By Mark Lester E. Ranchez
Jeoffrey Cudiamat, the current CEO of Structural Hawaii, Inc., and president of the Structural Builders Hawaii, Inc., appears to have already procured several accolades in his prolific career even before being named Hawaii Filipino Chronicle’s “Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year,” in its 25th anniversary last November. A year has hardly passed and yet another impressive title was conferred to the young engineer and business entrepreneur. This time Cudiamat was elected as the executive chair of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, beginning this year.
A second generation Filipino, Cudiamat has persevered into excellence throughout his early years in academia: He came out first in his class at Pearl City High School in 1992, and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1996 at the University of Southern California, where he also received the Dean’s scholarship and had founded the first and only Fil-Am fraternity in the country, Zeta Phi Rho. Over many years of prolific work within the community, Cudiamat has been on the board of over two dozen non-profit organizations, and has been president or chairman in about ten of them. “As the saying goes,” he told me in our email interview, “‘This ain’t my first rodeo!’”
Indeed, Cudiamat walks the talk. Many years he has served in various leadership positions, most notably as Director and Chief Engineer of the Department of Facility Maintenance for the City and County of Honolulu, where he oversaw over 2000 employees, with an annual operating budget in excess of $70 million. “In different situations, I have been a humble leader, and I have also been a supportive follower,” he said, noting his experience in leading people to work together towards common goals at his firm, Structural Hawaii, Inc., and his 25 years of youth coaching.
Following are Cudiamat’s response to my interview questions:
HFC: What was your initial reaction upon learning you were elected as the new president of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii (FCCH)?
CUDIAMAT: It is truly an honor to be a leader of such a wonderful organization with an illustrious history of contributions. The impact of its programs and initiatives since its inception in 1954 have shaped the Filipino business community in Hawaii. The chamber has had a myriad of outstanding leaders, and for me to be in this fraternity of great leaders is indeed a tremendous honor, filled with dignity and extensive responsibility.
HFC: What brought you to FCCH?
CUDIAMAT: After being awarded Hawaii Filipino Chronicle’s Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year last fall, several people in the community approached me to be the future president of FCCH. I accepted the nomination to be President-Elect. During that time I learned a great deal about the history and purpose of the organization in the past years.
HFC: How were you selected as the new president?
CUDIAMAT: To serve as president of FCCH, one must be nominated as President-Elect, and then elected by the members in the annual election. Once elected, for one year the future leader of the organization must serve as President-Elect to understand and learn the intricacies of presiding over the board. During the one year, the President-Elect prepares for the term, and begins formulating plans and initiatives for the presidency.
HFC: What are your goals for your term?
CUDIAMAT: Historically, Filipinos in Hawaii have been strongly represented in labor positions, and yet they have been severely under-represented in leadership and executive management positions. Unfortunately, Filipinos are generally not at the proverbial ‘seat at table’ to make high-level executive decisions on boards or management. We hope to change this trend by creating a long-term comprehensive mentorship/fellowship program to identify and develop emerging leaders in business, executive management, and the community. While we encourage an entrepreneurial mindset, we also hope to cultivate a civic-minded mentality to have future leaders engage in community challenges.
HFC: How has the pandemic affected these goals?
CUDIAMAT: As we face the challenges that social distancing presents, we feel that there is great opportunity for our organization to help businesses through these tremulous times. Many businesses are suffering and are on the verge of closure. If they have not yet, many families will be feeling the devastation soon when family members get laid off, or unemployment subsidies run dry.
I feel that it is incumbent on the organization to help these businesses survive. Companies need to be aware of government assistance programs for financial support to combat revenue shortfalls, and FCCH needs to be at the forefront to disseminate the information for these programs. FCCH has resurrected a series of Free monthly workshops called the Kinabukasan Series of financial literacy programs. The first program was held at the FilCom Center on July 29th to talk about the government financial assistance program for grants and loans.
In addition, FCCH must lead the grassroots movement to “Buy Local” or “Buy Filipino” to support these businesses that need our patronage in these uncertain times. We have partnered with the Philippine Consulate in conjunction with Filipino Food Week for the #FilipinoTakeoutTuesday initiative. We encourage people to buy food from a Filipino restaurant at least once a week on Tuesdays to rally our community to buy from our local restaurants. Every week we provide recommendations of Filipino restaurants that the public can support.
