Chatt Wright’s global vision grew Hawaii Pacific University (HPU) from 57 students to over 9,000 and an annual budget of $200,000 to $110 Million today. HPU has students from 112 countries and is the largest private University in Hawaii.
President Wright shared with us his secrets in marketing Hawaii Pacific University worldwide and building programs from business to ocean science. He talks about fund raising and building success on a global level.
Some questions asked:
Hi Chatt, you are the president of Hawaii Pacific University and also carry the title “Father of Hawaii Pacific University,” what an honor that must be…
You’ve now grown the University size to 9,000 how did you do that?
What attracted you to take the job at HPU?
What type of experience did you have to be offered the Dean position for the Business Administration program?
Is it true that HPU’s Masters of Business Administration program has the largest enrollment?
What was the most difficult challenge to getting started and running HPU?
What is your marketing strategy to get students to come to HPU?
How do you reach your marketing message globally? (112 countries represented in the University)
Is there one country that HPU has it’s eye on to have a student come from abroad that’s not represented yet?
What’s the most innovative marketing HPU has done?
HPU has a lot of Sweden students, is there an arrangement with the Sweden government?
How do you cross market between Japan and Sweden and other countries?
What is the social mission of HPU?
Tell us more about global citizenship.
What community organizations or non profits are you involved with?
Can you tell us more about your non profit service?
Any advice for today’s young business person?
How did you develop your business skills and entrepreneurial abilities?
What life experiences or early jobs in your life helped prepare you to be such a good salesman?
What’s the secret to fundraising?
Are the urban legends true about athletics being funded based on success to boost assisting with marketing?
How do you use the internet to help your business?
What’s your competitive advantage and how do you keep it?
You traveled to Africa with the Peace Corps after college, how did that experience change your life?
Jastillana, Norise. “Going Global With Hawaii Pacific University.” MidWeek 10 08. 2005. 22 09. 2005
The Father of Hawaii Pacific University — that’s the unofficial title bestowed on President Chatt Wright over the course of his nearly 33 years with the institution he built, at least figuratively, from the ground floor up.
When he joined the university, then known simply as Hawaii Pacific, in 1972, it was housed on one floor — the third floor, actually — of the Davies Pacific Center. Now Hawaii Pacific University covers three campuses — downtown Honolulu, Windward Hawaii Loa and Oceanic Institute at Makapuu — as well as satellite facilities on six military bases. Enrollment has grown from a scant 57 to more than 9,000 students from 100 countries. The university, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, now offers in excess of 50 undergraduate and graduate majors. The annual budget has jumped from a meager $200,000 in 1972 to $95 million today.
As the architect of this success, Wright has played a pivotal role that does, indeed, seem “familial” — more like a relationship than a routine career. And his long association with HPU appears more than mere chance.
“I have a little story,” he confides. “It’s like serendipity.”
He goes on to relate an amazing coincidence of dates: his Sept. 17, 1941 birthday, the Sept. 17, 1965 founding of Hawaii Pacific, his Sept. 17, 1972 start date, his Sept. 17, 1976 promotion to president and his impending Sept. 17, 2009 retirement. “The last one is the only one I can actually control,” he laughs.
This peculiar pattern makes some sense when you consider the connection Wright has shared with the university for more than three decades.
“Very few people get the opportunity to do what I’ve done,” says Wright. “I’m very grateful that this was my personal mission, and that weds me to it.”
Wright grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., the son of a rancher/farmer and journalist, and attended public schools there until transferring to Robert Louis Stevenson School, a private school in Pebble Beach, Calif. Wright admits to not having “much of a direction” back then and, even in college, cycled through a series of majors, including engineering, enology (the study of winemaking) and, finally, political science before earning a baccalaureate degree from University of California-Davis.
“I did manage to graduate in eight semesters,” he acknowledges.
It was then that life took a turn in an entirely new direction. Long fascinated by Africa and the adventures of outdoorsmen like Ernest Hemingway, Wright joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in 1963. For two years, he served as an agronomist in the West African Republic of Guinea, helping the community maximize its production of cotton and sugar cane.
“I did it almost whimsically,” says Wright of signing on. “I wasn’t bent on being a do-gooder and saving the world — though I’m all for that — but that wasn’t my mission.”
