Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, September 30, 1997

A strategy for
Bishop Estate trustees

IF I were a trustee of the Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate I'd be awed by the oncoming attack that includes the governor, his attorney general and tax director, Kamehameha teachers, students and alumni, five highly respected Hawaii community leaders with their "Broken Trust" indictment and maybe the Internal Revenue Service.

Cool head main thing, I might say in our offices and hallways. Look, we're fighting on two fronts. Could we cut it down to one? If we run up the white flag on the school management front that could turn away big numbers of critics. It may even take pressure off our estate management front.

We yield the fortress on the hill (the schools) to keep our fortress at King and South (our posh offices with control of assets worth around $10 billion.)

We move fast on the schools though we may have to wait at least until the former judge we commissioned (Patrick Yim) gives us his investigation report. Then we'll pull trustee Lokelani Lindsay off her micro-mangement of the schools and restore a semblance of campus autonomy.

We might even promise to restore some of the outreach programs involving 30,000 people, many of them mothers, babies and youngsters, that we ditched with little warning and no public hearings or campus discussion in 1995. Wouldn't that turn around scads of people the opinion polls say now are so massively untrusting of us?

But we stall to the max on the management front. Time could be in our favor. Good reports will be coming in from our Goldman Sachs investment. The investment company is having its best year ever. Even though that started with an earlier board it may cover some of our more recent bad calls.

Could we stall even past the election next year and hope a new administration and new attorney general might be softer on us? Long shot, but our pal and well-paid attorney, former Gov. John Waihee, is good friends with Jeremy Harris.

We make detailed information about our management as hard to get as possible. We are, after all, a labyrinth. Can even we really track the numbers-juggling among our diverse non-profit and profit activities and our far-flung subsidiaries and investments?

We can hassle bad news reporters for their sources. We can plead business secrecy needs with the attorney general and probate court when they ask for records and results. We fight requests to depose our staffers under oath.

But can we keep employees from leaking things? Have outsiders yet told all? Whom can we trust? By the way, where is the shredder?

Of course, we continue to accuse our critics of estate-bashing in order to hurt Hawaiians. We can warn of terrible consequences if the Internal Revenue Service should intervene and ignore what those consequences could be to us personally rather than to the estate.

Even though we haven't been able to deny its major accusations we keep up our line that the damning "Broken Trust" report is the work of a newcomer law professor at the University of Hawaii. We ignore his superb reputation for integrity and know-how in estate law. We ignore that four of Hawaii's most prominent Hawaiian leaders are also his co-critics in that group Smyser at the Star-Bulletin keeps calling the Fabulous Five.

LET'S also try to present a kinder, gentler image of ourselves. No baby-kissing necessarily. But we open the fortress doors and become more accessible and friendly. Friendliness can go far in disarming people.

We grant some of those interviews we used to refuse. We mourn that we are victims of the wicked media herd. No matter that colleague Gerard Jervis already has admitted some of the accusations are well-based. We make public speeches where the auspices look right.

Our public relations people spice guffaw-getting one-liners into our texts to soften up the audiences. We maybe even volunteer, at last, for some serious community service like other Hawaii business executives do.

But underneath we remain as unyielding as possible. We continue to hire the best legal guns we can and make it an estate expense rather than a personal expense.

Could it work? Any better ideas?

Bishop Estate Archive

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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