From left: Chris Stanley, Dr. Michael Valdez, DBAS Vice President Jason Betham, and Justin Hijeck in front of Rainmaker Mountain, Pago Pago, American Samoa
Palm trees, gorgeous water, amazing scenery with a beautiful culture and plenty of work…
My name is Justin Hijeck, Class of 2000 (B.A. Economics) and M.B.A. candidate December 2010 with a concentration in International Business. I returned to graduate school full time after nine years in a corporate culture where I managed a one-hundred and three million dollar asset based portfolio and, in a different role, managed a territory responsible for generating upwards of one-hundred million dollars in gross sales.
This summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Development Bank of American Samoa (DBAS) as part of the Stillman School's MBA program. This collaborative US Department of the Interior funded project brought together DBAS, the Stillman School and the University of Hawaii's Shidler College of Business. One individual from each respective university's MBA program was chosen and together, Chris Stanley (University of Hawaii) and I were tasked with creating DBAS's 2010 Strategic Plan. Interviewing and gathering data from internal and external stakeholders of DBAS was crucial as the project covered all aspects of the bank, both internally and externally. There are many people who were instrumental in the success of this inaugural internship and the project was made possible by the Development Bank of American Samoa (specifically President Lolo Moliga, Vice President Jason Betham and Grant Writer / Financial Analyst Jilla Piroozmandi) with grant funding from the United States Department of the Interior and support from Dr. Karen Boroff, professor and dean emeritus of the Stillman School, Dr. Larry McCarthy, director of the Institute of International Business, and Dr. Michael Valdez, assistant professor of management.
Rebuilding a Community
To help paint the picture, American Samoa was devastated by several tsunami waves on September 29, 2009, which were triggered by a magnitude 8.0 earthquake and was declared a major disaster by the United States government. The Development Bank of American Samoa building was completely submerged underwater; and lost everything, the computer systems (which were fortunately backed up offsite), customer files with loan documentation, etc. You really gain a different perspective when seeing the devastation first hand, understanding the force necessary to inflict this level of destruction. The project was not just about strategy, streamlining business and increasing profitability; it was about rebuilding a community.
Preparation for the Work Ahead
Pago Pago Harbor, American Samoa
Initially, when Dr. Michael Valdez mentioned this opportunity, I thought it would be a
wonderful opportunity and great experience; however, nothing had yet been finalized. Dr. Valdez and I would speak regularly and he would provide updates on the internship status. It wasn't until March 2010 that Dr. Valdez advised me I had been chosen as the Seton Hall representative. There were many virtual meetings (i.e., using Webex) between Dr. Valdez, myself, Chris Stanley and DBAS prior to leaving for the internship at the end of May. These meetings were used to prepare for the work to be completed in Hawaii and in American Samoa.
Learning the Language and Culture
On May 30, I departed New Jersey to begin my Pacific Island adventure. The first stop of my internship brought me to Honolulu, Hawaii. There was plenty of work to be completed while we were in Hawaii and the first order of business was Samoan Language and Culture lessons which were graciously donated by the Le Fetuao Samoan Language School, founded and directed by Dr. Elisapeta Tu'upo-Alaimaleata. We were instructed by Dr. John Mayer, chairperson of the Department of Indo-Pacific Language and Literature at the University of Hawaii, who was so giving of his time. We benefitted tremendously from his expertise and use of the language lab. Papali'i Dr. Tusi Avegalio, a Samoan chief and director of the Pacific Business Center Program (PBCP) at the University of Hawaii, provided additional cultural insight and was a wonderful resource while we were in Hawaii. His on-island contacts in American Samoa were also invaluable.
The Work Begins
Justin Hijeck in front of Rainmaker Mountain, Pago Pago, American Samoa
Also while in Honolulu, we interviewed numerous external stakeholders who
provide grants and funding to DBAS in order to assist in the furthering of their mission. For example, we met with Gail Fujita, economic development representative for Hawaii and the outer Pacific at the United States Economic Development Administration (EDA); additionally, we also interviewed Thao Khamoui, area director and Shirley Heatherly, area specialist, both of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Rural Development. These meetings marked the beginning of the internship's data gathering phase.
We arrived in American Samoa the night of June 3 for six weeks and work began the following day. There was much to be accomplished in a very short stay. Dr. Valdez was on-island with us for two weeks and then had to depart; however, we had weekly Webex meetings to update him on the status and were always in constant communication. These meetings even took place while Dr. Valdez was attending a conference in Brazil.
