inding good employees is tough. We understand the challenges of finding — and keeping! — good talent as the local job market continues to work its way out of the coronavirus pandemic.
But what we didn’t realize was just how tough it would be to convince local companies to showcase their superstar talent without fear of a competitor swooping in and hiring them away.
So while we take the time to honor the following group of hard-working individuals, we must also thank the companies willing to share their stories. Mahalo to Avalon Group, Healy-Tibbitts Builders Inc., Hunt Development Group Hawai‘i, Nordic PCL Construction Inc. and Tileco Inc. for nominating these shining stars in Hawai‘i’s construction industry and allowing them to be spotlighted in this issue (in no particular order).
JINNY CHEUNG • HUNT DEVELOPMENT GROUP HAWAI‘I
As development projects advance, challenges can arise unexpectedly — sometimes minute-by-minute.
Jinny Cheung, a cool-headed senior development manager at Hunt Development Group (HDG) Hawai‘i, meets these challenges immediately and with maximum efficiency.
“With Jinny, the team always feels confident that it can navigate a storm,” says Deborah Sharkey, a consultant to HDG in Hawai‘i.
Cheung joined HDG as an assistant development manager in 2016 and showcased her crisis management skills a year later while assisting with Hunt’s acquisition of an antiquated water and wastewater system servicing 3,700 acres of the U.S. Navy land in Kalaeloa.
Acquisition was considered critical for the development of Hunt’s future master-planned community in the area. Cheung’s team established all utility functions for the newly acquired Kalaeloa Water Company, including operations, billing and capital planning.
After stabilizing operations, she assisted with the sale of the company three years later.
Cheung later rose to development manager, then senior development manager, and is now part of a team that oversees development of Hunt’s key Kalaeloa projects. Currently, she focuses on development of the 90,000-square-foot Daniel Kahikina Akaka Department of Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinic. She also helps with land disposition and development throughout Hunt’s 500-plus acres in Kalaeloa.
In a typical day, Cheung’s tasks include managing complex projects, including those that require close oversight due to particularly challenging issues; acquiring and disposing assets; residential and infrastructure master-planning; and processing pre-development entitlements.
Cheung “reads people and situations well,” Sharkey says. “She is a particularly effective project manager because of her ability to connect. Not only can she work well with any personality type, she gets results and continues to move projects forward with positive energy.”
Her colleagues also admire Cheung’s poise under pressure.
“No matter what challenge she is facing,” Sharkey says, “she is a consummate professional — an exemplary representative of Hunt, the local development industry and the community.”
– Brett Alexander-Estes
BEN DOOKCHITRA • AVALON GROUP
Ben Dookchitra, Avalon Group chief investment officer, real estate financial strategist and urban planner, began his career in the ruins of the World Trade Center following 9/11.
“I was a project manager and policy analyst for … the public agency that was formed to oversee the rebuilding of lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center site,” Dookchitra says.
Working directly with the agency chairman’s office, Dookchitra did “a little bit of everything”— aspects of the cleanup, overall planning for the 11-acre site and overseeing grants that helped residents and businesses return to their devastated neighborhoods.
It was “arguably the most important work I will have ever done in my life,” he says.
After receiving master’s degrees from Harvard University and MIT, Dookchitra moved to Hawai‘i in 2010 and began another important project: helping orchestrate the successful reopening and expansion of the Ilikai Hotel in Waikīkī.
The Ilikai project was also when he first met Christine Camp, Avalon Development Group president and CEO, whom Dookchitra calls “one of our best partners.”
Dookchitra has continued working with Avalon over the ensuing 13 years, and most recently helped direct recovery and repositioning efforts at the Kauai Beach Resort, which was sold to Outrigger Resorts in August.
Camp says Dookchitra’s “savvy finance engineering, breadth of knowledge and collaborative leadership” will next help shape Avalon’s conversion of the Davies Pacific Center in downtown Honolulu.
Construction on the 22-story Bishop Street office building, which will create approximately 350 residential, for-sale condominium units and approximately 100,000 square feet of commercial space, is slated to start next year, with general contractor Albert C. Kobayashi Inc. expected to wrap in the second half of 2025.
“Getting more people downtown, whether that is as workers or residents, is critical for the success of the small businesses that are the lifeblood of the community,” says Dookchitra. “Avalon is a company that has been in downtown Honolulu for 24 years now. This is our neighborhood. We want to showcase it and make it shine.”
– Brett Alexander-Estes
DANYELLE KAHANAOI • NORDIC PCL CONSTRUCTION INC.
