Hawaiian Airlines celebrated its new IT Center in Tempe with a traditional Hawaiian blessing ceremony Monday.
The 15,000-square-foot facility first opened its doors at the Hayden Ferry Lakeside multi-use development at Tempe Town Lake on July 1, 2019.
The formal Hawaiian blessing of the airline’s first tech-centric office space outside of Honolulu was preceded by words from corporate and local leaders.
‘Ohana’ means family
“This is very much a tradition for us,” said Peter Ingram, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines. “One of the things that’s really important for us as we branch out to this new facility is to make sure that all of you that have joined our ohana know that you are very much a part of the Hawaiian Airlines team.”
Ohana is the Hawaiian word for “family.”
The airline has more than 7,300 employees, about 90 percent of whom work in or around the corporate headquarters in Honolulu, according to Ingram.
Ingram told his Tempe employees he wants them to feel just as comfortable working for Hawaiian Airlines as their counterparts in the Pacific, and “part of that is bringing the tradition of the blessing.”
“I’ve had the pleasure in my going-on-15 years at Hawaiian of being a part of a lot of blessings as we’ve brought in new facilities and new aircraft and started new ventures,” he said.
John Jacobi, senior vice president of information technology (IT) for Hawaiian Airlines, spoke next, remarking about how quickly the office had grown since opening in its current space.
“Now, we’re about 60 strong, so we’ve created ohana of 60 great individuals here,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, every time I come here the energy of this place just gets me fired up, and it’s such a pleasure to be a part of this.”
Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell, also in attendance, said Tempe is a city of choice and that he was glad Hawaiian Airlines chose his city.
“You could have picked anywhere to locate,” he said. “Technology is the No. 1 job creator and industry, not only in this state but in Maricopa County, so having your IT office here for Hawaiian Airlines really does make sense.”
Ingram credited Mitchell and Kevin Sullivan, executive vice president of sales and client services for the Arizona Commerce Authority, for their help opening the new office.
“As the mayor mentioned, you have choices,” Sullivan said. “The location, the amenities and the accessibility to ASU is tremendous.”
Keoni Martin from the Hawaiian Airlines community relations team introduced the formal Hawaiian blessing.
“The first thing in the blessing is the chant, and the one thing I want to recognize is the native people of this place in Arizona and say ‘aloha’ to the natives and thank you for your hookipa, your hospitality here on this land,” Martin said.
Martin pointed to a large wooden bowl:
“In the koa bowl, we have water, and we all need water to survive; it sustains life,” he said. “We have Hawaiian salt — paakai — and that’s to preserve: To preserve everything about the blessing, to preserve… all of the mana, or the energy that we’re all sharing with each other today.”
Simple, yet elegant
After the blessing, employees and visitors were led into the IT Center itself — a clean, modern, open workspace with panoramic views of Tempe Town Lake and a cafeteria that looks out across the lake at Papago Park and Camelback Mountain beyond it.
Ingram said the proximity of the offices to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport reminds him of downtown Honolulu, where the buildings overlook the airport (and the airline’s headquarters) and onlookers can see planes taking off before banking out over the ocean.
He said the idea of an IT office in another state has been a topic of conversation, especially because robust tech talent is difficult to come by in Hawaii, where Hawaiian Airlines is already one of the largest private employers.
“We’ve supplemented that by bringing in a lot of contractors through third-party developers and different service providers,” he said.
But outside contractors are expensive; talented, in-house employees are much more valuable to a company looking to completely modernize and integrate its tech platforms. Ingram and his team decided to finally take the plunge.
“We looked at a lot of things, including livability, access to technology talent, places where there might be some people with airline experience,” he said. “And as we stacked up all of those and started to build a relationship with Arizona State University, the Greater Phoenix area really rose to the top of the list.”
Tempe’s proximity to ASU sealed the deal, and Ingram said he “couldn’t be happier.”
‘The high-tech stuff’
Jacobi said the company needed specific technology talent — “some of the high-tech stuff.”
Hawaiian Airlines has been revamping its customer interfaces to create a better user experience and stay competitive with other airlines.
“Most of it’s been around integrations — getting unlike systems to talk to each other,” Jacobi said. “And then, too, our customer touch points: The mobile, the kiosks, the web, and those kinds of things, to improve the guest experience.”
But the company needed “different ponds to fish in,” according to Ingram.
Jacobi said Hawaiian Airlines hired Accenture, an Irish-owned multinational professional services company, to help analyze what city would work best for an IT Center in terms of cost of living, skill sets of workers, local government, community, universities and more — and Tempe rose to the top.
“We get some really good technical talent that are employees instead of contractors,” Jacobi said. “Basically, our development arm and our technical kind of skill sets are going to be located here — developers, testers and stuff like that — the people that interface with the business are going to primarily be in Honolulu.”
Hawaiian [Airlines] culture
Ingram said Hawaiian Airlines has “a strong culture and a tightknit sense of ohana.”
“That is something that we’ve recognized over the last couple of years as we expand and grow and add new people to the organization and expand geographically,” he said.
The company went through an exercise last year to seek out some of its best employees who exemplify the airline at its optimal standards. The findings helped determine the company’s key values, Ingram said.
Moving forward, the company will be focused on four ideals: Mālama, which means caring; hookipa, which means hospitality; lōkahi, or togetherness and unity; and po’okela, which is about striving for excellence.
“The four of those, when we do those, and we’re all focused on that as our core values — I think we’ve got an unstoppable team and we can really do great things together,” Ingram said.