Wednesday, December 26, 2001


Michael O'Neill
Confident of his ability, he put $11.3 million where his mouth was

Bank of Hawaii’s chief
makes good on promise

Each year, the Star-Bulletin recognizes 10 people who made a difference over the past 12 months. Whether deserving of honor or controversy, the criterion is that they made a profound impact on Hawaii. Here is the fourth exceptional individual.

Michael O'Neill was in the hot seat from the moment he took over Bank of Hawaii just over a year ago.

But if there were skeptics then, he has likely won them over with a reorganization of the company that has parent Pacific Century Financial Corp., its stock and O'Neill's own portfolio heading in the right direction.

On the day he assumed control in November 2000, the new chairman and chief executive vowed to turn around the company's shaky loan portfolio and to buy $10 million worth of Pacific Century stock as a vote of confidence.

Now, 13 months later, O'Neill, 55, has made good on that promise.

The company has sold off its noncore assets, improved its loan situation, stepped up its sales and marketing campaign and watched its stock soar more than 80 percent. Also, O'Neill, true to his word, purchased $11.3 million worth of Pacific Century shares.

"What we did is we told people what we were going to do and largely we've done it," O'Neill said.

"That's always well received by Wall Street when management proves to have given them the right story."

While Wall Street might be pleased, many local customers were upset by the bank's decision to convert all credit card accounts to American Express in March.

O'Neill got an e-mail box full of their ire during the early days of his "Tell Mike" public relations campaign.

Those ads were just one way O'Neill has dispelled the stereotype of the staid banker.

At a Honolulu rotary luncheon last May, the bilingual exec was introduced as a guest speaker and gave his initial remarks in French.

After a couple of minutes, O'Neill stopped and, in mock surprise, said "Oh, I thought I was with the other bank."

The Rotarians roared with laughter.

His playful dig at First Hawaiian Bank was because Paris-based BNP Paribas was in the process of acquiring the portion of First Hawaiian parent BancWest Corp. that it did not already own.

Clearly, O'Neill is in an upbeat mood these days as the bank proceeds with its new direction.

"We've set some high standards this year and want to demonstrate to people externally and internally that we can get those things done," he said. "I don't want it to be a flash in the pan."

By Dave Segal, Star-Bulletin

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