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Posted on: Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Success built on CEO’s work ethic
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
Darren Kimura was forced to work out of his Chevy Blazer when he started his first company as a 19-year-old University of Hawai’i freshman.
The Blazer needed a brake job, and Kimura would worry that he might not be able to bring the vehicle to a stop. But the car and Kimura survived, and there has since been no slowing down for the 32-year-old Hilo native, who has seen his business grow from a one-man operation to a multimillion-dollar, global company.
Kimura is chief executive officer of Energy Industries, which does energy savings, consulting and engineering work from its offices in Mapunapuna. Energy Industries has clients across the country and in Asia, from utility companies to large retail chains such as Fred Meyer.
Kimura’s first job brought in $50,000, and he said his company now does “just below” $50 million in annual gross revenues. But Kimura wants more.
“I’d like to see it in the $200 million range. I think we’re getting there,” he said.
And based on the growth of his company during its first 14 years, there’s no doubt in Kimura’s mind that he’ll reach that goal.
“Energy prices are going up. No one in the world believes energy prices are going to go down, or be like it was back in the ’80s. We will always have motivated customers, and we’re in a global business, so there are always people hurting because of energy, and we want to help them,” Kimura said.
To say that Kimura loves his work would be an understatement. He has no hobbies, except for whatever his 2-year-old daughter enjoys, and he burns lots of energy.
“When I first went to work in my crossover from (Waiakea) high school to freshman year, I had three jobs. I had to put myself through college,” Kimura said. “I used to rake the field at Rainbow Stadium. I worked at the information and computer sciences lab, and I worked at Macy’s selling shoes. I did whatever I could to keep myself going. So when I started the business, it was no difference in routine. It was just hard work.”
Kimura’s first company was an Internet service provider, which he started in 1992. As the popularity of the Internet grew, Kimura realized more energy was being consumed because there were more computers, air conditioners to keep them cool, and more concrete structures to house the equipment.
Two years later, Kimura formed Energy Conservation Hawai’i. He went to prospective customers and told them how they could save money by saving energy. His first client was his church in Hilo, where he consolidated its electricity meters and changed the church’s lights.
“The first year we struggled. It was just me, working out of my dorm room as well as my parents’ home in Hilo and out of my car, really kind of a road warrior back then,” Kimura said. “It was a true startup business. You would work your project at night and work in the office during the day, doing accounting, doing sales, doing the marketing, calling people back. And then you would do it all over again. But I think that’s one of the things about being an entrepreneur.”
After earning a business degree, Kimura left for Portland State University in 1996 and took his business with him. He continued his studies and also built a base of customers in the Northwest. He returned to Hawai’i in 1997 and opened his offices in Mapunapuna. The company has grown steadily since and employs more than 120.
Energy Industries works with hotels, businesses and schools to help them save energy. On average, Kimura said his company saves hotels up to 50 percent on their energy bills and a typical office building between 30 percent and 35 percent.
The company also partners with utilities, including Hawaiian Electric Co., to help them with their consumer rebate programs.
“It was more a matter of why they should give more incentives, what could be derived from that. Like, by giving a dollar more, you’ll get $5 million in demand savings or offsetting future generations,” Kimura said. “They were very receptive. Utilities in general like demand-side management, or energy conservation by businesses, because it helps them reduce their existing load, and it’s an immediate thing.”
Energy Industries also has worked with the University of Hawai’i in its energy-savings program. Last year the company donated equipment and manpower to help retrofit a dormitory with energy-efficient lights.
Stephen Meder, director of the UH Center for Smart Building and Community Design, said Kimura saved the university thousands of dollars.
“We got to the point where we didn’t have any (money) left. We were talking to Darren Kimura about it and Darren said, ‘Look, I’m a UH grad and I want to help with this. Let me allow my company to help.’ ” Meder said. “He’s a real champion for these needed issues.”
Energy Industries has grown from just a consulting firm to doing the project engineering and contracting. The company also has gotten into the “smart building” concept where air conditioning and lighting systems are controlled by computers.
Kimura is never satisfied with his company just doing well, and is constantly trying to stay ahead in the energy technology field. This year he formed Sopogy Inc., a renewable-energy company that Kimura says will convert heat from the sun into electricity on a large-scale basis.
Despite the company’s growth, Kimura said he has no plans to relocate to the Mainland.
“Our operations are probably larger in total outside of Hawai’i, but being in Hawai’i, you get a lot of hard work ethic, you have a lot of the aloha spirit, and that brings together teamwork, cohesiveness, and I think we achieve our goals more effectively,” Kimura said. “And the best part is, we bring all that revenue back to Hawai’i.”