Constance Hee ’70 Lau has stepped into the role as chair of Punahou’s Board of Trustees, but her ties to the School date back to her days as a kindergartner, when she embarked on a 13-year journey that she says formed the foundation for her life’s trajectory.
Long regarded as one of Hawai‘i’s most influential business and community leaders, Lau soon will retire as president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries, parent company of. Hawaiian Electric Company and American Savings Bank. Along with her 26 years as a Punahou Trustee, she serves on the board of Matson and numerous community organizations. Lau agreed to helm Punahou’s Board (a position previously held by Mark Fukunaga ’74) because of a longtime core value that she connects to the School – to whom much is given, much is expected.
“It’s been one of the most impactful experiences of my life to have gone to Punahou, and when I look back on all the experiences I’ve had, it’s one that truly has made me who I am,” she said. “I can’t help but want to give back to the School that gave me so much, and I hope to ensure that many other students have the same opportunities that I had to broaden their thinking and horizons and develop a deep love for the community.”
A Yale graduate who received her MBA from Stanford and a J.D. from University of California Hastings College of Law, Lau met her husband, Russell Lau ’70, at Punahou, and their three children – Jennifer ’04, Gregory ’06 and Eric ’10 – also attended the School.
As chair, she sees her role as ensuring that Trustees work with President Mike Latham ’86 on the School’s strategic priorities, and build a structure to carry out those goals. “The good thing about the Punahou Board is that it’s made up of amazing individuals who have deep and diverse experiences and networks,” she said. “As chair, I hope to optimize the contributions of each Trustee to the benefit of the School, and meld all of our ideas together to help guide the School into the future. It’s important to allow all voices to be heard and to contribute to supporting the administration in dealing with sensitive issues from the past and exciting ones for the future.”
Ensuring the safety and well-being of students is one of Punahou’s most important priorities, and Punahou has formed a group, comprised of administrators, staff and faculty, to create an extensive plan to ensure all students are supported. This was recently published as a “Safety on Campus” handbook. Lau said Trustees fully support the plan, and that the focus now is to implement the processes and make sure they are working as intended. Making Punahou more accessible to students from diverse backgrounds, including those with parents who didn’t go to college, is something else we’re having conversations about, Lau said.
“I recently spoke with Mike (Latham) about how it’s a much more holistic discussion than just admitting students. Once they join the Punahou community, it’s really important for them to feel like they are a part of the community – an inclusive community – because most likely, they will come from a different socioeconomic background than most of the kids at Punahou, and that can create barriers beyond academic ones.”
Latham said since his arrival as president in 2019, Lau has provided valuable insight and guidance, always acknowledging Punahou’s responsibilities to the community.
“Punahou has been so fortunate to have Connie serve as Trustee for more than a quarter of a century,” Latham said. “She provides a wealth of institutional knowledge about our School, but she also has never forgotten the importance of giving back to others and supporting the community. She understands deeply how vital it is for Punahou and its students to prioritize this.”
Lau says Punahou set her strong moral compass at a young age, and that students who learn the importance of giving back ultimately are primed to change the world. “That’s why we have graduates like Trustees Emeriti Steve Case ’76 and Pierre Omidyar ’84,” she said. “Both of them envisioned and created worlds that didn’t exist before. And if you think about it, a lot of it was motivated by providing access to people who didn’t have that kind of access before.”
Overall, she looks forward to helping Punahou navigate a strong path forward. “I’m someone who loves challenges and loves change, because it opens up thinking about the way we traditionally do things, and it’s a great time for innovation and creativity,” she said. “Punahou educates the kinds of students who have the capability to change the world, as long as we never lose sight of creating better worlds for all.”
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