Adrian Hong grew up around the family business of making plastic bags.
But it was only when he was older and thousands of miles away that he decided that he wanted to be involved on a day-to-day basis.
“I knew how plastic bags were made. But I never really was into the business. My dad wanted me to start somewhere else. See my own worth. See what I was good at,” he remembered.
So it was off to college and a career in accounting before the long hours of working for somebody else helped him realize where he really wanted to be — back home and in the family business.
Hong now handles day-to-day operations at Island Plastic Bags Inc., which bills itself as the largest plastic bag maker in the state of Hawaii. He's taken over from his parents, David Hong and Jacquelyn Hong, who still remain as majority owners.
Since returning to Aiea, Hawaii, in 2012, Adrian Hong has learned the business from the ground up as general manager and was able to take responsibility as president in 2015. A former partner Shao Yang was bought out and left the company as part of the generational shift at the firm.
Island Plastic Bags makes its money by serving institutional markets in Hawaii, offering quick service and attention to detail for customers including hospitals, hotels and restaurants.
Working at the family business is much different than creating accounting standards, a job he was doing when he realized it was time for a change.
“It's definitely different stress and definitely different work,” he allowed. “It's great.'
David Hong is still involved with the company to some degree, but is eyeing a time when he'll be able to completely walk away, his son said.
He credits his parents for building a strong foundation from which to grow in the years ahead.
“They built a very strong company and a very strong brand. In Hawaii, we're very well known,” Adrian Hong said. “The thing in Hawaii, you have competition from the West Coast and you have competition from all over Asia. You compete on quality and service.”
Island Plastic Bags also permits customers to order in smaller quantities, which gives it an advantage over firms farther away that require container-load quantities before they will ship.
“Being local and family owned engenders a lot of trust,” he said.
Having a local operation also means that the company can turn on a dime, if necessary, to turn an order around quickly — sometimes overnight.
“Being able to deliver on that, that's something that's a competitive advantage of a family-owned business that a larger competitor would have real trouble with,” Hong said.
While the family business has allowed Hong to return home and be closer to family, working there is not without its peril, he said.
“Your fellow stockholders are going to be there at Thanksgiving dinner. So whatever you say, you better make sure you can all sit around at Thanksgiving dinner and have a nice dinner. It's not like you can walk away from these people,” he said.
“You are all involved in the family business. You all have a stake in it. You just have to be aware of what you say and what you do will impact other parts of your life,” he said.
“The more open you are, the more honest you are, the better off you will be. You don't let anything fester, otherwise that becomes problematic,” he said.
Working at a family company, Hong said, allows for a longer business view.
“We don't have to meet performance targets every quarter. We can spend the time and money now to realize greater earnings in the future. As a family business, you also have a lot of pride in the company and you want to take the best possible care of it,” Hong said.