Coming from a relatively small community, Wright found his time in Africa “a very broadening experience.” It also offered the impressionable young man his first glimpse — a “vision” almost — of a global society with vast resources and universal potential.
“At the time, I didn’t say, ‘Oh, I’m having a vision,’” he laughs. But the experience had a profound impact that led to a personal realization, as well.
“I had an ability to relate to people — people of all different backgrounds — and I really enjoyed that,” he explains.
Wright’s move to Hawaii was also much of a whim. He had several friends who had settled here and thought he’d check it out.
“It’s where Occident meets Orient,” says Wright of its mystique. “I thought I’d stay for a short period, but I fell in love with Hawaii.”
His parents were less enthused with his destination. “The image of Hawaii was surf and sand. They thought I was rather irresponsible and wondered why I didn’t pursue something of a more serious nature.”
Of course, the years would prove them wrong.
“But it took awhile,” he concedes with a laugh.
Before joining HPU, Wright held a series of “serious” jobs that would make any parents proud: president and CEO of The Queen’s Health Systems, administrator of manpower for the City and County of Honolulu, and economist for the state of Hawaii, among them.
In 1972, Wright joined HPU as its founding business administration dean. In the early years thereafter, he had another vision of sorts.
“I got a sense of the opportunity to build something here,” he remembers. “I recognized this for the first time after three years at HPU. I was 35 approaching 40 before I realized what I was doing. Before then, I just worried about meeting my mortgage and paying bills.”
After that, the future became clear for Wright, who was named president in 1976. “This was my thing — I was fused with this mission to build HPU.”
“Educating for a global citizenship” became Wright’s mantra. But not everyone shared this vision of a “global experience” for HPU students, Wright admits. “This was a new concept that not everyone embraced. The first thing I had to do was sell the idea. I met resistance from all different people — people who had other visions for the university.”
Wright was resolute, inspired by his time in Africa as well as his experiences in Hawaii, itself a prototype of this vision. “We have citizens of different races, origins, who get married, have children, creating an interracial, intercultural society that is open and adaptive.”
Wright traveled throughout Asia — Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Indonesia — and beyond to India, Burma and Pakistan. “I talked to prospective students, they became interested and came here — the school just grew.”
And by leaps and bounds. It’s 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students represent a targeted one-third each international, Mainland U.S. and Hawaii students. Swedish students comprise the largest sector of the European contingent, says Wright, who attributes this to an HPU alumna who staffs an office in Stockholm. The university also has staff in Bangkok to oversee Asia, and a specialist who handles enrollment for Germany and Austria.
To Wright’s knowledge, HPU was the first college or university to adopt this global vision — there was no other model. “We are a model now,” he says.
The end product? Graduates prepared for the world at large.
“The typical HPU student who graduates with a business or liberal arts degree could go to Singapore, London, San Francisco or Honolulu to work,” says Wright.
It’s rare in this day and age to stay with one company for so many years — 33 to be exact. “It’s very simple,” Wright says, “I couldn’t find another job.”
All joking aside, Wright says it’s the challenge of change that’s kept things fresh. “Every year is different,” he states.
Retirement does loom on the horizon, however. “I’ll be 68 in four years, and I’m preparing for that,” he says, explaining that HPU will launch an international search two years prior. Deciding on his successor will involve many constituents — trustees, faculty and staff among them. Surprisingly, Wright expresses no anxiety over changing of the guard.
“There’ll be new people, new vision, new ways,” he states simply.
The father of three grown children and grandfather of four, Wright looks forward to the extra time to spend with his wife, Janice, family and friends. Travel is a passion — “I’ve been to every continent except Antarctica “— as is bird hunting, fishing, playing tennis and enjoying good food and wine.
This summer, he and Janice headed first to New York, then to Austria — where he planned to get in some trout fishing — and then on to Florence, Italy. The couple travels there regularly so that Janice can pick up goods for her thriving business, the Wright Collection. Her Swarovski-studded evening bags and beaded accessories are available in boutiques, resort shops and by special order throughout the world.
Wright believes that a passion for what you do is the secret to success — not money.
“If you go into something for financial gain, you won’t have your heart in it and you won’t do very well. If you’re good at what you do, money will follow.”
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