Merger Brings a Challenge For Veteran Hawaii Banker

Harriet Aoki went into banking more than 25 years ago because she thought it was a unchanging profession. Now the 54-year-old banker laughs at the idea.

"Banking has changed so much," she says. "It gets more challenging every year."

Her latest challenge is her recent appointment as president of First Interstate Bank of Hawaii.

Ms. Aoki, who started in banking as an executive secretary, had worked her way up to executive vice president of First Interstate of Hawaii Inc., a member of the franchise network set up by Los Angeles-based First Interstate Bancorp.

Change of Ownership

First Interstate of Hawaii was recently acquired by First Hawaiian Inc., Honolulu, for $144 million, about twice book value. The buyer's chairman, Walter A. Dods, will be First Interstate's chief executive. Ms. Aoki, 54, was tapped to be chief administrative officer as well as president.

"As we were doing our due diligence, we got to know her and recognized her leadership skills and her wide-ranging banking background," said John A. Hoag, president of First Hawaiian.

"She has been my right arm for years," said Donald L. MacGregor, 61, who is retiring as president of First Interstate. "Almost every department has reported to her at one time or another. There is not a lot she has not been exposed to in banking over the years."

Ms. Aoki won't have her job for long. First Interstate, with $900 million in assets, will be operated as a subsidiary for one year and then folded into First Hawaiian, creating an entity with $6.4 billion in assets.

But Mr. Hoag said Ms. Aoki need not worry about employment. "She will be a senior person with First Hawaiian," he said.

In the meantime, Ms. Aoki is working to meld First Interstate's systems and procedures with First Hawaiian's. She has the experience. When she headed operations at First Interstate, formerly American Security Bank, big changes were made in data processing several times, including a 1983 move to a First Interstate Bancorp system.

Ms. Aoki is a native of Honolulu; her father owned a small company that made signs. She has a degree in business from the University of Hawaii. Like any good bank president, she plays golf, a sport she took up only recently.

Justice Department Opposed Purchase

First Hawaiian's acquisition of the First Interstate franchisee did not go smoothly. The closing was originally scheduled for last fall, but a challenge from the Justice Department, which said the deal would be anticompetitive, was not settled until March. The closing came May 31.

"That delay has taken a toll on morale of both organizations," Mr. Hoag said. So Ms. Aoki is also charged with retaining First Interstate's 500 employees. "She has to maintain the loyalty and forward momentum of the employees."

But much of that has already been accomplished by First Hawaiian's managers, Ms. Aoki said. "They have promised everyone a job; that has calmed a lot of fears."

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