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The freedom of discipline | Lack of talent can stifle success


The freedom of discipline

By Stephany L. Sofos

I recently attended the change of command ceremony at Ft. Shafter for the U.S. Army Pacific Command. The incoming and outgoing generals inspected the troops at Palm Circle with the sergeant major, who looked liked he had come right out of central casting; very tall, trim and sharp.

For almost two hours, the sergeant major and his soldiers stood at attention in the sun and humidity listening to the chief of staff of the Army and the commander of the U.S. Pacific speak on many things, but mostly about "honor, duty, country." These troops maintained their stalwart positions and their respect for their leaders and country was very moving given our present situation in the Persian Gulf. All the protocol and tradition, as well as time and hardwork, showed in this feat of endurance.

As I stood there looking at these soldiers I reflected that everything in the armed forces is about discipline, preparation, perseverance and teamwork. Their lives are set around and into the honor system. Being honorable means completing your tasks and building teamwork. A soldier's word is their bond and is the essence of who they are as a human being. Lying or cheating would affect everyone in the team. If there is a problem with one person, the entire unit is vulnerable. Life and death are on every soldier's mind daily.

So too this code of ethics should apply in business life. However, in today's world, "situational ethics" is increasingly common. This is when individuals use certain modes of moral and strategic clarity depending on particular circumstances. Remember when Bill Clinton was asked whether he had sex with Monica Lewinsky and he retorted, "what do you define as sex?" You cannot pick up a paper today without reading about the predicaments of Enron, World Com or Arthur Anderson because of fraud.

There is a lot in business today that is not honorable. How much more dishonesty can we sustain without substantial losses to ourselves and the world?

As business leaders we set the standards. All life revolves around commerce and economics. Politicians will go to war over financial opportunities. If economies thrive, then schools, hospitals and infrastructures will be funded and quality of life improves for everyone.

We sometimes think character is not important as long as desired results are achieved. But in reality, character and honor are everything.

My father graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and always based his personal life and business ethics on the honor code. He taught me his ideology was not old school, but real school.

Before I became a consultant I worked for corporate America for 11 years. At one company the corporate motto was, "one person can make a difference." One of my greatest mentors in life, the late Dr. Joseph Miccio, professor of accounting at the University of Hawaii, often advised me, "you are what you are and everyday your actions, words, and attitude will define the people around you."

So like the young men and women in the armed forces -- who understand freedom does not come without a price and work hard to maintain our quality of life through discipline, teamwork and honor -- the burden is now on us in business today to strive to remember, like they do every day, "honor, duty, county."

Stephany L. Sofos is president of SL Sofos and Co. Ltd.
and a licensed real estate broker and appraiser.
She can be reached at


A lack of good talent can stifle entrepreneurial success

By Duane Kuroda

The availability of quality talent is one of the proximity and access issues critical to entrepreneurial success in the high-tech field.

It all comes down to the following: Hire the best people.

The best people aren't necessarily the most technically savvy, but they are the ones who are great at what they do, are team players, and consistently contribute to the success of the company.

On the other hand, consider the opposite: What happens if you hire the wrong people? One bad hire can easily undermine the efforts of ten great team members.

Ask any experienced manager about the impact of a bad hire. The cost extends beyond firing or replacing him or her; the impact on other employees can be disastrous.

On the other hand, consider the impact of hiring great employees. In a start-up, this is essential.

Great employees can often do the work of two or more employees, and sometimes, in technical cases, they can accomplish what five or more engineers can accomplish in the same period of time.

The real benefit is that great employees usually don't cost even twice as much. Again, ask any manager how hard it would be to replace their star employee.

I don't see a problem with the talent available in Hawaii. In fact, the drive and energy it takes to work 6 or 7 days a week for 10-plus hours a day occurs regularly in all areas.

I do, however, see a problem with talent attraction and "name brand" hiring.

There are many sharp people coming out of Hawaii's high schools, and the high average math scores suggest high tech graduates should not be in short supply.

However, I and many other schoolmates left for mainland colleges and graduate schools -- the well-known brain drain. Once on the mainland, the less favorable salaries in Hawaii and fewer technology jobs made the brain drain permanent.

In comparison, many high tech areas have been anchored around universities and supported by economic development funds with incentives to companies, investors, and employees.

Consider the Software Business Cluster, an incubator in San Jose affiliated with San Jose State University and the San Jose economic development agency.

In addition to rent subsidies, San Jose State provides MBA, IT and software engineering interns to SBC companies. San Jose State graduates get work experience, are exposed to nearby work opportunities in technology, and the redevelopment agency supports its economic growth guidelines (60 new companies have graduated into growing companies in San Jose).

The high tech opportunities need to be marketed to the local academic institutions to make sure they are frequently exposed to the opportunities.

The issue of "name brand" hiring is a tough one to deal with. Even in Silicon Valley, the economic downturn has made investment in private equity slow to a trickle.

Investments to new startups have largely gone to experienced entrepreneurs who have made money for the venture capitalists in the past or to doctoral graduates from Stanford or Berkeley or professors from those institutions. In short, recognized experts in their fields and experienced successful entrepreneurs are the "name brand" talent that has been the rule for new Silicon Valley investments.

Similarly, the introductions to venture capitalists or angel investors must be done through referrals, which usually are facilitated through "name brand" personalities. Since there are relatively few high tech stars that have created successful high tech businesses in Hawaii, serious investors must provide opportunities to first time entrepreneurs who display the passion and acumen to build high tech companies.

In considering the proximity and access requirements for talent, the only way to boost the talent quotient is to grow it or import it.

In addition to creating more entrepreneurial business opportunities, the existing start-ups and universities must promote their high tech efforts frequently and aggressively to reduce the brain drain.

Similarly, outreach through alumni programs can inform and educate former locals to new programs and business opportunities supported by local economic development.

Lastly, budding or growing stars in startups, as well as venture capitalists, need to show a presence at mainland events to showcase the growth of high-tech in Hawaii as an attractive place to start or grow a company.

Duane Kuroda is chief executive officer and co-founder
of Intrepic Technologies in San Jose, Calif. and an Iolani
graduate. Reach him at

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