Although he grew up in California, Hawaii Information Services CEO Richard Eshleman was born in Hawaii. After school and a stint in the Navy, and a twist of fate or two, he found himself back in the islands. And today, he’s leading the company through one of the most significant steps in its evolution.
Richard was born in the Ewa Sugar Plantation Hospital, a rural O’ahu landmark long since lost. After a dock strike paralyzed Hawaii’s shipping industry and supplies got scarce, adding to the existing challenges of day-to-day life in Hawaii, his family moved to Philadelphia.
“I think we made it through one winter, then moved to California,” he recalls. “I basically grew up in San Diego, attending grade school and high school, and even today most of my friends are from that time in my life.”
After high school, he joined the Navy, and the military was just one of many forces in his life that suggested he belonged in Hawaii.
“Right out of boot camp, they said they were sending me to serve on a boat based on the East Coast, but since it happened to be in Pearl Harbor at the time, they gave me a ticket to Honolulu,” Richard says. “But when I reported in, they said my boat was in Spain or somewhere far away, and asked if I wanted to stay at Pearl Harbor instead.”
He stayed, and spent his Navy career in Pearl Harbor and the wider Pacific theater. He served on a little wooden minesweeper, and on a nuclear submarine.
“My time in the Navy was a really important part of my development,” he says. “Not only did it help me find some structure, it also made me realize that I really did want to go to college — I didn’t want to do hard manual labor for the rest of my life.”
|The Ewa Plantation|
Once out of the Navy, the G.I. Bill launched him into school at San Diego State University. Unsure of what to study, he started as a history major. But Richard’s father, a businessman, pointed out that there wasn’t much of a future there beyond teaching high school. So he took an accounting class.
“Turns out I did pretty well,” He says. “Math was always a strength of mine, and I guess the idea of having a place for everything seemed to fit my personality.”
So, one class short of a history degree, Richard graduated from SDSU with an accounting degree instead. Marriage and two sons followed, though he held onto his youth through surfing, tennis, dirt bike riding, and even car racing.
“I raced Formula Fords with the Sports Car Club of America, and I even had my own car,” he says. Of course, the term “car” was used loosely, as it was basically an 800 pound frame with four wheels and a 1.6 liter, 100 horsepower motor.
“It was very quick, and eventually, I was in a pretty bad wreck and totaled the car,” he recalls. “My wife was three months pregnant at the time, so the racing car and motorcycles went away.”
Professionally, he landed a gig as Director of Finance and Administration for Scantibodies Laboratory Inc., an international medical diagnostics manufacturer that he watched grow from 50 to over 300 employees. Richard went on to Daycom Systems, a San Diego-based telecom company that saw sales grow from $5 million to $30 million during his tenure as Chief Financial Officer.
Meanwhile, his oldest son moved out and relocated to Hawaii, as did his nephew. So Richard also began making regular trips to the islands. With the roller-coaster economy of the early 2000s, he decided to shop for a condo in Honolulu to stay in during his vacations.
“Basically my ‘temporary’ condo ended up being my home for ten years,” he says. Soon after he decided to move to Hawaii permanently, however, his son moved back to San Diego.
It was a newspaper ad that brought Richard into the Hawaii Information Services offices, back then a small space on Ala Moana Boulevard where he ended up sharing an office with five people. He earned his MBA in international finance from Hawaii Pacific University while serving as the company controller, then chief operating officer, and was appointed interim CEO in February 2010. He officially got the top post the following May.
“It has been a distinct honor to help lead this company through some of the more challenging times in our industry,” he said at the time. “I look forward to continuing our company’s long history of service and excellence.”
Richard prides himself on building the best team he can, and then letting them do what they do best.
“I don’t micromanage, I’m very hands off, and once you find the right people, I try to get out of their way and just try to support them,” he says. “I like to say I’ve adopted the Hippocratic Oath, ”do no harm.'”
During his tenure, HIS has taken big strides on a number of fronts. REsearch, the company’s home-grown MLS system, was rewritten to work with all major platforms and browsers, beating most national vendors to that milestone. Conversation began in earnest between Hawaii’s three MLSes on ways to share listing data to benefit all island Realtors. And last summer, Richard and the HIS board of directors inked a deal with CoreLogic, one of the country’s largest real estate technology companies, to switch from REsearch to the Matrix MLS system.
“Matrix’s robust platform, speed and flexibility are unmatched,” Richard said in announcing the agreement. “The combination of Matrix’s industry-leading product design, engineering, development expertise and flexibility provides HIS and our clients with the ultimate application.”
|The Aloha Runners|
As the company evolves, so has Richard’s appreciation for Hawaii.
“Once I moved here, I stopped doing all the things people vacation here to do,” he says. “So over the last few years I’ve again tried to be more of a tourist, dining out, catching live music, and getting active again.”
He still surfs, mostly at spots along O’ahu’s south shore. He also belongs to a local running group, “Aloha Runners,” where he keeps up with members in their 20s, running four to nine miles at a time, three days a week. And he’s also riding a motorcycle again, a Ducati, though he doesn’t ride it nearly as often as he’d like.
But perhaps Richard’s favorite way to pass the time is to read while relaxing on his condo lanai, overlooking Ala Moana Beach Park.
“I read a lot of business books, and I’ve been reading almost everything I can find on the financial crisis, like ‘Too Big to Fail’ by Andrew Ross Sorkin,” he says, firing up his iPad to check his reading list. “I’m also working on ‘One Second After’ by William Forstchen, which explores life after an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack, and Kevin Dutton’s ‘The Wisdom of Psychopaths’ — it’s actually a really good book.”
“I could always run a little more, eat a little healthier, but my life is pretty good,” he says.