In Good Company: Raquel ‘Kelly’ Hicks ’89

After a lengthy career in the corporate world and for nonprofits, Raquel “Kelly” Hicks ’89 arrived at Punahou last fall to take on the role of Chief Human Resources Officer. Having most recently worked at Hawai‘i Pacific Health (HPH) as Director of Organizational Effectiveness, she’s thrilled to return to her alma mater to help the School’s 700-plus employees with everything from managing benefits to enhancing their well-being.

With two children (Cody ’25 and Kanani ’29) attending Punahou, Hicks said being on campus is particularly meaningful. Outside of work, she is an avid bodysurfer – actually, a champion bodysurfer. (She won the bodysurfing world championships in 2000.) She’s also a huge animal lover, with two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and a cat in the family.

What attracted you to this position at Punahou?

I was at HPH for 16 years, and I really loved the mission and the people I worked with. I’ve always worked for nonprofits. I come from a very values-oriented family – we’re all in roles where we serve others. My parents are doctors. My mom worked at Kapi‘olani (Medical Center) for 30 years, and my brother is a career police officer. When this opportunity became available at Punahou, I thought, “Maybe it’s time to make a change and continue to serve a mission that I believe in, to serve students, while being on campus where my kids are.”

How has the pandemic changed HR, including at Punahou?

I think recruitment is a tough challenge right now, not just at Punahou, but across the country. There’s been more turnover in the last couple of months than in many years. People are re-evaluating their lives, and thinking about their families, well-being and work environments. There’s a lot of soul searching. At Punahou, we want to make sure people are in jobs they feel great about, and that they feel valued as a person. I think the challenge moving forward is going to be around recruitment, retention and well-being. Those are high priority for us at Punahou and for every employer moving forward.

What interests you about working with people?

I love people. I was a psychology major, and my master’s degree is in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, so I’m more of a psychologist than an administrative HR person. I love how everybody is so uniquely wonderful in their own way, and how you could meet a million people in your life and never meet two people who are the same. I feel that you can’t be your best self and bring your best self to work if you’re not taking care of your own personal well-being. I’ve been a certified Gallup Strengths Coach for about six years now, and have a strong passion for strengths development.

I’m a huge advocate for prioritizing health, well-being and your own needs first. I know that’s particularly hard for people, like teachers, who serve others. But we can’t serve people if we don’t have our own lives in order. I want to help people understand that they need to take care of themselves personally. That’s one of our roles as leaders – to care for people first, before thinking of them as an employee. We have to think of our employees as uniquely wonderful people with their own personal needs.

Have you enjoyed being back at Punahou?

It’s been more wonderful than I anticipated. Just walking across the campus and bumping into my son as he’s leaving Chapel, or having my daughter hang out in my office before we go home – it’s been delightful. Also, I love just being on campus. Seeing the energy of the kids really keeps me focused on what I’m here to do. Everything we do is about the students, and being in an environment where students are all around you really keeps me grounded.

I know serving the community is important to you. Can you tell us about your volunteer work?

I’m on one of the boards for Habitat for Humanity. I’m passionate about what they’re doing to help people improve their quality of lives by giving them a good, safe home. I also used to work for the Humane Society and my daughter and I are volunteers. I’m passionate about animal welfare, and my kids and I have volunteered at the Humane Society on and off for many years.

You’re also still bodysurfing?

Yes, even though I’m in my 50s, you can still find me out bodysurfing when the waves are big. I go to Point Panic. It’s a bodysurfing-only spot, so there’s a tight community of avid body surfers there. That’s been a big part of my life since I was a teenager. I like to go after work and be out there to see the sunset. Sometimes at dusk, I’ll see the sun setting and the moon rising at the same time which is so grounding and peaceful.

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