Robert Fujimoto, retired CEO of HPM, dies at 93

  • ROBERT "BOBBY" FUJIMOTO

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Peter Matsuura had died recently. It was, in fact, his brother, the former state Sen. David Matsuura who died. Dr. Peter Matsuura is an orthopedic surgeon in Hilo and married to the late Robert Fujimoto’s daughter, Wendy. The Tribune-Herald regrets the error, apologizes and extends its sincere condolences to both the Fujimoto and Matsuura families.

Robert “Bobby” Fujimoto, retired chairman and CEO of HPM Building Supply, died Thursday at Hale Anuenue Restorative Care Center in Hilo. He was 93.

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Fujimoto was the grandson of Kametaro Fujimoto, who founded HPM as Hawaii Planing Mill in 1921. He joined the company in 1951 and rose to company president and CEO, a position he held when he retired in 1992.

When the 1960 Hilo tsunami destroyed the business, Fujimoto oversaw the company rebuild. He introduced an employee profit-sharing plan in 1959 and led HPM into becoming an employee-owned company in 1977.

Mike Fujimoto, who succeeded his father as president and is now HPM’s executive chairman, described his father as “an innovator who looked for better ways of doing things.”

“You’ve heard of the Japanese term ‘kaizen,’ which means continuous improvement? He was a model of that. He was always open and welcoming of new ways of doing things,” said Mike Fujimoto.

Bobby Fujimoto also oversaw the expansion of the lumber and building materials company, opening a Kona store in 1959 and a Waimea location in 1983.

In addition, he was a community leader, serving from 1979-87 on the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, and as its chairman from 1981-83.

“Bobby’s generous spirit and commitment to service were an integral part of his life. UH is a better institution because of his dedication and love for the people of this state,” said UH President David Lassner.

He also was a member of the UH Foundation Board of Trustees, president of the Aloha Council of Boy Scouts of America and a past director of the Blood Bank of Hawaii, C. Brewer and Co., First Insurance, Grand Pacific Life and American Security Bank.

“He was always a people person. He enjoyed spending time with his customers, with his friends, with the vendor community,” Mike Fujimoto said. “He really enjoyed the various associations he belonged to. And he took on a lot of responsibility outside HPM as a result.”

State Senate President Ronald Kouchi said Fujimoto’s “contribution to the community went well beyond his association with HPM Building Supply.”

“His legacy of philanthropic support and dedication of his time and energy made a difference in the lives of the people of Hawaii,” Kouchi said.

Jason Fujimoto, current HPM president and CEO, said his grandfather “was an inspiration to all and lived his life with honor, generosity and aloha.”

“Growing up, he never put the expectation on me that I had to work for the company, even though it would mean so much to him and was so near and dear to his heart,” said Jason Fujimoto. “He actually encouraged me to go out and do my own thing, which I really appreciated. And in the end, it was my own choice to come back and work for the company. And even when I did come back — and my dad was in the picture, too, as president — I couldn’t have been blessed with more support from my family, the previous generations.”

Bobby Fujimoto also is survived by his wife, Alice Fujimoto; son, Michael (Thuy) Fujimoto: daughters, Joan Fujimoto, Roberta (Newton) Chu and Wendy (Dr. Peter) Matsuura, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.

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Private family services were held.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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