Rev. William Kaina blessed the Honolulu office of Miller/Watts Constructors last week as, from left, Senior Project Manager Milton Kutaka, Chief Executive Officer Denny Watts, co-owner Diane Miller and office manager Glenda Chapman look on.

Denny Watts returns
to Hawaii building business

Denny Watts

>> New position: Chief executive and chief operating officer of Miller/Watts Constructors Inc., formerly known as Miller/Thompson Constructors Inc. The company recently opened its first Honolulu office.
>> Background: Watts was president and chief executive of the former Fletcher Pacific construction company in Hawaii when it was sold in 1999 to Dick Corp. of Pittsburgh. Watts became CEO of Dick Corp. in 2002 as the firm was dealing with financial turmoil. He resigned a year later.
>> Description: Miller/Watts specializes in heavy engineering. Projects include seismic upgrades, fuel systems, complex concrete structures, marine waterfront construction and military projects.

Is Miller/Watts opening office in Honolulu to go after the huge upcoming military housing projects?

No. Those projects are going to be a big challenge for anyone involved in them. Labor will be very difficult in many cases. Traditionally in boom times, labor moves from residential to commercial because commercial work pays more, and it's union, and it's an opportunity for people to get into the unions or more commercial companies. Usually, residential is the largest hit when things get booming. And especially if those projects are not locally based, it's much more of a challenge. Residential projects will run into a shortage much more than the commercial projects. And there's so much of it at one time here it's going to be a challenge for some of those companies to really adapt to it. I made a call for Dick Corp. to back out simply because the off-island major companies did not understand the importance of having a Hawaii connection. A lot of that was unfortunate because they simply didn't understand the challenges.

What jobs will you seek?

We're going to go after a lot of the standard nonmilitary, nonresidential projects. The right way would be U.S. government jobs. We see other areas of the government that will also be having changes from things like homeland security. The one good thing is if you learn to compete for military work you can compete for any U.S. government work because you know the process. We've been asked to look at several major projects that are nonmilitary that we are going through our due diligence right now. I can't elaborate.

Why homeland security?

We see that as a large potential growth market because it has taken a long time for the projects to evolve and sooner or later everything from airports to ports to federal facilities to protection of infrastructure is going to be addressed. The immediate things that need to be addressed have been done, but in the long term, cities like Seattle are going into protection for their water reservoirs, etc. All of these things will evolve. Some cities are addressing them already. Some will down the road. We're looking at projects for border crossings already that are out. It's just taking time for programs to come together. I see these opportunities in all U.S. places, but when you live in islands you have an element that others don't have. You have the issues of piers and harbors and all that type.

What specifically attracted you to the former Miller/Thompson?

I've had the opportunity to run large national companies and I really wanted to do something different. I was looking forward to taking time off, deciding what I want to be when I grow up. I knew the people from Miller/Thompson and they're really a solid bunch of people. I found them to be extremely professional and highly qualified, and the opportunity came along. The other reason we decided to come to Hawaii is they felt I understand the Hawaii market very well, especially subcontractors and vendors. I think it's going to be a key, having the personal relationships. I think being very selective and understanding the people who can perform is going to be the key to success.

You became CEO of Dick Corp. just as some of its financial troubles were becoming public. Why did you leave a year later?

Very honestly, I felt that I had done all the things I could do. I felt I had accomplished quite a bit. The company was taking a course, they were moving forward on it. I wanted to move forward in a different direction. I wanted to do things that meant more to me personally, my way of doing things in business. At big companies, at some point, I think you lose the ability to have the contact that you enjoy with the employees and customers.

How much time will you spend in Hawaii?

I'll probably be spending about half my time here. That's also going to be driven by the amount of work that I get. I primarily work out of the San Francisco office.

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


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