D'Olier well suited for new role with Kaneohe Ranch. ©Simplicio Paragas
By Powell Berger
Talk with Mitch D’Olier and three things are immediately clear. One, the man doesn’t have an “off” switch; two, dialogue is his secret weapon; and three, the man knows how to get things done. D’Olier is finally taking a few moments to reflect, having just completed the transaction selling Kaneohe Ranch’s Kailua portfolio to Alexander & Baldwin for a tidy $323 million, then stepping down from his perch as president and CEO of Kaneohe Ranch, assuming instead a more “part time” role as chairman of Kaneohe Ranch and the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation.
D’Olier’s imprint on Hawaii’s business and development world spans 40 years, first as a young attorney with Goodsill Anderson, then as development guru where he cut his teeth on the Kakaako Ward project and finally in Kailua, where he spent the last dozen years redefining community in this quirky windward town.
When taking on the Kailua project in 2002, D’Olier and his wife, Bambi, briefly considered moving from their east Honolulu home to Kailua. “We were looking at this terrific home on Dune Circle,” Mitch recalls, “when the next door neighbor walked out to say hello.” It was Don Bremner, a longtime anti-development activist specifically focused on Kakaako and Kailua. “Thank goodness he was home that day!” Mitch and Bambi stayed put, while Mitch took ribbing from Kailua’s anti-development community that he needed a work permit to commute back and forth every day.
“I love the passion of the Kailua people,” Mitch says.
His Kailua development hinged on a community-based planning process, with six town-hall type meetings over 18 months. “We got to know our customers, our neighbors,” he recalls. “They told us they wanted to shop here; they wanted a pedestrian-friendly community and they wanted it to reflect Hawaii.”
Those standards became the foundation on which today’s Kailua is built. The new Whole Foods has become a gathering spot for Kailuans, nestled in among mature trees that the Outdoor Circle insisted be saved against a backdrop of Hamakua Hillside.
Now semi-retired, D’Olier looks ahead to the next chapter. In his new role as chairman of Kaneohe Ranch and the Foundation, his time is split between managing the Ranch’s mainland assets and leading the Foundation’s extensive philanthropic work to close the gap between under-resourced kids and economically-stable children in windward Oahu. “We believe great leaders can transform schools, transform education,” D’Olier says. “We believe strong public education can transform the world.”
What about the rest of the time? Aside from a bucket list trip to Bhutan coming up in April, D’Olier isn’t embracing the concept of leisure retirement. “Bambi told me once she gets nervous if I’m hanging around the house after 9 a.m.,” he says. It’s unlikely she’ll have to worry. Between his work with Malama Moanalua, a project focused on sustaining Moanalua Bay, and his deep passion for education reform well beyond his day job, there’s little time left for golf.
An active volunteer leader with Teach for America Hawaii, his passion focuses on building a cadre of teachers with high expectations for Hawaii’s keiki. Covering all the education bases, he also recently became he newest member of the Charter School Commission.
D’Olier is results driven. When talking about Maunalua Bay, his purpose is clear. “I want my kids’ kids to fish in that bay.”
The D’Oliers are deeply rooted in their Niu community, with no plans to go anywhere anytime soon. A longtime soccer and basketball coach in the community, his former athletes still roam those streets. “I go into Longs and a monstrous young man comes up and bear hugs me and says ‘Hey coach!’” For D’Olier, it doesn’t get much better than that.