Imagine a ruler with increments measured in hundredths of an inch and construction tasks calibrated to the second.
That’s the level of accuracy demanded on U.S. military construction projects, and it’s also Nordic PCL Construction Inc. Project Manager Danyelle Kahanaoi’s specialty as she manages all military and government projects for the company.
“She is an expert in working on military projects that have multiple divisions and sometimes competing interests,” says Shelley M. Santo, Nordic PCL engineer and marketing manager.
Currently, Kahanaoi directs Nordic PCL projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District (USACE) at Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Airfield.
“She successfully delivered three projects for USACE and Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command over the last four years with the highest CPARS scores we have received to date,” Santo says. “She has been instrumental in helping our team build success in this market.”
CPARS, the federal Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System, is a critical evaluation containing both government and contractor comments, and allows source selection officials to look beyond contractor references.
Santo says Kahanaoi, with more than 20 years of industry experience, is well-respected among her peers and is “highly-skilled, a problem-solver, a team player and collaborator … who has the ability to both lead and inspire.
“As a 20-year member of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), Danyelle has paved the way for women in construction.”
Kahanaoi recently began her second term as treasurer for the group’s local chapter.
“[Danyelle’s] position as the organization’s financial leader entails leaning on her project management experience to easily handle multiple responsibilities,” Santo explains. “She clearly understands how to keep her eye on the bottom line while still ensuring the organization continues to grow and innovate programs.”
– Brett Alexander-Estes
KEITH MACKENZIE • HEALY TIBBITTS BUILDERS INC.
At Healy Tibbitts Builders Inc. in Hawai‘i, Keith MacKenzie is lead estimator and business development support manager responsible for handling all estimates.
Throughout his career, he’s always specialized in marine and waterfront construction and has always been “a quick study [who] gained valuable knowledge and experience from the early stages” of his time with the company, according to company President Rick Heltzel.
“Keith is a self-starter and is highly motivated to research, learn and improve our capabilities to successfully perform the high-risk, one-of-a-kind projects we typically undertake,” Heltzel says.
MacKenzie originally joined Healy Tibbitts’ parent company, Weeks Marine, after graduating from Arizona State in 2007 with a degree in civil engineering and working as a field engineer on several bridge projects in the greater New York City region.
He arrived in Hawaii in 2014, serving in multiple roles with the company, from lead estimator to senior project manager on the $49 million Pier 4 Inter-Island Cargo Terminal project at Hilo Harbor.
Following a return to the East Coast with his growing family, MacKenzie jumped at the chance to return to Hawai‘i permanently and is now helping with the Healy Tibbitts’ transition under Weeks Marine’s new owner, Kiewit Corporation.
“With Keith’s energy and enthusiasm, he has been and continues to be a leader with this effort that involves organizing and supporting significant training programs for the entire Healy Tibbitts team,” says Heltzel. “As a young leader in our organization, Keith will have a significant role in developing the Healy Tibbitts team to ensure the company’s future success.”
– Paula Bender
LEANNE OGATA • TILECO INC.
Leanne Ogata, vice president and COO of Tileco Inc., is the third generation of her family to work in the company established by her grandfather, Richard Sakamoto, in 1967.
When Richard Sakamoto opened Tileco, he started with seven employees on a 2.5-acre plot of land in West O‘ahu. That property has since expanded to 14 acres, with 40 employees currently operating three tile manufacturing plants, an aggregate crushing zone and a sand-washing area.
The company services not only general contractors and trade workers, but is open to the general public as well. Ogata’s father, Dennis Sakamoto, who started working as a laborer for his dad when he was 16, is now the company’s CEO and president.
“Leanne oversees daily operations for a multi-million dollar business that produces concrete masonry units (CMU),” says Lisa Kim, director of the Masonry Institute of Hawaii. “There are multiple tasks such as keeping the manufacturing process streamlined in terms of production volume, customizing block shape and colors, and scheduling shipments to the neighbor islands.
“She does it all with poise, a soft voice, yet very direct with clear instructions. She spends early mornings to early evenings to have reports, guidelines and instructions ready for the next day’s operations,” says Kim.
Ogata joined the family business in 2015 as a production and technical representative before being promoted to production manager. Holding a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with a minor in business administration from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, her co-workers and peers view her as highly skilled, tech-savvy and goal-oriented.
Kim adds that Ogata is a respected industry leader, known for her work ethic, leadership skills and intelligence.
In addition, Tileco welcomes do-it-yourselfers to its Kapolei facility, along with general contractors and trade workers, during business hours.
– Paula Bender