Living the Legacy
Alumni Dee Jay Mailer is the new CEO at Kamehameha Schools
For some people, and Dee Jay Mailer is clearly one of them, leadership is not an option but a force too strong to deny. For them, the traits of leadership and servitude are symbiotic—to resist the call would be to keep the world from seeing all the good that can be achieved.
Dee Jay Mailer
"I work really hard in the role I am in, and then another leadership door opens and I walk through," Mailer says. It’s that simple. Trained as a nurse, Mailer (BS in nursing ’75, MBA ’85 University of Hawai‘i at Manoa) rose through the ranks to become CEO at Kaiser Permanente Hawai‘i before taking on progressively more responsible roles at Health-Net Inc. of California. She was chief operating officer of The Global Fund in Switzerland, a multi-billion-dollar trust set up to battle AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, when word of the vacancy at Kamehameha Schools, her alma mater, reached her. Out of 200 applicants and after 11 hours of interviews, she was selected by trustees to be CEO.
Her appointment in December 2003 was praised by alumni and community leaders still sensitive about improprieties of past trustees and allegations leveled at her predecessor. Mailer speaks little of those issues, choosing to remain positive, forward thinking and focused on the goals of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.
"Our founder was wise enough to understand that what she needed to communicate to future generations was her vision for assisting her people. Her will makes Kamehameha’s purpose clear—saving her people through education," Mailer says. "It is the role of her trustees and everyone who works for Kamehameha Schools to keep the faith with her intent and to make sure the schools remain relevant and effective as an agent for improving the capability and well-being of people of Hawaiian ancestry."
Services can only go as far as the schools’ endowment will support. "An important objective for me is to keep that endowment strong and growing, so that Pauahi’s gift is available for generations to come," she says.
Time spent with the students reinforces Mailer’s personal goal of helping as many Hawaiian children as possible succeed. "Our upper-level students have, frankly, blown me away with their poise, intelligence and awareness of the issues we are dealing with in Hawai‘i and across the world," she says. "Our preschool and elementary children have, without exception, welcomed me with genuine warmth and aloha. That is a wonderful tribute to their families and teachers and everyone who contributes to their success and happiness. One cannot help but be encouraged and hopeful about what lies ahead."
Mailer wants to connect students with alumni who can provide internship and career opportunities that help students focus on their futures. Alumni have reacted positively to the idea of mentoring, she says. "Our alumni want to help the schools in so many ways," she says.
Kamehameha Schools has joined the University of Hawai‘i in joint initiatives to provide financial aid, increase the number of certified teachers and educational aides in public schools and host eco-cultural education programs on Kamehameha Schools’ lands, she adds. "I believe there is a strong foundation for continued cooperation in the years ahead that will allow both of our organizations to reach more scholars."
As a teenager at Kamehameha, Mailer had strong women role models in Dean of Girls Winona Rubin and Principal Gladys Brandt. She paused but briefly to consider whether lack of a formal degree in education would hurt her chance to become a Kamehameha leader. "I wanted this opportunity and was willing to face a number of hurdles to get here," she says. "I am ever so happy I made this choice."