As manager of strategic planning and capital allocation for Parker Ranch, Tee Suntharo ’04 uses what you could call “double vision.” For the layperson, he explains it this way: “Many folks think that Parker Ranch is a privately-owned business, but we are actually a trust, and we exist to benefit the community. We have two mandates: to generate strong financial returns, and to provide funds to our trust beneficiaries. We can’t do one without the other. Speaking as someone who grew up here, it feels good to support this mission.”
For nearly two centuries, Parker Ranch has helped to shape commerce, culture, and landscape on Hawai‘i Island and especially in Waimea. The intertwined relationship of Waimea and Parker Ranch grew even stronger in 1992 when Richard Smart, a descendent of founder John Palmer Parker and the last private owner, placed the ranch in a charitable trust. The trust’s mandate is to generate financial support for four beneficiaries: Queen’s North Hawai‘i Community Hospital, Hawai‘i Community Foundation, Parker School, and Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy.
Suntharo, who is a CFA charterholder and a certified public accountant, has dedicated much of his business career to the idea that making money can be explicitly linked to making a positive impact for the world. Mission-driven and profit-driven aren’t necessarily at odds.
After graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in accounting, Suntharo landed a job as an auditor with KPMG, one of the “Big Four” global accounting firms. He eventually transferred to the Honolulu office, and several years later took another leap, this time to Ulupono Initiative, an investment firm started by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam. Like a traditional firm, Ulupono seeks to generate profits for investors, but it does so via investments that sustain Hawai‘i, advancing local food, clean energy, and other mission-based priorities. Suntharo’s four years with Ulupono set the stage for his work with Parker Ranch today.
I never imagined working for the ranch I passed so often on my way to HPA, or how this work helps our beneficiaries, including the school where I learned so much.”
“I never imagined working for the ranch I passed so often on my way to HPA,” says Suntharo, “or how this work helps our beneficiaries, including the school where I learned so much.” At HPA, Suntharo ran cross country (he was captain senior year), discovered Japanese, served as a dorm prefect, and became intrigued with business during AP Economics taught by Peter Dods ’96. “He came to teaching from a Wall Street background, and having a teacher with practical experience really spurred my interest in the business world,” Suntharo says.
With his colleagues on the management team, Suntharo is focused these days on fulfilling the Parker Ranch strategic plan. Adopted in 2013, the plan focuses on three key areas: energy, agriculture, and community development. While Parker Ranch remains rooted in its ranching heritage and paniolo traditions, the ranch is actively seeking to diversify and leverage its operations in new and innovative ways.
“We continually seek the highest and best stewardship for our land,” Suntharo explains. Projects stemming from the strategic plan include Paniolo Cattle Company grass-fed beef, which recently expanded to become statewide. Parker Ranch currently supplies all the cattle, but the ultimate goal is for up to 50 percent to come from local ranchers across the state, thereby expanding local food production. The ranch also has a solar energy project in the works that should generate about 20 percent of Hawai‘i Island’s baseload when complete. “That’s almost 17,000 homes,” says Suntharo.
One of the most exciting projects on his desk right now involves old growth forest land. “We believe we can create value for the community and also better the health of the forest,” he explains. “There’s a lot we can do just by changing our current management practices. Our stands of native trees have been around so long that they contain many dead or dying specimens that are quite valuable. Removing them will make room for new growth.
“Beyond that, we’re looking into what species might thrive in the different climates and conditions we have on Parker Ranch land. Expanding the forest brings us back to that ‘double bottom line’ concept. We can build thriving businesses and improve our environment at the same time.”
In this and many other ways, Parker Ranch is working to sustain Waimea, Hawai‘i Island, and the state not just today but for many generations to come. “Our beneficiaries are hopefully going to be around forever,” he says. “Our mission is to support them that long.”