As part of our research, we prepared our questions for the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis which were custom tailored for each specific audience. We interviewed all of the DBAS employees in addition to many external stakeholders on-island including: the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce members, Lydia Faleafine-Nomura of the Office of Insular Affairs which is part of the United States Department of the Interior, Lia Wilson who is the on-island area specialist for the USDA and Lelei Peau, the deputy director of the American Samoa Government Department of Commerce. Dr. C.L. Cheshire, senior business development manager for the PBCP, provided valuable insight and information at our many informal meetings in addition to Kuki Avegalio, the local on-island agriculture expert for American Samoa.
Writing the Strategic Plan
Elementary school hit by a tsunami wave in American Samoa
We began writing the strategic plan after approximately five weeks of gathering data. At this point in the internship, I approached DBAS's vice president, Jason Betham, about gathering data from other islands (i.e., either Tau or Ofu in American Samoa or Upolu in Independent Samoa). We decided that it would be beneficial for Chris and me to fly to Independent Samoa, a neighboring country, to interview key individuals within the government and gather data that would assist us in several of our feasibility studies. We interviewed President Falefa Lima of the Development Bank of Samoa as well as Tony Lepua and Eira Ellisara of the Samoa Tourism Authority in the capital city of Apia. Additionally, the time restrictions of the internship under the grant were specific, which allowed us to tie in several days of "cultural immersion" in Independent Samoa in which we explored the islands of Upolu and Savai'i (Savai'i is the third largest island in Polynesia). This extra trip was a welcome relief as it allowed time for us to decompress, formulate our thoughts and prepare our approach of the deliverables, those being the 2010 Strategic Plan and a PowerPoint presentation for the DBAS executive and management teams prior to our departure from American Samoa on July 15. Chris and I knew that several of our recommendations would be unpopular with individuals of the organization. We addressed the recommendations by advising the DBAS executives and management that we came into the project unbiased, only wanting to gather the data, analyze the data and make appropriate recommendations for the purposes of ensuring long-term organizational sustainability.
I departed American Samoa the night of July 15, and I arrived in Newark July 17 just before noon - 17 hours of flying over two days crossing seven time zones can certainly wear you down. Chris and I allowed time for DBAS executives and management to provide revision recommendations and this time also allowed us to finalize the Strategic Plan after arriving back to Hawaii and New York, respectively. The final DBAS 2010 Strategic Plan will be delivered to the United States Department of the Interior.
Justin Hijeck at Fatumafuti, American Samoa
One recommendation made in the strategic plan was based on a feasibility study I conducted with calculations for a real estate project in which DBAS has majority ownership in a prime piece of real estate that is currently not utilized. This included construction costs, break even points, and rental income generated per square foot over periods of five, ten, fifteen and twenty years. I also conducted a financial analysis of DBAS's existing loan portfolio to determine potential income opportunities for the bank based on different combinations of net interest margin increases and hypothetical increases in their asset portfolio. Another recommendation we made was that funding be secured next year for two more interns, each intern would fall under one (of three) specific areas of expertise: accounting, human resources or information technology with each of the two interns specialized in a different discipline.
We knew from the onset that we had to set the bar very high on this inaugural internship program to ensure the continued funding in the future. The final count was that we interviewed upwards of fifty-two individuals between Hawaii, American Samoa and Independent Samoa. Everyone did a great job on bringing two very capable individuals together, who had never met before, for a common goal.
A Wonderful Life Experience
Justin Hijeck at Fatumafuti, American Samoa
My personal goal was to leave more than I took in this learning experie
nce for the future progression and sustainability of DBAS and of American Samoa. This was truly a wonderful life experience and a rare opportunity that few, if any, other MBA programs make available to their students. This opportunity significantly enhanced my Stillman MBA program experience.
I have come to miss the untouched island paradise in the South Pacific from which I have just returned with many fond memories of the beautiful Samoan cultural and its people. Thank you to everyone who supported the project from the beginning and I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the key individuals in Hawaii and American Samoa. Fa'afetai le fa'aaloalo.
Note: Although next year's internship is still undetermined, please contact Dr. Valdez for more information.
For more information please contact:
Michael Valdez, Ph.D.