POIPU — After a month as president of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce, Mark Perriello has been asked one question more than any other:
“What is your vision for the chamber?”
As he admits, he doesn’t really give an answer.
And there’s a reason for that.
“From my perspective, the vision will come with each conversation that I have with you, with every meal and bread we break together, every cup of coffee that we share, that vision will become more clear,” he said. “I said it before and I’ll say it again: Now is not necessarily my time to speak. It is my time to listen.”
Perriello gave a short but passionate talk to about 250 people at the chamber’s third quarter meeting Thursday at the Sheraton Kauai Resort.
He said while some might wonder, with his background in politics and coming from Washington, D.C. where he worked on the staffs of U.S. senators and in the White House under President Barack Obama’s first administration, if he is the right person to lead the Kauai chamber, he assured the group he was.
“I can absolutely guarantee you that my priorities are your priorities,” he said. “The future of this chamber is going to be something we build together.”
Perriello was the president and CEO for the American Association of People with Disabilities before arriving on Kauai in August. He was selected following a nationwide search and replaced Randy Francisco, who resigned earlier this year after 10 years as chamber president accepted a post with the County of Kauai.
He said Washington, D.C., is a tough town, where gridlock is common and where people worry about their next job and climbing the career ladder. Respect and aloha are not high on priority lists there.
“There are a lot of people who are there because they believe in America and they’re doing the right things and they’re working hard every day so I don’t want to take that away from them,” Perriello said. “But let me let you, I have left that world behind. To come, to be with you in Hawaii, to be with you here on Kauai, because this place is special.”
“I come here like so many people, looking for a new way of life, looking for a better way of life,” he said.
His welcome, he said, has been wonderful. People have greeted him warmly, asked him out for coffee, called to wish him well, stopped by to say hello and even invited him to play disc golf.
“And that to me is not just about the chamber. It’s about this family that you have built around this chamber. It’s something very unique. It’s attracting people to the organization.”
He praised Caroline Manera Texeira, chamber vice president, for making his transition so smooth.
“She is the rock of this organization,” Perriello said.
Since taking on his new role, he’s traded in his three-piece suits for aloha shirts, found a place to live in Waimea, and gone to work. The chamber has provided testimony before the county council on taxes and transportation, met with council chair Mel Rapozo to talk about barking dogs and Puhi Road, helped out with a small business fair, held two Business After Hours events and sent out information about activities around the island.
When people ask him if he is enjoying the slow pace of Kauai, Perriello asks what they’re talking about.
“It has not been slow at all,” he said, as the crowd laughed. “That is the chamber you all have been. A chamber where people are engaged, a chamber where people are working hard every day to represent businesses, to network and showcase.”
He emphasized his plans to meet with as many people as possible in the coming months so everyone can be part of its vision. No matter the size or influence of a business, everyone will have a say in the chamber’s future, he said.
“I’m going to be listening. I’m going to be reaching out to you all, to have those conversations, to learn what your hopes and dreams are for the island, for the chamber and for the future,” he said. “And only then will we work together to come up with that vision, because it needs to be a vision that we’re all a part of. That is something that I feel so strongly about.”
To close his talk, Perriello expressed his gratitude.
“I’m grateful to be here. I believe very much in servant leadership. That is what you can expect from me in the future,” he said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this opportunity.”