when the private, for-profit estate sought a new trustee to replace Dudley Pratt, whose term expires at the end of this year.

According to sources familiar with Campbell Estate's selection process, Stender's name was on the initial list of candidates for trustees but was later taken off because the estate needed a trustee who could serve until the year 2007 when the Campbell Estate is scheduled to terminate.

Campbell Estate trustees may serve only until age 70, and Stender would have reached retirement age before the termination date.

Through the turmoil

"I know that there have been times where he may have felt that he should leave it all behind him. But many of us are behind him and have urged him to remain (at Bishop Estate)," Dawson said.

"I think that the pressure that he has withstood for the last four years is beyond belief."

To be sure, Stender is a reluctant player in the turmoil at Bishop Estate.

Dwayne Steele, chairman of Grace Pacific Corp., whose friendship with Stender goes back some 20 years, said Stender is more comfortable working behind the scenes and building consensus than in getting involved in public controversy.

By his nature, he doesn't like to stand out, Steele said.

One example: Stender's handling of the 1995 resignation of East-West Center President Michael Oksenberg, who had been a target of criticism by staff members, students and alumni for morale problems and the center's loss of focus.

Stender, then chairman of the center's board of governors, helped orchestrate an orderly transition.

"I think he's taken this stand extremely reluctantly," said Steele, who was a candidate for Bishop Estate trusteeship when the Supreme Court named Jervis a trustee in 1994.

"I don't think it's his nature to try to stand out. I've known him to be a very practical man and a very straightforward man."

Stender's unassuming ways carry over into personal life. For many years, Stender has lived in the same Maunawili home with his wife, Kuulei, whom he married on Christmas in 1954.

His outlook for the future of Bishop Estate and Kamehameha Schools shares a similar straightforward, if not naive, outlook.

In a speech delivered to the Social Science Association nearly four years ago, Stender detailed what he believed the estate would look like on its 150th anniversary, in 2034.

Gone is the five-member board of trustees, replaced by a 16-member board made up of the president of Harvard University, the head of Bank of Hawaii, the premier of a sovereign Hawaiian nation and the top bosses at IBM Corp., AT&T Corp. and Goldman Sachs & Co.

In Stender's future, the Bishop Estate is a $56 billion organization with real estate holdings in 47 states. Trustees are paid a $10,000 fee for attending each monthly board meeting, replacing the commission-based systems in which trustees received $843,109 each in 1996.

Most important, native Hawaiians are the "the most well-educated, culturally rich, socially responsible and successful people in the world" in Stender's future.

"He has a model in his own mind how an estate this large should be run," Steele said.

"I think he sees the broad picture."

Oswald K. Stender

Here's a look at the Bishop Estate trustee:

Age: 65
1996 salary: $840,109
Appointed: 1989
Term ends: 2001
Education: Kamehameha Schools, University of Hawaii
Outside directorships: Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc., Grace Pacific Corp., Aloha United Way and former chairman of the East-West Center.
Past experience: Chief executive officer, the Estate of James Campbell (1976-1988)

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