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Among the Big 5, A&B still reigns


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POSTED: Thursday, October 22, 2009

Alexander & Baldwin Inc., the only one of the original Big Five companies still dominant in Hawaii's economy, began with a mere $110 investment by the sons of pioneering missionaries.

Company founders Samuel Thomas Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin were childhood friends in Lahaina before forming their sugar-growing partnership, which evolved into diversified shipping, real estate and tourism interests.

“;We have been shaped by the pioneering spirit of our founders, and we continue to seek new ways and new places to lead A&B to the forefront of the industries in which we operate,”; said Allen Doane, A&B's chairman and chief executive officer.

But in the beginning, A&B was just one of five sugar-producing companies that controlled Hawaii's economy from the 1870s to the 1970s before tourism replaced agriculture as the state's economic engine, said Bog Sigall, a Hawaii Pacific University professor and the author of the “;Companies We Keep”; series.

In their heyday these sugar producers, which included A&B, Castle & Cooke, C. Brewer & Co., Amfac and Theo H. Davies & Co., were known as “;the Big Five.”;

“;Sugar ruled the roost in Hawaii until tourism overcame it,”; Sigall said. “;Until then the Big Five controlled everything from politics to shipping.”;

               

     

 

ALEXANDER & BALDWIN INC.

        » Year founded: 1870
       

» Founders: Samuel Thomas Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin

       

» Current leadership: Allen Doane, chairman and chief executive officer

       

» Type of business: Shipping, real estate, tourism and sugar

       

» Headquarters: Honolulu

       

 

       

As Hawaii tourism grew, the Big Five companies scrambled to find other niches, and most shrank or disappeared, he said.

“;A&B, with Matson as its crown jewel, is the only one that has continued its dominance in the local economy,”; Sigall said.

At one time Matson was jointly owned by A&B, Castle & Cooke, C. Brewer and Amfac; however, the U.S. Department of Justice challenged this joint ownership, and A&B bought them out in 1969, he said. Today, A&B is worth $2.5 billion and owns about 91,000 acres, making it Hawaii's fifth-largest landowner. Since 2003 Matson has invested nearly $600 million in fleet enhancements, including more than $500 million for construction of four new U.S.-built container ships. They are a pivotal part of Matson's expansion westward to Shanghai and eastward to Savannah, Ga.

A&B, which has prospered amid considerable economic and social changes in Hawaii, is well positioned to ride out the next 50 years, Doane said.

“;We believe that the best of who we are and what we will achieve is still ahead of us, testament to the exceptional leadership and tenacity of all of those at A&B today and all those who have come before us,”; he said.

But that future might not be in the sugar business.

Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Co. “;has suffered significant losses in recent years, largely due to record drought and the resulting lack of water for its crop,”; Doane said.

The company is making every effort to improve HC&S performance and expects to make a decision by year's end regarding its future, he said.