It’s All About Opportunity

At the age of 10, Eduardo Topenio went from riding water buffalo in his grandfather’s rice fields in Pangasinan, Philippines, to the bright lights of the United States.

“Waikiki was buzzing, and everything was huge,” recalls Topenio, who today is president of Kauai Filipino Chamber of Commerce (KFCC).

It was 1970 when his family immigrated to Oahu and his father landed a job in the tourism industry. Topenio did not know the language, but that didn’t stop him from excelling in education and eventually being accepted to private-school Iolani just a few years later. After graduating, he initially had plans to join the Navy.

“I had an affinity for a white, crisp uniform,” he says. But he ended up at University of Hawaii, where he majored in political science and eventually met his future wife, Kauai native Sonia (today they are parents of two adult children, Robert and Tyler). He traveled between the islands for a number of years until moving to Kauai in 1987.

“That was the best move I ever made,” he says.

After working in the visitor industry for more than 20 years — “I was the director of Guest Services at the old Westin Kauai, restaurant manager, and a banquet manager at the old Princeville Hotel for at least a decade before going to the county,” he says — Topenio transitioned to Kauai County as a deputy clerk, and currently is administrative assistant to the county clerk. It’s hard to believe he even has time to serve in such a prominent position at KFCC — an organization committed to providing opportunities and interest in business for all members of the community, especially those of Filipino ancestry.

When Topenio was growing up, the business opportunities for those of Filipino descent in Hawaii were not as readily available as they are now.

“It’s nice that the opportunity is there and anyone can take it,” he says.

Topenio enjoys being a part of this process and giving people a platform to network. KFCC holds quarterly meetings as well as various seminars and workshops throughout the year — all pertaining to business. A recent meeting, for example, focused on cybercrime as it affects individuals and businesses.

“There are all kinds of scams out there, and the thing is that once they get you, they’ll come and get you again until they take all your money,” he warns.

Not only does KFCC consistently provide helpful information to members, but the organization also regularly gives scholarships to Filipino youths in the community, and is committed to its humanitarian efforts, including fundraising for those in need, such as the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, for whom they collected some $34,000.

KFCC also is involved with planning a Kauai Philippine Cultural Center, intended to serve as a public place for gathering, in Puhi next to the YMCA pool, although there is no date set yet for the groundbreaking.

One of the most beneficial aspects of joining KFCC for Topenio is the networking.

“The more you network and get to know people and how they apply themselves in terms of business, then I think it’s better for you as a business owner,” he says, “because you can learn from other people’s mistakes or successes and they can better themselves.”

The group also helps people — membership is open to anyone — learn the important elements of owning and conducting business.

“Service is very important,” urges Topenio. “You have to keep your repeat customers. If you can maintain that, then you can sustain your business because they’re the ones who come year-round.

“A dissatisfied customer can affect you more than a satisfied customer. That dissatisfied customer will tell 10 people, those 10 people will tell 100 people, and those 100 people will tell 1,000 people — and next thing you know, your business may not be viable anymore.”

Topenio looks forward to continuing his service with KFCC and representing one of the largest ethnic groups on the island (Filipinos began arriving in Hawaii in the early 1900s to work in the sugar plantation industry). He feels it is an honor to help those of Filipino ancestry establish their business roots on Kauai, just as he did, and inspire them to continue nurturing those roots so that their enterprises may keep growing stronger.

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