Matthew S. Delaney, chief executive officer/president of The Hawaii Group, is not yet 40, but has already lived long enough to have survived testicular cancer, the hospitality sector’s downturn after Sept. 11, 2001, and the real estate meltdown.
Friends and colleagues describe Delaney as someone who gets knocked down and gets back up to face another challenge.
Matthew "Matt" S. Delaney
» Age: 39
"The guy battled cancer, but you never see him get down," said his business partner Scott Meichtry. "In business and in life you are constantly challenged. His approach is always positive and proactive."
Though Delaney owned his first hotel at 26 and was chief executive officer of the 22-property, 1,000-employee Marc Resorts by 29, his talent and drive were not enough to keep cancer at bay or to ensure that Hawaii hotels would be viable after the 9/11 attacks or that large resort real estate projects could keep their funding after the Lehman Bros. collapse. Yet he’s still going strong.
After spending the bulk of his career in the cyclical hospitality and real estate industries, Delaney decided to join Meichtry last year in starting up a professional employer organization (PEO) and marketing company called The Hawaii Group. The company’s four brands — HiHR, HiAccounting, HiEmployment and HiMRK — cater to about 120 businesses and their 1,300 employees. The family of companies, which has grown in just one year to become the isles’ third-largest PEO behind Altres and ProService Hawaii, offers outsourcing, human resources and health benefits administration, payroll, accounting, workers’ compensation, risk management, business insurance and marketing.
"You can’t be afraid to fail," said Delaney, who has learned a thing or two about resilience in his 39 years.
Delaney, who moved to Hawaii in 1997 with his wife, Karen, was living a charmed life before cancer struck. He was a thriving young entrepreneur making big-time hotel deals and growing the California-based student travel company called Summer Winter Action Tours, or SWAT, that he started in his off-time as an accountant.
When he took over Marc Resorts, he became one of the youngest chief executive officers in the hospitality business. His success took him to Japan for a year, where he acquired five more resorts. Just a few months later, Delaney underwent surgery and radiation at the Queen’s Medical Center. Meanwhile, he continued growing his business and his family.
"You just do what you have to do," said Delaney, who is known for his 18-hour workdays and 3 a.m. text messages.
Then, 9/11 hit and devalued his hotel properties. Delaney regrouped by branching out into large-scale residential resort development and launching a guerrilla and social marketing arm for his youth travel company. SWAT Marketing now caters to clients ranging from Billabong to the well-known energy drink Rockstar. However, in late 2008, after the credit crunch stalled five of his projects, Delaney found himself at a critical career juncture.
"I wasn’t sure what I was going to do," Delaney said. "My wife and I loved it here, but we began to think about moving back to California where we wouldn’t have to pay for private education for two kids or face Hawaii’s expensive housing and cost of living."
Delaney joined forces with Meichtry to tackle Hawaii’s underserved PEO market. The company, which employs 20 in Hawaii and takes up a floor of the Imperial Plaza, hit profitability this year.
A few months into the startup, Delaney said it was gratifying when his wife said, "It looks like we are staying here for good."
The owners still have not taken salaries, but they spend around $50,000 a year on daily snacks, beverages and lunches for employees. Workers, who have access to pingpong and foosball tables, can bring their kids to work.
Delaney also gives back to the community by championing causes such as Special Olympics, the Queen’s Health Systems, the Queen’s Medical Center, Queen Emma Land Co., the Outrigger Canoe Club, Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association, Hawaii Hotel Foundation and the Waikiki Improvement Association.
"He applies a very practical, no-nonsense business entrepreneur approach to our nonprofit mission," said Mark Yamakawa, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Queen’s Health Systems and the Queen’s Medical Center. "He has more than given back to our organization."