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HPU students, professor keeping "good company"

by Chuck Cordill, staff writer

It’s been the lament of students throughout the ages. Amidst towers of books, and stacks of paper in preparation for an assignment, they moan, “Man, I feel like I’m writing a book.” In one case, HPU marketing professor Bob Sigall’s graduate class actually did write a book.

What started as an assignment for Sigalls’s Marketing 6500 classes at HPU, evolved into a volume that is on the local bestseller lists and is also being mentioned throughout the media. Companies We Keep, published by Small Business Hawai‘i, hit the shelves just in time for the holidays and is enjoying continued success into the new year. The 408-page paperback is filled with tidbits of trivia and local history and it’s tempting to call it, “great bathroom reading” though Sigall prefers the term, “coffee table book.” Whatever term one uses, it’s clear that the author has struck a chord in the minds of Hawai‘i readers.

   

“I began to realize there were a lot of stories out there in the local business community and there might be things of interest to the public,” said Sigall. “It wasn’t just business facts; it was also local nostalgia and trivia. People like to look back at how things were when they were growing up. Many of these stories seem to bring back memories of growing up in Hawai‘i for folks.”

Sigall has always tried to make his graduate-level marketing classes practical, not just relying on textbook theories and case histories. He has students team with actual companies, participate in business meetings, understand the organizations objectives, and finally, have the students initiate a market plan for the company. In several cases, student work has been utilized by the company. The main idea was to get students out of the classroom, and actively networking with local professionals. These assignments started to evolve into something bigger.

Sigall tasked his students to meet company executives and find out about the origins and background of the group. Over the semesters, interesting stories began to trickle back. Sigall combined those tidbits with his own research into Hawai‘i business history and knew he had something of interest. He discovered, among other things, that Meadow Gold Dairies got its name in early 1901 when Continental Creamery held an employee contest to name their new butter.
“ The material began coming in and a lot of it was fascinating,” said Sigall. “I began to realize we could perhaps put all of this together into book form.”

While Sigall had a good idea that the public would be interested in the bits and pieces of Hawaiiana, he resists taking credit for the development.

“ Since it began, this project has been very organic,” said Sigall. “It took on a life of its own, I just claimed it. And a lot of credit goes to my students; they are the reason this all came about, and their research makes up about a third of the books content.”

Once the project crossed from being a semester assignment to research for a book, Sigall changed the ground rules. Out of fairness, he gave students the option to complete alternative assignments. None took the option. Instead, they seemed to tackle the project with additional enthusiasm.

“ They really got excited when they learned their research could be put into book form,” said Sigall. “Many of the students saw it as a way to permanently preserve their college work, to be part of something that will be read for decades.”

Once the task began in earnest, Sigall quickly learned that writing a book wasn’t all that easy. There was the constant editing, the ongoing research, and the verification process with companies featured, and the proofreading. Out of these needs, a “book team” was established. These students volunteered to help beyond the scope of the initial assignment.

“ The book team was essential to this project,” said Sigall. “They are a big reason that we were able to put everything together.”

HPU graduate Eimi Ashizawa (MBA 2003) was a member of that team and credits the experience as an essential part of her education. Ashizawa said that as an international student from Japan, the work was challenging. But her work in Sigall’s class and participation on the book project gave her more confidence in business interaction.

“ Being a part of the class and book team helped me meet people and learn things I could never get from a textbook or class lecture,” said Ashizawa. “The experience will really help me as I go on job interviews and talk with other business people.”

Ashizawa’s research gave her added knowledge in what it takes to run a business, as well as keeping the enterprise dynamic.

“ After my involvement in this project, I was more interested in businesses in general, and had a better understanding of Hawai‘i business practices and history,” she said. “I found that every business has its own unique story and saw the founder’s effort to run the business for a long time, and how the business evolves over time. As a marketing major, learning the skills to sell or advertise products from the research I conducted was invaluable.”

Sigall is excited by the book’s current popularity, but plans for additional volumes remain fluid. He emphasizes the “organic” nature of the project. For now, he maintains a Web site for the book (http://www.companieswekeep.com), and says new stories are still coming in.

“ It’s almost like I’m on a galloping horse. I’m enjoying the ride as it goes along,” said Sigall. “I’ll just stay in the saddle and see where it takes me.”

 
   
   
   

 

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