Friday, September 24, 1999

100 Who Made A Difference

Star Hung Wo Ching Star

Star-Bulletin file photo
Aloha Airlines directors Hung Wo Ching, left, and Roderick
McPhee were in high spirits at the company's shareholders
meeting in April 1986. Ching also was chairman of Aloha.

Entrepreneur soared
with Aloha

By Russ Lynch


EVERY Christmas Day, Hung Wo Ching, Aloha Airlines' chairman, would hop on his company's planes and tour the islands just to shake hands with employees and wish them well. That, says one long-time employee, was one indication of the type of man Ching was.

Others remember him as a man of his word, someone who could be trusted. He was accessible, too. Long after his retirement, Ching had an office downtown. The former Bishop Estate trustee and board member of some of Hawaii's most prestigious companies had a listed phone number and answered his own phone.

Where Ching truly was different and made a difference, however, was that he was of Asian ancestry and was a great success at a time when Hawaii was run by Caucasians.

Ching gave the Caucasian establishment a run for their money, jumping into real estate after World War II, successfully developing eight subdivisions. In 1958, he bought a 10 percent stake in a nearly bankrupt company called Trans- Pacific Airlines, which was trying to compete with Hawaiian Airlines in interisland travel.

He renamed it Aloha Airlines, stepped in as president, led it to success and was chairman of the publicly held company's board from the mid-1960s until he converted it to a private company in 1987, after surviving hostile takeover bids. When he died in 1996 at age 83, he was vice chairman of Aloha Airgroup, parent of Aloha Airlines and Island Air.

Ching was one of the Hawaii-born Asian entrepreneurs who started poor, worked hard and succeeded in an often-difficult environment.

In a 1968 interview, Ching showed his awareness of just what he was achieving for himself and others like him, chuckling at the knowledge that the big Caucasian-run businesses were missing a good bet by not bringing them in, leaving them outside to become fierce competitors.

"The haole community does not realize that by not taking on Orientals and integrating their companies, they are forcing the young Orientals to go into business for themselves and they are going to give them a hard time," Ching said.

Stuart Ho, chairman of Capital Investment of Hawaii Inc., remembers Ching -- not unlike his own father, the late Chinn Ho -- as representing a breed of lowly born, successful Hawaii-born Chinese entrepreneurs.

"He had a passion for risk. He had a passion for detail and he had a passion for the long view," Ho said.

Ching was born in 1912 and lived in a tenement on School Street as the youngest of six children of poor Chinese immigrants.

Ching showed a remarkable ability to learn and had an equally remarkable education -- Royal School, McKinley High, the University of Hawaii, Yenching University in Beijing, Utah State and the University of California. He earned a doctorate in agricultural economics from Cornell University.

He took the knowledge gained in his doctorate work to China at the end of World War II, to start a sugar beet industry. Two years later, the Communist revolution broke out and Ching came back to Hawaii in 1948.

He kept his education growing and graduated from the Harvard Business School in the mid-1950s at age 42.

Ching was finally tapped by the big companies, serving on the boards of Bank of Hawaii, Hawaiian Telephone Co., Alexander & Baldwin Inc., Hawaiian Life Insurance Co. and others.

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