Walter Hester, CEO of Maui Jim Sunglasses and a 1977 graduate of Westminster College, will come to campus to deliver the annual IBM Lecture at 4 p.m., April 21, in the Coulter Lecture Hall.
The title of his lecture will be “Maui Jim…Living Aloha.”
Living Aloha means acceptance and appreciation of others. It is looked upon as a gift given to one another, whose effect is one of responsibility and beauty. Its meaning encompasses the way Hester’s employees at Maui Jim conduct business and relate to their customers, suppliers, and community.
“My experiences at Westminster College had a definite impression on all aspects of my life,” says Hester. “The student/teacher ratio and relationships contributed greatly to my character and my success.”
Hester’s company, Maui Jim, is currently the fastest growing polarized sunglass maker in the world. The company has won many prestigious awards such as Forbes Magazine’s “100 Things Worth Every Penny” (1999), U.S. Department of Commerce’s Export Achievement Certificate (2002), Golf Digest’s “Best Sunglass for Golf” (2004), Advertising Age’s Marketing 50 list of biggest success stories (2004). Most recently, Walter Hester was awarded the ESA Visionary Award by the European Sunglass Association.
“We are honored to welcome Walter Hester back to campus,” says Westminster President Dr. George B. Forsythe. “His success story in business will be an inspiration to our students.”
Maui Jim began as a small company selling sunglasses on the beaches of Maui, Hawaii. In the late 1980s, the company developed sunglasses that were the first on the market to provide protection from glare and harmful ultraviolet rays. Then in 1986, Walter Hester became the first and sole sunglass distributor for the state of Hawaii. Hester purchased the business out of bankruptcy in 1991 and with him at the helm, its phenomenal sales growth began. The company expanded from seven styles and one lens color to its current 76 styles, four lens colors, over 200 sku’s and prescription capabilities.
Today, Maui Jim employs over 600 worldwide and has 11 international offices where its sunglasses are distributed and sold. These include Canada, France, Australia, Mexico, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Spain, Sweden, UAE and India. Approximately 40% of all total gross company sales come from international markets.
This fall a group of Westminster business students had the privilege of visiting Maui Jim headquarters in Peoria, IL.
“This was a good educational opportunity for me to see how the company worked and the unique corporate culture the company creates through the concept of living aloha,” says Andres Veintimilla, a senior from Ecuador and one of the students on the trip. “I was impressed with how one of our alumnus took the entrepreneurship lessons he learned at Westminster College and worked them into such a stable and friendly company.”
Hester learned well the lesson of giving back to society as a student at Westminster where the mission is to prepare global leaders to make a difference in the world. His company supports Hale Makua, one of Hawaii’s oldest skilled nursing care centers for elderly individuals, and he was on the Board of Directors. Maui Jim’s annual charity golf tournament to benefit the Children’s Home Association of Illinois has generated almost $3,000,000 since its inception in 2000. Over the past nine years, Maui Jim’s polar bear dive has raised $500,000 for the South Side Mission, a homeless shelter in Peoria, IL. The company also organizes a yearly race to benefit the Friendship House in Peoria, which provides assistance to low-income and at-risk children and families.
Before relocating to the Hawaiian Islands in 1983, Hester worked on the mainland in the advertising field for Shell Oil.
Maui Jim has a U.S. patent on its Polarized Plus technology for sunglasses, which incorporates polarization to block reflected glare, plus using a bi-gradient mirror and anti-reflective treatment to block glare from above, below and behind. Recently, the company added three rare earth elements to naturally enhance colors.
Maui Jim prides itself on its employee relations. Every employee is granted stock options and has 24 hour access to an on-site gym with two fitness trainers. Incentive contests are held for employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle and contests are held in the Peoria, IL office to see who can wear flip-flops and shorts all winter long.
The IBM Lectureship in Business and Finance was established at Westminster College by the International Business Machines Corporation in 1980. It is designed to bring leaders to the Westminster campus in the field of business and finance or professors of economics and business administration for visits of one to three days.