First Hawaiian Bank



In terms of revenues, First Hawaiian Bank ($484 million) is number two behind leader Bank of Hawaii ($715 million). However, First Hawaiian can toot its horn to being the state's oldest bank AND having the tallest building in Hawaii. First Hawaiian Bank is a subsidiary of BancWest, which is in turn a subsidiary of BNP Paribas, one of France's biggest banks. BNP Paribas is a result of a merger between two French banks (BNP and Paribas) and I visited both in Paris before their merger.

Situated near the waterfront in Honolulu's downtown business center the 30-story (438 feet tall) triangular structure is a real beauty. Built in 1996, the 418,000 square foot building looks much newer. There's no corporate logo or company name emblazoned on the top or sides of this structure or for that matter any other structure in Hawaii because such displays are illegal.

Called First Hawaiian Center, the lobby directory lists a wide variety of tenants including the usual suspects---law firms and accounting concerns. Reception for the bank lies on the 29th floor so it's up I go on one of the four high-speed exterior elevators (click for photo). Holy cow, the ride up is amazing as one enjoys an incredible view of Honolulu's harbor and the Pacific Ocean.

Receptionist Cheryl Simon's desk sits next to a big picture window and gets to enjoy (everyday!) the view I saw on the way up. I explain mailing a letter of introduction along with news clippings four weeks earlier to CEO Donald Horner and ask Simon if she can call up Horner's secretary to find out who ended up with the material. While Simon makes the phone call I note the orchid (real) and give the two seven-foot tall antique Chinese chests lining a wall the once over.

Hanging up the phone, receptionist Simon says to take a seat as someone will be out shortly. Before sitting I ask Simon how this 30-story building can brag to being the tallest in Hawaii when I'm staying at a 35-story hotel in nearby Waikiki. Simon explains that the height of each floor here is taller. A few minutes pass and I'm in luck as the person stepping out to answer questions turns out to be CEO Horner. I put on my fast-talking speed though as Horner says he's between meetings and has only five minutes.

About 850 employees work in the building. Vice presidents on up as well as bicycling commuters enjoy reserved underground parking, smoking isn't allowed in the workplace and there's no formal dress code. Matter of fact, Horner's not sporting the usual suit and tie worn by bankers-it's the Aloha shirt (floral design) with slacks-better suited for this tropical climate. There's a company cafeteria and I ask Horner, "how's the food?" Executives eat lunch at the Banker's Club, a private restaurant for building tenants located on the top floor (30th). So, Horner looks over to receptionist Simon and asks "how's the food?" Simon replies it's good. Honolulu airport lies a short four miles away and it's a few minutes drive to reach the nearest freeway.

CEO Horner occupies a large corner office on the 29th floor. I count two plants (real), one orchid (real), a computer and several family pictures. What's the view out the big picture windows? A spectacular vista of the seeming endless Pacific Ocean and Honolulu harbor. What's interesting though is what I don't see from Horner's office. From his office Horner can't look down on rival Bank of Hawaii's shorter building next door because his office sits on the opposite side of the building.

Company website: www.fhb.com