Q + A, Dee Jay Mailer

Photo: Kent S. Hwang

After raising billions to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in developing countries, Kamehameha Schools alumna Dee Jay Mailer has returned home to serve as the organization’s CEO. When Mailer was CEO at Kaiser Permanente Hawai‘i, she improved health-plan-member satisfaction to the highest levels in the state. Can she use those skills at Kamehameha Schools?

Q: When you graduated from Kamehameha in 1970, did you ever think you’d return as CEO?

A: No. As high school graduates, what’s on our minds? Graduating. Since coming back, I have reconnected with so many faces that I knew before I left, and I’m impressed that the same faces are here, because Hawaii has had its challenges.

Q: How is Kamehameha Schools different than when you attended?

A: There aren’t real differences in terms of the campuses and the environment that I had, or that my children had. The only difference is that the focus now is not only on providing education on the campuses, but also providing education out in the communities, as well.

Q: How does customer service apply to schools?

A: Whether your customer is a little kindergartener just entering school or a high school senior about to graduate, we are here to serve Hawaiian children with opportunities for education. The challenge is to be focused on that customer.

Q: Kamehameha Schools has been in the news a lot, and not always in positive ways.

A: It’s the reality of any large organization. We have the same challenges that other organizations have, with different content. I tend not to dwell on the controversy, but to focus on the work we have to do to get the results we want. We have to communicate our solutions in an open manner. But we will move quickly back to being focused on that customer.

Q: What are your goals for Kamehameha Schools?

A: Extending the reach, to bring resources to the Hawaiian children who can’t come into the campuses. I want to strengthen the endowment, to make sure the portfolio is sustainable, so that when we make commitments to our students we aren’t at the mercy of the markets. I want to focus on partnerships. We don’t live in a world on our own. We need to work with communities, with business and with other school systems, to bring up the level of education. Education is at the forefront of everyone’s mind; it’s what everyone is talking about. It’s prime time.