Moreover, information about best-practices to deal with the “new normal” are being gathered by FCCH and disseminated to our members and affiliates. How to handle office and client interactions, how to conduct virtual meetings, how to handle COVID-19 testing, and what to do if someone has flu-like symptoms are all examples of decisions that companies have to make. Knowledge can be the key that directs us through these unprecedented pathways. FCCH can be the light.
HFC: What are the biggest challenges facing Filipino businesses in Hawaii today? How are you going to overcome these challenges?
CUDIAMAT: Depending on the type of business, companies may be on different ends of the spectrum. Businesses in the lodging, tourism, or travel industries are obviously taking a tremendous hit as Hawaii’s visitor industry has essentially closed its doors. On the other hand, the construction industry is booming, and many of these companies are looking to fill vacant positions. In collaboration with the Philippine Consulate and the Filipino Junior Chamber, an online “employment fair” was created. We know that people were laid off many months ago, and we know that other industries may currently be busier than ever resulting from extremely low bank interest rates and the need for home or public infrastructure improvements. To connect prospective employees with hiring employers, an online portal called Trabaho HI was created to introduce unemployed Filipino workers with potential companies.
HFC: How does your experience in managing companies and a CEO aid you in fulfilling your obligations as the new president of FCCH?
CUDIAMAT: Over my professional and civic career, I have been involved with over two dozen non-profit organizations, and have been president or chairman of about 10 of them. I have also served in various leadership positions, most notably as Chief Engineer and Director of the Department of Facility Maintenance for the City and County of Honolulu, overseeing over 2000 employees, with an annual operating budget in excess of $70 million. As owner of an engineering firm and a construction company, I lead people to work together towards a common goal. Also, my nearly 25 years of youth coaching allow me to help groom and develop individuals to be better themselves, to reach new heights and unleash their untapped potential.
Every organization is different, special in its own unique way. I’m not driven by the mystic of being president, or by any accolades that come with it. However, I do sincerely find passion in helping people. As president, I feel that I can help many people. The joy I feel in helping others is what motivates me to fulfill my obligation as the new president of FCCH.
HFC: What do you think could be improved in the current FCCH operations? Are you looking to expand on other areas not pursued by the organization before?
CUDIAMAT: There are administrative and operations issues that need improvement, which are being addressed immediately. I believe there are some programs that can be enhanced, and we have ongoing discussions on a daily basis on how we go about implementing changes. One of the initiatives we created in my first month is the new Fellowship program, which will yield long-term benefits in our community. For over a century, the Filipino community has been lacking a comprehensive leadership program that develops and uplifts future leaders; now we will have one. Hopefully, many more Filipinos will have a seat at the table to make decisions to shape our island community.
We, as a FCCH board, needed to do some self-reflection to improve our operations, and we needed to get re-focused on its core mission. Aside from what was mentioned above, we have several short-term and administrative goals which have been identified in our FCCH board retreat. Annual events such as our installation banquet and fundraising golf tournament will have a different experience to it, but FCCH will make the best of this unique situation. The big picture goals are important, and I feel that by re-focusing on our core mission, we are already showing signs of significant improvement on our road to greatness.
To expand on other areas, I am also happy with the numerous partnerships that we have made in our short tenure within the last month. We have already forged agreements or affiliations with Philippine Consulate, Filipino Junior Chamber, Hawaii-Philippine Business Economic Council, and other organizations to plan upcoming events and activities. We also hope to bring back the Taste of Kalihi event this year, which had not occurred for the last few years. We are exploring the idea of changing the name to the “Taste of Philippines.” The committee has many excited volunteers, and we hope to make this event a true celebration for the Filipino community.
HFC: What is your message to Filipino businesses suffering during these uncertain times?
CUDIAMAT: I understand the hardship that many businesses and employees are going through right now. If they don’t feel the effects of the pandemic now, some of them will be feeling it soon once government stimulus funds run dry. First and foremost, we hope to keep Filipino business alive during these unprecedented times in our lives. We hope to keep people employed, and we hope to keep people safe and secure.
HFC: How can the public get involved with the organization?
CUDIAMAT: Become a member of FCCH by completing the membership application form found on our website at www.filipinochamber.org. Membership is $125 per year with periodic special promotional rates. Mail the application to Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, P.O. Box 1572, Honolulu, HI 96806.
If anyone wants to get involved with FCCH, please feel free to email the Chamber at email@example.com. Feel free to visit our website at or visit us on our Facebook page, @FilipinoChamberHI.
The Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, the oldest Filipino Chamber of Commerce in the US, is a very special organization. There are many benefits to joining, and if you are interested in making a difference for either yourself or to others, get involved. Join the Chamber.