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2012 National Minority Small Business Person of the Year
Kaleo Nawahine grew up in a very secure home on the Island of Oahu, the son of an educator and a nurse. He spent his youth surrounded by his extended family enjoying all the regular activities available to Hawaiian children. Education was emphasized in his home so there was never any doubt in his mind that upon graduation from high school he would go to college and eventually find a secure job of his own.
Just as he had scripted, the calculating Nawahine earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and his master’s in engineering management from Brigham Young University in Utah. Fresh out of college, Kaleo landed his first job as a project manager with a manufacturing company in rural Fruitland, Idaho. After two years, he accepted a position as a project manager with a cement and building materials manufacturer and over the next five years, Kaleo had the opportunity to get acquainted with many of his entrepreneurial clients.
“As I interacted with our customers, I began to notice their quality of life and potential for true financial security. It didn’t take long for me to start reevaluating my personal paradigms regarding risk verses reward,’ stated Kaleo. “I don’t come from an entrepreneurial background, but talking with these folks really opened my eyes to the possibilities outside of the corporate structure.”
Once Nawahine made the decision to move forward, it took less than one week for him to identify a business venture. “My opportunity came in the form of a partnership in an industry I knew nothing about, but I was ready for a change,” said Kaleo. “After working day and night for two years to build this business, we sold it and I basically broke even. It was a very exciting time.”
The lessons Kaleo learned in those two years proved to be invaluable as he went forward. First, he knew he wanted to own another business and second, he would probably be more successful if he worked in an industry where he could take advantage of his education and construction experience.
Once again it didn’t take long for Nawahine to unearth another business venture, buying into a small construction company, Performance System, Inc. (PSI) in 2004. Unlike his previous partnership, this opportunity fit his skill set perfectly.
“Having gone through the process before, it was easy to make the determination to move forward with the purchase,” said Kaleo. “And shortly after buying into the partnership, I ended up acquiring the remaining interest.”
Seeking to find a market niche, Nawahine decided to target municipal and industrial projects since they required technical complexities that would limit the number of competitors. Soon, PSI established a reputation as an excellent general contractor with decent bonding capacity.
Within one year, PSI was awarded State of Idaho contracts and began to pursue federal projects in the local market. It was at this point Kaleo, a native Hawaiian, heard about the SBA 8(a) Business Development program. Although PSI was doing well, Kaleo was intrigued by the business development aspect of the program and was also looking for avenues to open new markets.
Late in 2005, Performance Systems was certified and the firm has grown steadily ever since. “The 8(a) program has helped PSI diversify in the federal marketplace, but we still maintain our core competency in municipal projects in the local area,” noted Kaleo.
Remaining true to the business principles he learned from his previous experiences and his innate analytical nature, Nawahine has steadily grown PSI. Now, along with their company headquarters in Fruitland, Idaho, PSI maintains offices in Washington and Hawaii with 78 employees.
“It’s been a great journey so far. Our offices in Idaho and Washington have been our bread and butter, and it’s exciting to have our operations in Hawaii taking off. I love the Idaho lifestyle, and it’s a great place to raise my family. But, I like supporting the economy in my native Hawaii and look forward to expanding PSI’s presence on the Islands,” concluded Nawahine.
With roots in the pacific and experience from the mainland, the future of Performance Systems seems as bright as the tropical sun.