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Makai HR Hawaii Business Owner Spotlight: Premier Restoration Hawaii

One of the best things about providing outsourced human resources services on Oahu is getting to know the local business owners and managers who run these companies. Hawaii’s diverse business community is close knit and teeming with talent. We hope you find their insights as interesting as we do!


For this Hawaii business owner spotlight, we interviewed Wayne Smith, president of Premier Restoration Hawaii. Here is the Q & A:


Q. What is Premier Restoration Hawaii?


A. “The Premier Restoration Hawaii mission is to help the people and businesses of Hawaii get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible after a disaster. With over 100 employees, we are one of Hawaii’s largest and most respected restoration and reconstruction companies. We work as a team to serve our community with compassion, respect and honor; always treating every emergency as if it were our own. Over the last 15 years, Premier – originally named Maui Fire & Flood – has been restoring homes and businesses that have been damaged from water, mold, wind, sewage, asbestos, fire and smoke. Click here for a full list of services. We provide 24/7 emergency service, 24-hour water removal and full-service home and residential restoration services. Premier Restoration Hawaii is a proud member of the Disaster Kleenup International (DKI) Network, the largest restoration contractor in North America.”


Q. What islands do you serve?


A. “Premier Restoration Hawaii is proud to serve Hawaii, with operations on the islands of Oahu and Maui and the recent addition of Kona Big Island. We have plans to expand to Kawaii next.”


Q. Describe your story and how it brought you to Premier Restoration Hawaii.


A. “I was raised in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida with blue collar parents. In fact, I was the first person to attend college in my family. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in business from the University of North Carolina. I always had a real desire to build a global business. After graduating, I went to work for a London investment bank over the summer. I learned two things about myself: 1. I did not want to be an investment banker and 2. I loved being abroad. From there I came back to Florida for two years, working as a consultant for Anderson Consulting in the transportation and travel management field. This job taught me how to be professional and how to attend meetings and it gave me a taste of traveling for work. I enjoyed the travel, crisscrossing the country every month. Next, I joined an industrial supply company in New Jersey for two years in their international program. Here I learned how to be a manager for people of all ages, including recruiting and performance management tasks. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had that experience. I loved it. When the owner encouraged me to pursue my potential, I applied to Harvard Business School to earn my MBA. After graduating, I joined a French multi-national cement and concrete company on the promise that after four years I would be assigned to an international role. My first assignment was in Detroit and I Ioved it there. Being in charge of cement distribution terminals across the Great Lakes - including Ontario, Canada – I learned to work in the framework of a fortune 500 company and how to manage people in unions. French companies believe in generalists (rather than specialists), so next I was rotated to Washington, D.C. and Atlanta into the sales and marketing department. After seeing me make a presentation, the C.E.O asked me to become an internal audit director in Malaysia with no accounting background. I spent three years in Malaysia; which turned out to be a pivotal point in my life. It was there that I met my wife. We’ve now been married almost 11 years and have a daughter. I built a team, hiring over 20 people from all around the world. I felt like I was bringing the United Nations into Comana Lumpur. It was incredible. I more than got my wish for an international career; I was flying all over the world. After Malaysia, we moved to Beijing, China where my wife started having breathing problems from the pollution. It was during this time that my wife and I started spending time in Hawaii to help with her health. We fell in love with Hawaii’s culture and people. We also found it to be a wonderful hybrid between the west and the east, which is ideal for our family. The company started having financial problems while we were in China. From there we moved to Paris to work at the head office. I was still traveling most of the week and it had become really challenging. I gained mergers and acquisition experience selling a lot of businesses but it was tiring and morbid. I was selling off the businesses with the teams that I had helped to build. I quit the company and moved to the UK to work for an equipment power generator company. I was tasked with expanding the business into a global market. I loved living in London but after three years, the travel became too much. From there, I shifted to a small, publicly listed company for two years. When it got taken over by a private company, I resigned and decided to move to Malaysia to chill out for a year. At the end of that year, we moved to Oahu for a couple of months to see what it would be like to live there and decided that it was the right fit. For the first time, I reached out to the Harvard Network and was introduced to Dustin Sellers and Chris Eldridge, managing partners at Premier Restoration Hawaii and KOA Capital Partners, LLC. We agreed that I would be a good fit as president of Premier Restoration Hawaii. I am tasked with upgrading the overall customer experience while expanding the company to all islands. I started August 1 and we have settled in really well.


Q. Why did you choose Premier Restoration Hawaii?


A. “I was looking for a Hawaii business that did some good in the world and that fit with my industrial background. I was also looking for a small to medium size company that I could help take to the next level while building and nurturing a team. I love the Premier mission and that we take the broken and the bad and rebuild homes and businesses to the way they were before a disaster. Our goal is to get the situation stable and restore lives. I am happy to be working with amazing people, including someone from Detroit. The company is pretty big but not fully matured. It’s at the right stage to be nurtured to grow again to reach all the islands.”


Q. What are the benefits and challenges of running a business in Hawaii?


A. Benefits: “Hawaii is a small community, which makes it easier to make an immediate impact and to see the results of your efforts pretty quickly. I find the focus on local companies really exciting (source from local companies, hire local workers). Building good relationships with your customers is big and special part of the Hawaii business community.

Challenges: “It’s a small community so you’re likely to see your customers in Costco and around town. You always need to be at your best. If you make a mistake; everyone will know.”


Q. Do you have a personal or professional motto?


A. “Walk into the fire; take action. The longer you wait to address a problem, the worse it’s going to get.”


Q. What is your greatest success and what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your business experiences?


A. Greatest success: “Being able to build a multi-disciplinary, multi-national team in Malaysia. I brought people in from all different backgrounds and cultures and turned them into a team that gelled really well. It taught me to be humble and it was a confidence boost. These team-building skills have really helped in my career.”

Greatest lesson: “You can have the best process or product or marketing but without the best people it’s not going to work. One of the challenges for businesses is how to hire the right people in a labor-constrained job market like Hawaii’s.”


From Makai HR President, Valerie Wang: “Wayne has an incredible story that we are very excited to share! With his MBA from Harvard and operational work experience spanning Europe, South East Asia, and the U.S., Mr. Smith brings a global, yet highly pragmatic work style to Premier. We are excited to see the impact that Premier Restoration HI will continue to make with Wayne at the helm. Premier Restoration Hawaii was one of Makai HR’s first clients and we are proud to provide them with outsourced HR services.”


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