BJ Kobayashi '89

Talented, Driven and Fun

Department: Alumni Profiles

Interview by Shiyana Thenabadu

BJ Kobayashi '89 is the president and CEO of the Kobayashi Group, a real estate development firm in Honolulu. Recently, Punahou School and The Nature Conservancy jointly nominated BJ for National Philanthropy Day's 2007 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year. Over the years, BJ has been a tireless volunteer for Punahou. He has served as a co-chair of the Board of Trustee's Annual Fund Leadership Committee supporting reunion classes since 2005. As his 15th Reunion Gift Committee Co-Chair, he has been a valuable resource not only for his class but for all gift committee volunteers. "BJ thrives on helping our volunteers. We appreciate his can-do attitude and infectious enthusiasm," said Lissa Lam '72 Schiff, Punahou's Director of Annual Giving.

BJ's volunteerism and generosity extend outside of Punahou to several other nonprofits including the Gift Foundation of Hawai‘i (which he co-founded), The Nature Conservancy and The Contemporary Museum. We asked BJ about his school, his career and his passions.

You serve on several Punahou School alumni committees. Why do you give so much of your time to Punahou?

I'm better off because I attended Punahou School. The true cost of a Punahou education exceeds the tuition; therefore, all Punahou students and alums are or were on financial aid. The people at Punahou are talented, driven and fun to work with.

How did Punahou School prepare you for your career?

At Punahou, you learn quickly that in order to be successful you need to manage your time effectively and to prioritize tasks. I struggled at first and then got better at it.

When did you know that you wanted to join the family business?

When I was in high school, I knew I wanted a career in real estate. My family's involvement in construction and later real estate development gave me a huge head start.

You have a law degree from Georgetown University. You need not have gone to college as you could have gone to work in the family business after high school. Why did you decide to go to college?

Had I elected not to attend college, my parents, who love me unconditionally, would have thought I was seriously testing the definition of the word "unconditional." Law school, on the other hand, was a coin flip, but I'm glad I got the education because a third of what I do in my business involves what I learned at Georgetown Law.

Punahou School encourages its students to take calculated risks and to learn from mistakes. You take big financial risks in your job. Were you always a risk taker? How do you manage risk?

I've always been a risk taker - I suspect it's in my DNA. In my business, you are constantly pursuing the mitigation of risk. Typically, good diligence and underwriting is the first step; the second is spreading the risk which means relationships with financial partners and originating a wider variety of deals. However, our development activity is limited to Hawai‘i and there is inherent risk in being this way. It's much easier on family life, though.

What advice do you have for a student who is interested in a career in real estate development?

Business school is a great place to start and most business programs now include a number of real estate courses. I attended business school and a lot of what I learned applies in the real estate business. Another less expensive source of information is the Urban Land Institute (www.uli.org).

How did Punahou influence your values and how you live your life?

Punahou instilled the notion that working in and as a part of a larger group, where interests are aligned, you can accomplish a great deal and at the same time that rigorous competition within the group strengthens it. This is routinely applied in my business.

Why is sustainability an important issue for you personally as well as for Hawai‘i?

It's very important to Nicole and me because taking measures towards a more sustainable lifestyle will preserve a better environment for our children and it's actually not that hard once you get started. Hawai‘i is ideally situated to take advantage of renewable sources of clean energy.

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