DEAN SENSUI / DSENSUI@STARBULLETIN.COM
Edwin Hulihee, founder of Royal Contracting Co., is being honored by the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce.
contractor still at it
How do you feel about receiving the 'O 'o award?
Job: Chairman of Royal Contracting Co., which he founded in 1961
Edwin S. Hulihee
Recognition: The Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce is honoring Hulihee, along with Chief Judge Emeritus Samuel P. King Sr., at the 27th annual '0 'o Awards and Scholarship Dinner April 8 at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa's Hyatt Regency Ballroom.
Born: Dec. 30, 1919, in Eleele, Kauai
Education: Eleele Grammar School, Kamehameha School for Boys, Iolani School, Roosevelt High School
Other honors: Recipient of the Hope Award from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Hawaii in 1991.
Truthfully, I 'm just a low-key guy, and I turned it down a couple of times. But then they kept pressuring me and I finally gave in. I feel honored. But there's some more successful Hawaiians around, and I said, "Pick on them, don't pick on me."
What made you decide to start Royal Contracting Co.?
I was a workaholic and I worked for different companies. And at the end of a job, if you did a good job, you'd get a nice big handshake. I said to myself that if I'm going to work so hard, I'm going to try it out on my own. I started out with about six people doing subcontract work. Then, I thought I'd try for my general contractor's license about a year and a half after that and I just worked at it. I've traveled about two-thirds of the world and worked in construction in French Morocco in North Africa, and the Johnson, Midway and Wake islands. I just like working.
You founded Royal Contracting as a one-man company. How many employees do you have now?
Have you always been good with your hands?
Definitely. I remember when I was a little kid growing up in a plantation we used to make our own toys. We'd use thread spools and 2-by-4s, put wheels on them and play in the dirt.
How has Royal Contracting changed over the years?
For one thing, technology changes. It's not picks and shovels, jackhammers and 20 men digging a ditch. Technology has changed all that. There's hydraulic equipment for digging trenches. There's bigger and faster equipment that does more work than the old type of equipment.
What do you do now at the company?
My son, David, runs the daily operations. He's president and I'm chairman of the board. I do get involved today with the training of young people. I represent the contractors' association in the training and education of young apprentices coming into the industry. I've been involved with that for many, many years -- seeing that people are being trained properly to better themselves.
Have you slowed down much over the years?
I think so because when I talk to my doctor, I say, "How come I'm getting so tired all the time." He says, "You're an old man. ... You're supposed to get tired." But I can't accept it.
Have you thought much about retirement?
I'm about retired now, yet I come to the office four days a week at 6 in the morning because I like to say hello to people and see how they're doing -- even the lowest laborers. I want to say "good morning" to them and I think they come by just to say "good morning" to me. They're the ones who make Royal Contracting and I have a lot of respect for them.
What type of work does Royal Contracting do?
We're a general engineer company. We move the dirt, do the utility work, put in subdivisions. It's just earthwork, sewers, water draining, putting in roads, clearing and grubbing.
I understand you were a pro football player. Tell me about your playing days?
I played semipro for the Honolulu Polar Bears, and then played professionally from 1946-49 for the Hawaiian Warriors, which played in the Pacific Coast Pro Football League. They had these leagues all over the country and the majority of teams were farm teams to the National Football League.
But we didn't consider ourselves a farm team to anybody. My last game was the Hula Bowl in 1950 -- at the end of the 1949 season -- in the old Honolulu Stadium on King Street. We called it Termite Stadium because it was all wooden. In those days, the Hula Bowl was made up of Hawaiian all-stars, which were the Hawaiian Warriors, against college all-stars. We would invite NFL players like Y.A. Tittle, Paul Hornung, and Smiley Johnson from the Chicago Bears to play with us. The league folded when the All-America Football Conference came in.
What position did you play?
Were you any good?
I was good enough to make the team. In those days, football was altogether different than today. In those days, you had to play offense and defense.
What is the highlight of your business career?
I think one of my highlights was when my son took an interest after college in working for me. When he was a junior in college he was still working in a ditch during the summer months. Going into his senior year, he said, "Dad, can you get me out of the ditch." I brought him in and he learned some of the ropes.
Inside Hawaii Inc. is a conversation with a member of the Hawaii business community who has changed jobs, been elected to a board or been recognized for accomplishments. Send questions and comments to: email@example.com.
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