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In addition to advocating for greater community inclusivity, Chun’s role at Alaska has allowed him to support other endeavors that strengthen his home. Since entering the Hawai‘i market in 2007, Alaska has distributed almost $4 million across more than 200 local organizations.

WHEN DANIEL CHUN LANDED THE JOB AS ALASKA AIRLINES’ HAWAI‘I DIRECTOR OF SALES, COMMUNITY AND PUBLIC RELATIONS, THE NEWS LIKELY SURPRISED FEW IN HAWAI‘I’S VISITOR INDUSTRY.

Chun just seemed like a natural. He is a University of Hawai‘i Travel Industry Management School graduate. He previously worked at the Hawai‘i Visitors Convention Bureau, and had a seven year run as the special assistant to the State of Hawai‘i’s governor-appointed tourism liaison. And, if that weren’t enough, Chun also has earned his private pilot license from Honolulu Community College and the University of North Dakota. Probably the only member of Hawai‘i’s visitor industry that was surprised by the news was Chun himself.

“I was floating along (a bit rudderless) after I had left the Governor’s Office,” Chun says in his typically humble way. (After all, he was serving as the executive director of the Honolulu Gay and Lesbian Cultural Foundation, the umbrella organization for the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival.)

Still, by the time Chun pursued the Alaska opportunity, he had already applied, landed interviews and been turned down for a job as Hawai‘i Tourism Authority brand manager and another in Hawaiian Airline’s corporate communications/public affairs division.

The job with Alaska initially didn’t pan out either, and Chun was contemplating leaving Hawai‘i, where he was born and raised. And, then … it did.

After all of Alaska’s top finalists were turned down for the job, the airline returned its focus to Chun. By then, Chun had already decided, along with his artist boyfriend of eight years, to move to the mainland. But, he figured, why not give it one last shot—and this time went in with “no holds barred.”

“I researched like crazy. I prepared an eight-page first-year action plan, and went in with renewed confidence,” Chun says. “The recruiter called and said, ‘That was a lot better this time.’”

Alaska asked Chun to stay over in Seattle for a next-day interview with the carrier’s vice president. Two weeks later, Alaska made Chun an offer that he couldn’t refuse, although it meant parting ways with his then boyfriend, who moved to New York.

“It just wasn’t his dream to stay. But the way in which everything happened with the eventual offer of the job from Alaska was definitely a high point for me, and changed the trajectory of what my life and career would have been if I had gone through with the move,” he shares.

The change helped Chun open the door to a new career and personal opportunities, including meeting his partner Will Yeh, a realtor associate for Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties—who was literally the guy-next-door.

“We met through a friend, and two years after that, he moved to the next building over from mine,” Chun says. “We started hanging out.”

The happy pair is a frequent sight at the charity and business parties. One of the things that Chun loves most about Alaska Airlines is that the company is inclusive—so he is free to be himself.

“When they put out the news release that I was taking on the role, they included that I had served as executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Cultural Foundation,” Chun adds. “It’s refreshing that they are so incredibly open. It helps us to really look at and reflect on the fabric of the guests that we are serving.”

Chun said it’s important to him to “be able to celebrate who we are as individuals, and accept each other for who we are.”

The experience is a far cry from working in the administration of Republican Governor Linda Lingle, who famously vetoed a civil union bill.

“I won’t lie; I was disappointed when she vetoed the civil union bill,” shares Chun, who identified as gay in high school, and has been openly out since college. “Now, we’ve actually got marriage equality. But we do recognize that there’s still work to do. Not everyone is as comfortable to be able to live their lives as openly and authentically as I have been able to do.”

His friend Elisia Flores, CEO of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, said Chun’s authenticity has been inspiring.

“I’m gay, as well. When I first moved back to Hawai‘i with my wife, and we would attend events, I wasn’t as good at introducing her as I should have been,” Flores says. “I saw that Daniel was just so comfortable with who he is. He was very inspirational, and I learned a lot from him.”

In addition to advocating for greater community inclusivity, Chun’s role at Alaska has allowed him to support other endeavors that strengthen his home. Since entering the Hawai‘i market in 2007, Alaska has distributed almost $4 million across more than 200 local organizations.

“I’m really proud of what we do,” Chun elaborates. “We support everything from Make-A-Wish, to the Nature Conservancy to Friends of Hawai‘i Robotics. There are tons of organizations that we support.”

The carrier also has given out grants and scholarships, and offered support for programs like Kupu that offer youth green-jobs training.

“I feel super passionate about the work that we do with young people. I’m born and raised here and this is my home,” Chun said. “Any company that has a generous heart and wants to give I’m all for it. I’m really proud that Alaska is one of those companies.”

Investment in the Island’s youth is important to Chun, who grew up working in his family’s business, Shan’s Cake Shoppe in Wahiawa.

“My parents, Willie and Sharon Chun, had everything to do with my success. The early lessons that they taught me about the importance of hard work, building relationships and great service successfully took me through school and now into my work life,” Chun says.

Chun said his parents also taught him the importance of having ethics and values. Those early lessons are ever-present, as Chun helps Alaska serve Hawai‘i customers and play a role in the state’s push for a more sustainable tourism model.

In addition to his work in the community on behalf of Alaska, Chun also serves as a Hawai‘i Tourism Authority board member. Some of his other board leaderships include: Diamond Head Theatre, Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i, Rainbow Film Festival, Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals and the UH Alumni Association.

Flores, who serves on the Diamond Head Theatre Board with Chun, and often sees him on the charity circuit, said he’s distinguished himself by rolling up his sleeves to work with charities and staying to the end of events.

“It’s a hallmark of his personality that he stays and gives his full attention,” Flores says. “He’s one of those leaders in Hawai‘i who is really, really authentic, and leads with his heart.”

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