Frank Robinson, president and owner Island Events
Frank Robinson had two epiphanies that prompted him to found Island Events, a luxury-based, boutique-style destination management company (DMC) that plans both private getaways and corporate retreats for visitors to the Valley Isle and beyond. The first happened while he was reading Pacific Edge. Robinson admired the gumption and creativity of the local entrepreneurs it featured, and he thought if they could venture out on their own, then he could too.
The second revelation came during a session with his therapist. For months he had mulled over the possibility of starting his own business, but instead of doing it, he brought up every possible negative outcome. Finally, he was asked to consider what would happen if it was a success, and for some reason, it clicked.
After years of never finding the right fit, never finding the right job at the right time, he finally sailed into the great unknown as a business owner. Since founding Island Events in 2009, the journey of carving an identity in his own company has been challenging but overwhelmingly rewarding, and he couldn’t be happier.
“I built this company to be a reflection of me,” Robinson says. “Now that it is and continues to be a reflection of me, it’s taking on its own identity. People see our work and how we treat other people, and, more often than not, the response is, ‘Oh my god, that’s so you.’”
Robinson’s path to Island Events was paved over a long, diverse career in hospitality on the mainland and in Hawai‘i. Over the course of more than 20 years in the business, including stints at The Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and Kualoa Ranch, the Boston native carved out a dynamic career full of hands-on experiences and an openness to new endeavors. He was armed with a variety of skillsets that he now utilizes as president and owner of Island Events.
He’s been a catering director. He’s worked for other destination management companies. He’s been a general manager and had to deal with mountains of paperwork, contracts and other administrative minutiae. But handling all facets of a business—insurance, taxes, bookkeeping, accounting, business permits and more—was “scary” and difficult, and ultimately took him away from what he is best at—planning events. Eventually Robinson realized that he and the company would be better off if he gave up some control. For a self-professed micromanager, that’s easier said than done, but Robinson had to learn to not only know his own strengths, but accept his weaknesses, too.
“A lot of that stuff doesn’t come naturally to me,” Robinson says with a laugh. “But the only way to run and grow the company is to learn how to do those things, and I believe most entrepreneurs will tell you they’ve had to do things they’re not comfortable with.”
The company now has four full-time employees and more than two-dozen part-time staff. Over time, Robinson has learned to trust his team, knowing that if he empowers them to do their jobs, they will thrive. He often asks employees what they like to do in hopes that they will find their niche and thrive in their work.
“He knows what he’s good at, but he definitely recognizes where he [can pull from others people’s] strengths,” says Dawn Kawauchi, Island Events’ systems and operations manager, who has known Robinson for 10 years.
“That’s how he built the team. And it’s not just surrounding himself with people who are good at what they do, but [finding people who are] passionate about those things.”
Now he can focus on what he enjoys the most—working with customers and planning events, focusing all his attention on the details that make his company excel. “We create memories,” Robinson says. “We try to create experiences that make people happy.”
The company is growing faster than even Robinson imagined. He was the state’s first Destination Management Certified Professional, an internationally recognized certification in the industry. Island Events recently hosted its largest event, a five-day program for 350 people, and is now bidding on a program for 750 people, a number that would have been out of the company’s reach just a few years ago.
Under Robinson’s leadership, Island Events has become a leader in the DMC industry in the Hawaiian Islands.
But Robinson isn’t settling in just yet. His vision, which led him to starting the company in the first place, includes continuing to push the envelope of what Island Events can accomplish and become in the future. “He’s very aware of where we stand as a business, where we need to be going, how we need to diversify internally to be able to get there, and he’s conscious of it all the time,” Kawauchi says. “He’s looking ahead of the curve.”