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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 21, 2010

Peter Ho puts helping people high on desires

By Robbie Dingeman

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Bank of Hawaii's Peter Ho says that with a privileged upbringing comes responsibilities.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Current job: President and chief banking officer of Bank of Hawaii

Age: 44

First job: Scooping pineapple scraps onto a conveyor belt at the cannery.

Education: Holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration and an MBA from the University of Southern California (where he was the First Interstate Bank Fellow).

Work philosophy: "In general, I really believe that success is almost exclusively a function of those people that you surround yourself with: Those people that you work with; the people who work for you; the people that you work for; the people that you do business with."

Business tip: "When things get tougher, you've got to pay a lot more attention to your team."

Favorite movie: "The English Patient"

Recent book: "Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale" by Mo Willems (as read to his 3-year-old)

Fun fact: "I do enjoy cooking."

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Peter Ho

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Bank of Hawaii president Peter S. Ho straddles two worlds: bright young man who came up fast, yet rooted in an Island family with a history of accomplishment and community involvement.

"I am responsible for the banking operations of the largest independent bank in the state," he said.

At 44, Ho serves as president and chief banking officer of the bank, is a member of the bank's managing committee and board of directors. He is in charge of the retail, commercial and investment services; and oversees the bank's Guam, Saipan, Palau and American Sāmoa operations.

"We have a diverse client base," Ho said. "Our intent is to serve everyone and that can get challenging."

That means his clients range from the wealthiest trusts of the most famous families in the Islands to people struggling to keep enough money in their checking account to pay the bills. He works to balance shareholders with stakeholders.

Ho was a 1998 Pacific Century Fellow and the 2003 Pacific Business News Young Business Person of the Year.

He is the son of Honolulu businessman and philanthropist Stuart Ho, and grandson of trail-blazing self-made millionaire Chinn Ho.

Still, he insists he remains "painfully normal," a statement backed up by friends and co-workers.

Ho looks to 2,400 employees as the backbone of the business and feels the responsibility of "keeping our employees healthy and satisfied in their jobs and making sure they have bright and healthy futures professionally with us here at the bank."

He started his banking career in New York City in 1987.

And even though Ho rose quickly to the top, he's felt the economic ups and downs. He started at Bank of Hawaii in January 1993, just before the economy plunged into what turned out to be a seven-year recession.

"The bank obviously struggled like everyone else through that period. We had some pretty lean times."

But Ho said that meant he and the bank were better prepared for recent economic troubles.

"One of the things that I'm most proud of is having really seen the company through a pretty troubled time here in the Islands and surviving through that," he said.

While other banks locally and across the nation have struggled, Bank of Hawaii was recently spotlighted by Forbes magazine as the nation's top performing bank. The institution earned the honor by holding to a conservative lending policy when many banks turned to risky real estate deals that once promised higher returns.

"Hawai'i is an intensely small place," Ho said. And he runs a large organization in a small marketplace full of connections.

"In order to be successful, you have to be good at and perceived to be good at working across differences and working with people and understanding that in order to get ahead you've got to help other people get ahead," Ho said.

"I think it's just the nature of an island marketplace."

He credits his upbringing. Yes, he had the Punahou schooling and other advantages of his successful family. But his parents showed from early on that privilege came with responsibility for him and his two sisters.

One sister, Cecily Sargent, is in the restaurant business in Australia; and Heather Ho was an award-winning pastry chef working at Windows of the World atop the World Trade Center's north tower. She died Sept. 11, 2001.

He recalls when they were children, going with their mother, Mary, to Hale Kipa (which helps runaways), the food bank, and Hawai'i refugee resettlement organization, as part of the normal fabric of life. "Those are impressions that don't go away," he said.

Peter Ho said his first job taught him about hard work but wouldn't have been his first choice. When he was 14 1/4, his dad told him to hop in the car so they could go out to breakfast as they often did on Saturdays.

Instead of heading toward King's Bakery, his dad drove 'ewa on Nimitz until they parked near the pineapple water tower at Dole Cannery. "We're going to sign you up for your summer job," his father told him. "Your uncles and aunts and I all worked at the pineapple cannery."

When they walked out, he had signed up to work the night shift, at $3.40 an hour, a nickel an hour more than the day shift.

"I'll never forget the day," he said.

He said the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. job did teach him a lot. "It was an eye-opener for me."

At the bank, Ho has high praise for Bank of Hawaii veteran executive and vice chairman Alton Kuioka and Bank of Hawaii Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Al Landon.

"There is no one with a keener intellect and a more intense sense of integrity than Al," he said.

Recognizing that his professional career takes much of his attention during the work week, Ho strives to dedicate his Fridays-through-Sundays to his wife and two young children: "Being a great husband and father just kind of naturally floats to the top."

As for professional goals? "You begin to recognize that the things that make you satisfied and happy professionally increasingly have to do with being able to help people."