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Nominee sees big challenges

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Richard Lim always has been at the forefront of Hawaii business.

But after more than 30 years of experience in banking and financial services, Lim was ready for a new challenge and the opportunity to make a difference in the state’s future.



Richard Lim has been appointed director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Here is his background:
» Age: 59
» Previous positions: Managing director and co-founder of Honolulu-based merchant banking firm Sennet Capital LLC, senior vice president of mortgage banking for Central Pacific Bank, president and chief operating officer of City Bank
» Nonprofit boards and commissions: Hawaii Technology Development Venture Board, Korean American Foundation, Chaminade University Board of Governors
» Education: Chaminade University (M.B.A.), Santa Clara University (B.A.)

"When I read the New Day in Hawaii plan, I knew I wanted to get involved," said Lim, 59, the newly appointed director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. "I think most people would agree that Hawaii needs to make fundamental changes to meet the challenges that we will face as our population ages. But no one had a plan other than cutting costs to balance the budget."

That’s where Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s New Day in Hawaii plan came in.

"I got excited and asked how I could help make it a reality," Lim said. "And somehow I ended up at DBEDT, right in the middle of it."

Abercrombie’s appointment of Lim, who resigned as managing director of merchant banker Sennet Capital LLC, must be confirmed by the state Senate. But Lim is already immersed in his job, attending daylong meetings.

While Lim acknowledges that his financial background is important in helping him assess the feasibility of various programs and initiatives, he said he has quickly learned that the director’s position requires a lot more than business acumen.

"The ability to work collaboratively with a wide variety of people with disparate views is critical to building the consensus required to make meaningful progress on economic initiatives," Lim said.

Four years ago, Lim and Kenton Eldridge co-founded Sennet Capital to help Hawaii companies with mergers and acquisitions, raising capital and planning.

Eldridge describes Lim as "an excellent taskmaster" with the ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously, as well as a team builder and a good teacher.

"He’s a visionary thinker," Eldridge said.

Lim was the president and chief operating officer of City Bank before it was taken over by rival Central Pacific Bank in September 2004. Lim worked for less than a year at Central Pacific as senior vice president of mortgage banking before leaving to start Sennet Capital.

Ron Migita, former chief executive officer of City Bank and the now-retired chairman of Central Pacific, said Lim will be "an excellent fit."

"Richard is a smart guy, very strategic in his thinking," Migita said. "He’s focused and has a lot of energy. Richard is very good at evaluating talent … and knows the local business community."

One of Lim’s priorities will be to move Hawaii forward in reducing its dependence on imported food and oil.

"We have an opportunity to help craft a new economy with energy independence as one of our core missions, but, of course, we first have to deal with the budget shortfall," Lim said. "Our core staffing is down by roughly 45 percent, so just fulfilling our basic responsibilities is challenging. I give the staff a lot of credit for stepping up to the plate because we are asking them to take on new initiatives with substantially reduced resources."

Lim succeeds former DBEDT Director Ted Liu, who was audited by the state and came under fire for the department’s financial practices, including how much state money was used for overseas trips and his decision to award a hydrogen investment fund contract to the lowest-rated bidder.

But Lim said he prefers to look forward.

"I’ll trust that the past is behind us," Lim said. "After all, this is a new administration and a new day in Hawaii."

Paul Casey, former president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines and the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, and a current partner at Sennet Capital, said Lim is financially savvy and is good at putting people and deals together.

"He will advance the cause of alternative energy even though he’s had no previous government experience," Casey said. "I think he’s a great fit for DBEDT, and having the support of a Democratic governor and Legislature means he can get some things done as well."

Lim said he is looking forward to working with Abercrombie.

"He’s fun to work for because he has a vision, he’s dynamic and he can get right to the heart of an issue in a heartbeat," Lim said.

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