The full interview with Honolulu real estate developer BJ Kobayashi. The edited version was published in the Honolulu Advertiser December 2007, and is no longer available online.
What I’m Reading | BJ Kobayashi
President, CEO Kobayashi Group
Q&A with Christine Thomas
Published in the Honolulu Advertiser December 2007
-What are you reading?
I just finished a book and a monograph—both I really enjoyed. The monograph is “Good to Great and the Social Sectors” by Jim Collins. It’s only about 40 pages. It was assigned for me to read as member of the board of Hanahau`oli School … It’s a complement to “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t,” by a Stanford professor, about what differentiates good companies from great companies in the private sector. So this is about taking good nonprofits and differentiating them from great nonprofits. I just finished another book I bought in the airport in LA and it’s called “All the Money in the World.” It’s basically a book about the Forbes 400 past and present.
-Do you usually pick up books while traveling, or find them through work?
It’s a combination. Many times I’m in an airport and pick up a book or two. I also go on Yahoo a lot and they have good recommendations on what to read. I read a lot on finance and investing and a lot on nonprofits. My reading is sporadic. Sometimes I’ll read a few books in the span of a week and then none for a few weeks.
-Is your reading list for pleasure or work, or both?
It’s just what I’m interested in. Investing is a hobby of mine; it’s not directly related to what I do in real estate. It’s interesting to me to hear about how different people in different industries became successful.
-What do you like about these books?
The monograph probably has more meaning to me because philanthropy is really big in my life and I believe wholeheartedly in giving back to the community and making it strong. In a selfish way that helps the giver, but also the community who needs support.
This monograph gives a step-by-step approach to people who work at nonprofits. In business there is input of money and output of money, and in many cases that’s how the success of a business is measured. Among many concepts described is that in nonprofits, money is going in but on the way out it’s not really money but the delivery of a service that benefits the community. Too many times when you’re sitting on the board of a nonprofit the discussion is about how much money you raise, and that’s how they measure their success, but if they focused more on what makes an organization really stand out and what the people in the organization do very well—if you focus on that, the natural byproduct will be that the organization will be able to help more people and raise more money. When I read this I incorporated that in the nonprofits I participate in, where I could.
-This book obviously connects to your philanthropy, but does it also influence your thinking about the real estate business?
There is a connection there because obviously if you have that same principle as to what makes your company special and great, and focus on that and not the output of money, it would makes sense that would result in greater returns on your investment. But there’s a lot more pressure to really focus on the monetary output of a project in the real estate business, because quite frankly there’s more at stake because you spend more time on your business than on your nonprofit. And it’s business and it’s competitive, but there’s a stronger connection to focus on returns. In a nonprofit when you’re raising money usually some of the biggest donors are going to want to be sure you’re viable, but it’s the story that’s going to inspire them to give.
-Does reading hone your analytical skills, like reading the real estate market for new opportunities?
Not as much. Certainly I do read for my business and that’s a good source of information. But usually when you’re reading it everyone’s got it—they’ve got the same PBN or Advertiser article. Usually in my business—it’s a highly fractured business so usually it’s about relationships and talking to people.