Meli James - Mana Up!

Meli James

Meli James

— By Cheryl Cross

Meli James is the co-founder of Mana Up and serves as the President of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association.  During her insightful presentation at the OWL July Luncheon, Meli related that at the age of 27 with a great education and job, she had what she calls, “A Quarter-Life Crisis.”  On the advice of a friend, she sought and found a life coach who coaxed her into asking the hard questions.  “I wanted to move home.  I knew I would be making more money on the mainland, but I really wanted to have a good job back in Hawaii.  And, I wanted a job that brought me joy.”  So, Meli quit her job and started carving a life of interests that motivated her to start saying “yes” to meetings and people that empowered her interests.  The first one was Wine.

She first moved to San Francisco and in 2007, Meli and a co-founded launched Nirvino, a #1 ranked wine website, and later a mobile app that ranked in the top 100 for Apple and was considered a Top Ten Lifestyles app.  Desiring to return to the Aina, however, Meli made the final move back to Hawaii.

Upon her return to Hawaii, Meli initially worked as the program director of XLR8UH.  Through this and other work with Blue Start Ups, she realized she wanted to apply her experience to help those entrepreneurs who wanted to build a business in Hawaii.  What did that look like?  She knew she didn’t want to work only on Tech Start Ups, but something that was more sustainable.  It was then she envisioned Mana UP!

Mana Up is a 12-week accelerator that supports businesses <$100,000 revenue in the Consumer Packaged Goods arena.  “We are designed to support those businesses who need Phase 2 resources.  If they’ve figured out how to get to 100k in annual revenue, that’s when we turn our attention and help them cross the global finish line.”  The beauty of a group cohort is the support.  “Being an entrepreneur is lonely.  You feel isolated, you feel at risk sharing your ideas, and you can limit your circle.”  The Mana Up cohort allows business owners to be part of something bigger, inviting industry leaders, fellow entrepreneurs and successful business owners who share their successes and their failures.

Meli hopes to continue her vision of creating a shared vision for her Aina and the islands of Hawaii.  Mana Up has bolstered the work of several business, and combined has exceeded 27 million in revenue and created 300+ jobs for the State of Hawaii. 

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Sunshine Topping


— by Jennifer Grems

What We Heard — Sunshine Topping

This month’s guest speaker was Sunshine Topping. Sunshine is a seasoned Human Resources executive who is passionate about leadership—especially the development of women leaders. She shared her story about the road she’s traveled from humble beginnings on Hawaiian homestead lands to becoming an organizational leader at Hawaiian Telcom.

Since leaving Hawaiian Telcom, Sunshine said she is learning how to be more purposeful and intentional. And here is what she shared with our Organization of Women Leaders about being effective leaders and mentors:

·      Understand what people’s contributions are to the company. Once you understand what your people do, you can manage and appreciate them for their contributions, not the amount of time they spend in the office.

·      Trust your people. Grow this concept and recognize people for their contributions.

·      Do good work. Be confident in your competence--it matters.

·      Take responsibility

·      Network

·      Get active in the community--get involved and help other people.

Noriko Namiki


— By Laura Lott

What We Heard -- Noriko Namiki, CEO of the YWCA Oahu.

Noriko was born in Japan and learned English at a young age from a neighborhood minister.  She was very curious as a child, a trait that she holds onto even today.  She loves learning and her perfect job would be to be a full-time student.   

The curiosity has served her well.  She was the first person in her immediate family to attended university. Graduating from Chaminade and then going on to study Journalism and work at CNN for 5 years and then ABC News.  Choosing journalism was a natural fit as it afforded her the opportunity to travel, meet people and learn about a variety of topics. 

Noriko married a CNN colleague and returned to the US where she earned her Master of Social Work from Columbia University, with a goal of helping marginalized people.  So, it was a perfect fit when in 2012 she was recruited to be the Y's new Communication Director.   

The YWCA's mission of 'Eliminating Racism. Empowering Women' spoke to her and aligned with her priorities.  Just a short while after accepting the position, Noriko called upon again, this time to step into the vacant CEO position on an interim basis.  She did more than keep the lights on, she expanded the Dress for Success program and launched a new Patsy Mink Business Center.  So, it wasn't surprising that nine months later she was named the official YWCA Oahu CEO.

Noriko has a strong focus on several key principles/learnings

·      Don't let others define who I am.   "As I get older, I don't care what others think of me."

·      Don't pretend to know.  "Don't just smile and nod, ask if you need clarification or more details."

·      Nothing goes to waste. "Every skill matters, every experience is useful if you learn from it."

·      Ask for help. "This is hardest for me. But it feels good to help people.  We should help because we can."

·      Be kind to myself. "My goal is to eventually be comfortable in my own skin. Like yourself and appreciate yourself."

While, Noriko may refer to herself as an 'accidental CEO' the YWCA Oahu she is thriving under her leadership.   Some of the accomplishment and projects in the works

YWCA Oahu Locations

·      Laniakea (Richards Street location) - has a bustling array of classes and activities including their renown Dress for Success Program which serves more than 500 women per year

·      Fernhurst - Residential housing for women transitioning from prison

·      Kokokahi - Community Center for educational and recreational activities on the Windward Oahu.

