Wish Spotlight: Make-A-Wish Hawaii Board Chair Jeff Higashi
As senior vice president at First Hawaiian Bank (FHB) and Chair of the Board of Directors at Make-A-Wish Hawaii, Jeff Higashi is an accomplished leader in our community.
Over the past 30 years, he has gone from growing his skills in an entry-level accounting position at FHB to assisting in driving and shaping the company’s retail banking strategy. Given his background, it’s no surprise Jeff cites “analytical” as perhaps his most defining personality trait. Yet as he walks through the wings of the hospital meeting local keiki fighting for their health, Jeff’s other qualities shine through: compassion, humor, and humility.
During his most recent hospital visit, Jeff met 10-year-old Max, a Honolulu wish kid with a fascination for Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and dinosaurs. When Jeff learned Max can name a dinosaur for each letter of the alphabet, he put him to the test; though he couldn’t stump him, the two quickly bonded. Jeff learned that Max’s one true wish is to take a selfie with a quokka, an Australian marsupial with a winning smile. “He’s an amazing young man,” says Jeff. “As soon as I engaged with him, I knew he had to be on this wish.”
In the eight years Jeff has been involved with Make-A-Wish Hawaii, he has watched the organization grow from granting about 30 local wishes for kids like Max each year to nearly 100. And in that time, Jeff has grown as well. In addition to serving on the board in various capacities, he has advised both the wish granting and finance committees and worked directly with several local families as a volunteer.
“I’ve changed over time to be certainly more amiable, to have more empathy, to proactively focus on listening and truly get to know people,” he says.
When Jeff was appointed Board Chair last fall, he was ready for the challenge. He is now tasked with guiding more than 40 Board and Young Leaders Board colleagues, nearly 30 staff, and over 700 volunteers statewide in the organization’s vision to grant life-changing wishes to every eligible child in Hawaii.
“If ever called to serve, it’s not a hard decision,” says Jeff. “I always want to do the best not only for our organization but for the team that’s here creating magic every day. The time is right to step up and take a larger leadership role.”
Among his many goals for the organization, Jeff hopes to further engage his fellow board members in the power of a wish by encouraging them to develop and utilize their unique skills to change lives.
“I want to continue to have a learning mindset and encourage the team to recharge and bring that energy back to the organization and share it,” he says. “In thinking about my particular leadership style, the one word that comes to mind is ‘present’—mindful of our team, our environment, and our common goal.”
Having worked closely with Jeff over the years, Make-A-Wish Hawaii’s Director of Mission Delivery Kari Bogner is excited to see where his leadership will take the organization. Says Kari, “This mission is woven into his spirit. He is an incredible advocate and embodies the best of all that we do here at Make-A-Wish.”