Agent of change: Alan Oshima

by Donna Mun | July 3, 2017

One statement made by Alan Oshima, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric, which captures who he is:

“I’m okay with change.”

This is very true. Alan is no stranger to change. For most of his life, he practiced law where he would handle many cases — all of which could be very different. Alan was able to problem-solve and help his clients find solutions by understanding what his clients wanted, not just researching their legal rights. Many of those cases involved new policies and changing circumstances. For example, when the sugar industry started to decline, new policies were needed on who could use the millions of gallons of water that became available. Competing views had to be considered. As one of the attorneys who advocated for water for agriculture, he willingly accepted the challenges brought by change.

He was also instrumental in the introduction of the first cell phone businesses in Hawaii. Talk about big change.

In 2005, Alan made the decision to leave the firm he founded twenty years prior to join the management team at Hawaiian Telcom. He had represented the company who bought Hawaiian Telcom. After a lot of “convincing,” Alan agreed to leave the active law practice and help Hawaiian Telcom execute on a new business plan. Unfortunately, that transformation ran into some obstacles and after several years, Hawaiian Telcom filed for financial reorganization. Alan learned a lot during that time, staying with the company as a member of its board of directors until it successfully emerged from that reorganization in 2010. Although Alan chose to place his license on inactive status, Alan explains, “Once you practice law, it’s ingrained in you. We are ruled by laws. Understanding business with a trained legal focus can be helpful.” Many of Alan’s clients felt his practical application of the law and his grasp of their needs made him an effective leader in the community.

Alan has always embraced change. In fact, you could consider him as an agent of change. Without change, there is no progress.

Transformation at Hawaiian Electric

Since joining Hawaiian Electric in October 2014, Alan has been working closely with key partners, the executive team and employees to transform how Hawaiian Electric works with the communities it serves, other stakeholders in the energy field and, very importantly, its customers.

Bill Evans, superintendent of Waiau and Honolulu, gives Alan a tour of Waiau Power Plant and explains operations.

The key driver for transformation is really getting employees to understand how important it is to embrace change. “It takes time. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But, change is happening. And we’re fortunate that our employees want to do the right thing for our customers.”

“It’s a very exciting time as we transform the company to be more customer-centric and innovative, embrace technology, and move forward with products and services to better serve all our customers,” Alan states.

Building Sustainable Communities

Most of us who live in Hawaii know that we are unique. We are isolated from the rest of the United States and other parts of the world. Sustainability in Hawaii is very different from places such as Los Angeles. Our natural resources are precious and valuable. Alan believes that Hawaiian Electric will help lead the way in building sustainable communities for businesses and the people of Hawaii.

“We need to be aware of what’s available and what role do we play in a global economy,” points out Alan. “This means offering more access to sustainable, resilient, and clean energy through mobility and communication. Electrification of transportation plays an important role in this. We want to provide electricity to businesses, such as the airports and harbors we depend upon. By substituting clean electrons for fossil fuels, we can help to clean the air and lower prices for all of our customers at the same time. Cleaner transportation for everyone is a very important goal.”

Most importantly, our natural resources need to be preserved and used in a way that’s sustainable for all of Hawaii and future generations. This means taking the infrastructure that exists today and transforming it to become more sustainable, resilient and cleaner.

“Electricity touches everyone. Electricity is used to supply water. Communications reaches people through electricity. Gasoline pumping is fueled by electricity. Everything centers on the products and services we provide to customers,” shares Alan.

His vision is clear. As the president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric, he plans to build and transform the energy industry in Hawaii by leading the way in creating sustainable communities for Hawaii and its residents, and for future generations to come.

Family First

Alan is a 3rd generation Japanese-American. His grandparents came to Hawaii from Japan to work on the sugar plantations on the island of Hawaii. Both his parents grew up there and met in Honolulu. No one in his family would have ever-imagined that Alan would become the head of one of the largest corporations in Hawaii.

In fact, his father had hoped that Alan would take over the small family business. With a full Navy scholarship to attend Northwestern University, Alan could have entered the school of engineering. Instead, he decided to enter the college of business trying to respect his father’s wishes. In the end, his father accepted his son’s decision to become an attorney and was proud of his many accomplishments. The family business was sold to long-time employees.

Alan’s daughter, Emily, with her husband, David, and son, Noah

As a father, Alan wanted his children to find their own passion and succeed doing what they wanted. His daughter, Emily, followed in his footsteps and attended Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. She found her calling and passion in public policy. She was a senior policy analyst for the Center for America’s Promise in Washington, D.C. and helped in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Today, she’s settled down in Hawaii with her husband, David Lee, and 14-month old son, Noah, and works at HMSA focusing on public policy in healthcare.

Alan with his wife, Jo Ann, son, Robb, and Robb’s fiancé, Tesa

His son, Robb, decided to stay in San Francisco after graduating from the University of San Francisco and is in educational program sales at Lynda.com, a subsidiary of LinkedIn. He credits Alan’s father for developing his sales techniques. He likes being involved in the education field, something Alan and his wife, Jo Ann, have continued to support. Robb and his fiancé, Tesa Nguyen, live in the Dogpatch district near ATT Park and have an Australian Shepherd, Charlie.

Alan and Jo Ann look forward to seeing their children, visiting San Francisco, or going swimming with his daughter and her family in Hawaii. Jo Ann’s 92 year old mother, Karen Oda, lives with Alan and Jo Ann.

Family is important no matter how busy Alan may be.

Keeping Busy

Most people don’t know this but as a young adult, Alan had experienced a back injury that led to an experimental procedure that disabled him for nearly one year. This helped him accept the fact that he was vulnerable. It provided a different perspective on life at an early age. And maybe that’s why Alan was able to learn to accept change so easily.

Alan and his wife, Jo Ann, enjoying an evening at the 35th Anniversary event for Hospice Hawaii in February 2014 with Jo Ann’s mother, Karen, and Barbara Tanabe. (Photo credit: Lawrence Tabudlo)

If you asked Alan what he wanted to be when he was young, it varied from being a fireman to a pilot. Only when he was in high school, he started to seriously consider what he wanted to do. He spoke with his counselor at Farrington High School about being an architect. But, his counselor had other ideas. He later learned that she always thought he should be a doctor or lawyer.

But maybe one day, you may see Alan on the front cover of a magazine talking about building a home as an architect or maybe selling homes as a real estate broker. With Alan, anything can happen.

Change is inevitable.

Donna Mun is the director of social media and digital experience at Hawaiian Electric Company.