Punahou Announces New Trustee, John Leong ’96

Punahou is proud to announce that John Leong ’96 will join Punahou’s Board of Trustees, effective July 1, 2024, bringing extensive leadership experience and decades of community engagement in Hawai‘i.

Leong is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pono Pacific Land Management, LLC, and its family of companies. He established it in 2000 to drive the growth of Hawai‘i’s sustainable ‘āina-based industries to promote community, environmental, and economic resilience. He is also the CEO of Kupu, a Hawai‘i-based non-profit that he co-founded with his wife, Julianna Rapu ’97 Leong, in 2007, which is dedicated to developing Hawai‘i’s future environmental stewards and community leaders. Since its founding, Kupu has empowered more than 6,000 young adults and generated an impressive $200+ million in socio-economic impact.

“John has devoted his career to serving Hawai‘i and its people, particularly with respect to sustainability, education, and innovation,” said President Mike Latham ’86. “I am deeply grateful to have his vision and thought partnership as we seek to graduate socially responsible leaders. As an alumnus and the parent of current Punahou students, John’s vast experience and perspective will be invaluable.”

Leong attended Punahou for 13 years and graduated in 1996. He has fond memories of playing with classmates by the spring of Ka Punahou as a child and later meeting his wife in his junior year in Cooke Library, now the future site of the Mary Kawena Pukui Learning Commons. After graduating, Leong attended The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 

Over the years, he has received numerous awards and accolades for his work, including the  Pacific Business News 2023 Most Admired Leader, Bank of Hawai‘i Community Leader of the Year, the Hawai‘i Business Twenty for the Next 20, and the Pacific Century Fellows inaugural Ho‘opasifika Leadership Award. In 2019, he became the first and only leader from Hawai‘i to become an Obama Foundation Fellow. He and his wife also received the Punahou Alumni Association’s Charles Judd Humanitarian Award in 2023, given to Punahou alumni who have made outstanding contributions to society in the fields of public service, humanitarian or charitable efforts, arts, letters or sciences. Leong serves on the boards of Alexander and Baldwin, Island Insurance, University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant, and chairs the Board of the City and County Parks and Recreation.

In 2019, Leong and his team developed an amazing waterfront youth training center in Kewalo Basin. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Ho‘okupu Center provides innovative programming that offers young adults the ability to attain their diploma, through a partnership with the Hawai‘i Department of Education, while gaining work skills through ‘āina-based activities and earning an income through Kupu’s culinary social enterprise. “When we created our non-profit, I wanted to give kids the opportunity and access to resources that I had at Punahou,” says Leong. “In order to address today’s most pressing challenges, such as climate change, we need young leaders who have the technical training to create more sustainable industries and the ethos to build communities that lift people up. Punahou embodies this shared vision, and I am excited for what the future holds for our school and its students. I am proud and honored to contribute what I can to support this effort.”  

Leong sees a strong alignment between his life’s work and the mission of the School, particularly its commitment to helping students discover their “purpose and kuleana to Hawai‘i and the world.” One of Kupu’s first partnerships was with the Hawai‘i Youth Conservation Corps, under the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Kupu quickly grew from 16 youth serving a summer on Kaua‘i to currently employing/engaging around 500 youth per year statewide and throughout several other Pacific islands. Similarly, Punahou has made significant investments in its sustainability efforts, including its newly launched Sustainability Fellowships, Outdoor Education, Global Sustainability by Design (GSD) courses, and a broad offering of Advanced Placement Environmental Science courses for high school students.   

“John is one of the state’s most important voices when it comes to sustainability and economic resilience and a steadfast supporter of our indigenous populations,” said Board Chair Wendy Crabb. “John has the capacity to see big-picture challenges for our islands and possesses the gift of bringing people together to move in a positive direction. The Board of Trustees and I are honored to have John’s commitment and compassion in helping Punahou remain at the forefront of educational excellence.”

Leong and his wife, Julianna Rapu ’97 Leong, have four children, one of which, Tearamā‘eha Leong ’24, graduated this year and two of their other children are in the classes of 2027 and 2030. He officially joins the Punahou Board of Trustees on July 1, 2024.  

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