Noriko knows that we all have a gift, a talent, something to share.  Your gift will bring joy to yourself and to others. Look within to find your gift because sharing this gift feels good and helps others.   

Noriko is happy and excited to be part of the Y. She is inspired to be helping women transition.  "When you think you are doing something for someone else you are actually learning and getting even more out of it"

Therese Dickerson


— By Julie Arigo

Our January luncheon speaker, Therese Dickerson, Sr. Vice President, Bank of Hawaii Organizational Development, addressed our membership on the subject of “Building an Agile Organization-Agility and Organizational Health”.  Therese is the first in our state to earn the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) credential from the American Society for Training & Development Certification Institute.  Nationwide, only 478 individuals hold the CPLP certification.  That said, it is no wonder our membership gained so much valuable information on a subject matter that all industries should find relevant.

Therese spoke on the subject of how disrupters can put us out of business and sometimes even being in Hawaii can put us out of business unless we acknowledge the need for agility.  This means understanding how quickly our environment is evolving, knowing how to attract and retain employees due to the war for talent, and keeping up with the rapid changes in competition, demand, technology and regulations.  

She shared the importance of the requirement to focus on organizational health, which means outperforming the competition, engaging employees on a shared vision, and empowering a team by constantly communicating with them.  Besides the bottom line, it is equally as important to think about the people in your organization.  Ensuring the team understands why they are there, what the company is trying to accomplish, and knowing how to execute are all critical components associated with a healthy organization.

BAU vs VUCA.  Working on the “Business as Usual” (BAU) model – a formal structure based on policies and procedures that does not allow for flexibility and innovation – can put a company out of business.  The “new” norm is “VUCA” – knowing the organization’s Vision, Understanding what needs to be done, having Clarity on direction, and the Agility to respond and adapt quickly to the unexpected.

The “New” Agile Paradigm is a shift from organizations running like “machines” – a top down hierarchy that creates silos, linear planning & control that doesn’t allow for deviation vs organizations running like “organisms” - organization empowered to act, procedures allow flexibility and quick mobilization on decisions.

To sum it up, there are 5 trademarks to agile organizations:

  1. “North Star” embodied across the organization – a shared purpose and vision, able to sense and seize opportunities

  2. “Next Generation” enabling technology – evolving technology, architecture, systems & tools

  3. Network of empowered teams

  4. Dynamic people that ignite and model passion

  5. Rapid decisions and learning styles

True agility comes only when all five trademarks are in place and working together.

Chief Susan Ballard

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As the year is quickly coming to an end, 2018 was resoundingly the Year of the Woman! We were honored to hear from one of our most admired women leaders, Captain Susan Ballard, the Honolulu Police Department's eleventh Chief of Police, and the first woman to serve in that position. Her long road to the top leadership position in the HPD presented many challenges in a traditionally male-dominated career, but Capt. Ballard's steadfast mindset of never giving up, keeping her eye on her goals, and meeting new obstacles head on became guiding principles as she shattered this glass ceiling.

November 1 marked Capt. Ballard's one year anniversary as Chief, but it could have also easily have been her first year of retirement. She had just put in her papers in 2017, to retire after a 32-year career, when the Police Chief scandal that rocked HPD opened up an opportunity for new leadership. Encouraged by her fellow officers to apply for the job, Capt. Ballard went for it and made Hawaii history.

Destined to be a leader
Growing up poor with divorced parents in North Carolina, she made up her mind very early on to always be independent and learned to take care of herself. After earning bachelors and master's degrees in health and physical education, she landed in California working in physical education and sports medicine fields. Desiring a change, she bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii and never looked back. At the urging of police officers that worked out with her at the Central YMCA she took the police application test and joined the force as just one of three women from her recruit class.

Easily bored and always up for learning new things, Capt. Ballard took on assignments working in many of the HPD Departments, including patrol, information and IT. After 28 years on the force and because of her willingness to speak up for change, she found herself among a group of outcasts  and ended up in the Central Receiving Desk which was considered a place for the "excommunicated." Instead of withering, she took it upon herself to turn the department into one of the best places to work.

Dream or nightmare
One of the first things Capt. Ballard faced in her new role as Chief was to bring together a fractured and demoralized work force. She set the tone right away of forgiveness and a shared goal of moving forward. She acknowledges that building trust internally and in the community is an ongoing process that starts with taking care of the people who work for you. Other goals she hopes to accomplish is growing the police force through recruitment, advancing the use of technology and putting in place a leadership succession plan through promotions. She credits her own successes to many mentors she has had along the way. They showed her respect and a way of leading that gave her confidence in herself.

Lessons of leadership

  • What she learned from her three dogs and a blind cat - "If you can't eat it or play with it, pee on it and walk away."

  • No matter how high you go, remember where you came from

  • You are always representing the department

  • There is no balance, only priorities

  • Do it anyway

  • Self-care, working out and doing yoga first thing in the morning

Finally, she recounted a story about a time a woman asked her to pose for a photo with her daughter. Her unimpressed daughter resisted, asking her mother, "Why?" When she told her daughter that it was the Chief of Police, the daughter said "So, what?" Capt. Ballard's take away was that this was the legacy so many women who came before gifted to us...when young girls don't think twice about what a woman can achieve. Thank you Capt. Ballard, you are truly inspiring!