Generation Next

Hawaii National Bank’s Luke legacy continues with third generation Bryan Luke.

Kan Jung “K. J.” Luke wore suits and bow ties when he occupied the corner office at Hawaii National Bank, which he founded in 1960.

His 39-year-old grandson Bryan Luke, recently appointed president and chief operating officer, tends to favor more causal attire like button-down plaid shirts and slim fit khakis. But, make no mistake; he’s serious about stepping into the role vacated by his grandfather, and later, his father Warren Luke, who still serves as the bank’s chairman and CEO.

“It’s a little weird … It feels a little strange to be working here in my grandfather’s office,” Luke says, as he gestures to many of the belongings that his legendary grandfather left behind, such as notes, pictures of friends and family and memorabilia from the bank’s earliest days.

“Every time I walk in, knowing that this is my grandfather’s office makes me keenly aware not to screw things up. But, I think my family was very good about preparing all of us to be able to lead and about giving us the freedom to do what we are able to do,” he says.

Meet the guy who could be the real-life inspiration for the bank’s award-winning “Future Dreams” advertising campaign. The TV ad goes something like this, “You have big dreams, and when it comes to making those dreams a reality, you need a bank to provide products that take you from little league to the Ivy League …”

The newest Luke banking leader has been there, done that, with an educational pedigree that stretches from Punahou School to Amherst College, where he earned a degree in Asian studies, to Harvard University’s MBA program like his grandfather, his father and two of his siblings, Catherine and Kevin, before him.

And, while the family business’ mantra is “A Bank for Life,” Luke says that he always knew that he would have to prove himself before returning home to run it. His grandfather, who passed away in 2000, was a celebrated, self-made millionaire. The youngest of 13 children born to Chinese immigrants, Kan Jung Luke worked in his parents’ Hawai’i Island grocery store and bakery as a youth. He left home to attend St. Louis School in Honolulu, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawai’i and an MBA from Harvard University. He served as a major in the U.S. Army from 1942-46, prior to opening up his own bookkeeping office and lecturing part-time at the University of Hawai’i. In 1956, he became one of Hawai’i’s major commercial real estate tycoons when he and Clarence T.C. Ching bought the 233-acre Damon Tract near the airport for $4.5 million with just a $100,000 down payment.

About four years later, Luke opened Hawaii National Bank, which was the largest of 134 banks opened that year in the U.S.

“My grandfather was a worker. He worked until he couldn’t. I fully expect my father to do the same. In fact, he’s not allowed to retire; we won’t let him,” Luke says.

Third in the lineup of four very accomplished siblings, Luke’s work ethic also began early. In junior high, he worked at Punahou School stuffing envelopes and doing data entry; he later taught swimming and served as a lifeguard.

“All of my siblings did a variety of things. When we grew up, the rule was that we could work for the family, but only if we took a management position with another company and got promoted twice,” says Luke, who spent seven years after college in financial services on the mainland.

His career at Coopers & Lybrand was just unfolding during the dotcom boom. Eventually, he would work for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Standard & Poor’s. It wasn’t until about a decade ago that Luke said he made the decision to return home to his roots and the family business.

“When I was 18, I wanted to go as far away as possible because Hawai’i was all that I had ever known. At the end of the day, living far away made me appreciate living here more,” he says.

Since taking on his newest leadership role at the family business in February, Luke said that he also has come to more fully appreciate the contributions of the 200 or so employees who work across some 13 bank branches that cater to some 50,000 or so customers each year.

“We have a lot of longtime employees that have been with us. We have an employee that just celebrated 50 years … of course, that’s one of the challenges because they’ve been here so long we have large groups of employees retiring together,” he says. “Really, that’s one of the reasons that I wanted to come home. I believe that there is a lot of access and opportunity for smart, young people in Hawai’i.”

Luke, who brought in several friends from PricewaterhouseCoopers to fill vacancies in the organization, said the 54-year-old company is transitioning.

“We’re making sure that we are building a team that we can trust and empowering them to do what they need to do so that the organization can move forward,” he says.

Robert Nobriga, who worked with Luke at Coopers & Lybrand in the mid-1990s and at Hawaii National Bank until a few months ago, said the family’s long-term community commitment is evident in its strategic planning.

“I used to work with Bryan at the bank and we reported to his dad,” Nobriga says. “The thing that impressed me about Bryan and his whole family is how community-focused they are. They don’t look at the bank as a way to make money. To them, it’s more of an asset to help local businesses.”

To be sure, longtime customer Eddie Flores, who founded L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, gave the bank’s newest president and COO the thumbs up. Flores said he got to know Luke well when the banker was going to school on the East Coast and would visit the chain’s New York location for lau lau.

“It seemed like he would come down every weekend,” Flores says. “I kept telling him if he came back again, I was going to raise the price. I put a cartoon of him eating my lau lau in my recipe book, and he said he was going to charge me for using his look-a-like. He’s a Harvard man, but he’s a local boy.”

While Flores says that Luke falls into the “‘bankers are conservative by nature’ category,” he applauds the innovation that this emerging leader has brought to his family’s company.

“He’s only 39, and he’s already a bank president. He’s done a very good job. I like the website and all the new technology. But, he needs to upgrade his wardrobe and his golf game,” he jokes.

“Bankers aren’t supposed to be so casual, and I told him he needs to call me ‘Uncle Eddie,’ I’m much older than him.”

While Luke and his contemporaries have brought more youth to Hawaii National Bank, he doesn’t see himself as one of the “young guys” anymore.

“We used to be called the ‘young guys.’ Now, we aren’t anymore and there’s a whole new group of people that think we are ‘old fogies,'” he says.

Luke’s fighting that designation by embracing CrossFit, a strength and conditioning program used by many law enforcement personnel, martial artists and special operations teams.

“I’m obsessed. I guess it’s because I’m turning 40 this year,” he says.

Long-time family friend and fellow CrossFit enthusiast Kristin Izumi-Nitao says Luke brings the same intensity to the job as he does to his workouts.

“I think he really cares about the community and wants to see positive change,” Izumi-Nitao says. “He has some great ideas. He wants to see the bank and the state of Hawai’i move forward. ”

Izumi-Nitao says Luke seems to be excelling in the role that his supportive family groomed him to do.

“He’s fun-loving and spirited and has fresh ideas and opinions,” she says. “He’s loyal and dedicated, but he’s adventurous and willing to grow. I’m excited that he stepped up for his family and for the bank.”

While Luke has launched a new banking website and is expanding mobile customer services to cater to this next generation of banking customers, he doesn’t think the general direction of Hawaii National Bank needs to change. But as a former financial services consultant, he says that he is focused on how the bank can more holistically help customers achieve their goals.

“We cater to locally owned closely-held companies like our own. And, the financing and cash management side is only one aspect of what we do as relationship bankers,” he says.

For instance, Luke says he’s connected customers to build businesses or solve problems and has shared the family’s own experiences with rebranding, technology upgrades and planning for succession.

“We find that we are able to identify with our customers because we are going through similar things,” he says. “We are all about connecting to customers and sharing experiences. We think community banks should be part of the community.”

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