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Cookies an occupational hazard for human resources manager


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POSTED: Monday, April 13, 2009

Heather Aki-Marcos is the human resources manager for Kalihi-based Honolulu Cookie Co., started 11 years ago by Keith and Janet Sung. It has about 175 employees at 13 stores on Oahu and Maui.

Aki-Marcos started with the firm in 2004 as an independent accountant, when it had just two stores. But it was on the move, and Aki-Marcos was soon brought in full time to help with the expansion.

Aki-Marcos, 37, is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools and the University of Portland, from which she earned a business degree. She and her husband, Bert, have a son, 9, and a daughter, 11 months, and reside in Haleiwa.

Question: What do you do as a human resources manager?

Answer: Everything. No ... (laughter) it just means I take care of the payroll, and of dealing with any kind of employee matters, like vacations. I'm like the in-between between the company and the employees — keeping both sides safe and in compliance.

Q: In compliance with what?

A: With all federal and state laws. We want to make sure we're following all of those for the company's sake, and we want to make sure all of the employees are taken care of, that they're feeling like they're involved in the whole process of being a part of the Honolulu Cookie Co.

Q: Did you grow up thinking you wanted to become a human resources manager someday?

A: (Laughter) No. I think that I kind of gradually got to this point where I was doing accounting, then I started doing payroll, and my father (Danny Aki) is actually a director of human resources at a hotel on Kauai, and my best friend is a director of human resources at a Kauai hotel, also, and it just interested me. In human resources you're that connection with the employee, and you're not necessarily at a desk. You have to interact, to make sure you know what's going on. So I expressed interest because they (the Sungs) needed someone to kind of take it forward because we were growing. So in 2007 I formally became the HR manager, and I've been busy ever since.

Q: Are you involved in the hiring and firing of people?

A: I'm involved. The managers in their own departments are quite involved, but I'm like the hub, so everything gets routed through me. They take a look at the screening of all the potential applicants, and then it comes back to me for interviews and reference-checking. And then we go ahead and talk with these potential applicants.

Q: What's the range of jobs there?

A: Well, because it's such a growing business, it ranges from our factory workers and our sales associates out in our stores to supervisors and managers. Recently we've had to create positions for needs that we never had before.

Q: Like what would those be?

A: Well, like in our accounting department, we didn't actually have one — it was me and another consultant who had her own business. So we had to hire a controller, and from there we needed an accounting manager, and then we needed an accounts-payable clerk and then an inventory specialist. It just snowballed.

Q: It seems like Honolulu Cookie Co. is doing well in these tough times.

A: We are very fortunate. We have a product that is, to me, exceptional — I love the cookies, and it's a occupational hazard for me (laughter).

But we're fortunate. We know how tough it is out there. I see it in the amount of applications that are coming through and in the wide range of backgrounds that are coming in. Unfortunately we only have a limited amount of openings. And we know there are a lot good people out there looking for work.

Q: What are you looking for in a new employee?

A: We have owners that really are passionate people, and they have a goal and a drive that they really want to push this product, so we look for people with the same thing — passion, goals, they're friendly, energetic ... and it doesn't hurt that they love our product.

Q: What advice would you give to somebody who wants to be a human resources manager?

A: Well, first of all, HR or not, it's the passion or the want to do it. In my case it was an opportunity that was there, and I was interested and fortunately the owners had faith that I could do the job. For anyone else who wants to do HR, they have to love being with people. It's such a people-person job.

Q: What's your favorite cookie the company makes?

A: Oh my goodness. You had to ask. I like them all. But if I had to choose, I like the plain Butter Macadamia or the chocolate chip Mini Bites. Oh yeah!

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