CEO of Kualoa Ranch Speaks to CUH students


Megan Robinson

Morgan spoke about conservation, sustainability, agriculture, cultural and historic preservation to enhance the experience of Kualoa Ranch while keeping true to the companies mission.

John Morgan, CEO of Kualoa Ranch, was featured as a special guest speaker in the Clarence T.C. Ching Conference Center on Nov. 30, arranged by Chaminade’s office of advising and career preparation. He spoke to a couple dozen of Chaminade students on the history of Kualoa Ranch, being a rancher in Hawaii, his challenges along the way, new endeavors, and new cultural and historical stewardship practices implemented at the ranch.

For 80 minutes, Morgan illustrated “turning dreams into reality” by presenting his experiences of dropping out of school after two years at Oregon State University and decided to form a career out of the family-owned land. He has been working on the ranch since 1971 at 14 years old. He states this realization among many other experiences as “recognizing an opportunity and acting on it.”

Morgan is descendent of Dr. Garrett Judd, a missionary dentist who befriended King Kamehameha III and purchased the Kualoa land in 1850. The family ranch has expanded generations after and significantly diversified its resources over the past 15 years to preserve the unique heritage and scenic beauty of the property.

He has changed the vision of the ranch by reconnecting visitors with the Hawaiian cultural history. It is part of the company’s mission to honor and perpetuate an understanding of the significance and uniqueness of Kualoa’s lands to the ancient Hawaiian people. The company understands the Hawaiian cultural sensitivities and the protocols are respected and interpreted through the assistance of outside resources as well as dedicated staff members.

Along with the many improvements that have been made in the business from what was once just a tourist getaway, they developed recreational and agricultural enterprises that are compatible with the environment to help visitors understand the preservation of the land through sustainable and conservation practices. Morgan calls this “continual improvement.”

Kualoa has been utilized for movie sets. It has become known as Hollywood’s “Hawaii backlot” and features on numerous films from “Pearl Harbor,” “Godzilla” and “50 First Dates.” TV and shows including the “Hawaii Five-O”, “Magnum P.I.” and “LOST.”

Through his dedication to going back to school, seeking mentors, networking with associations and organizations, Morgan has been able to make many improvements and changes to the business and land itself.

“I decided to push myself,” he said. “I was managing the ranch in 1981, I was a young guy taking over this place and I pushed myself to learn about the community, so I got involved. I ran for the neighborhood board, I got into the Oahu Cattle[men’s] association, [Hawaii’s] Tropical Foliage Association. These were the ways I started to advance my abilities and context in the community so I could advance myself and the interest of the ranch.”

This initial advancement for Morgan was the stepping stone that manifested into further improvements for himself and the well being of the ranch. His first big venture was investing into a $100,000 leather leaf business that later failed due to his lack of understanding of the business market at the time. He uses this experience to further emphasize a lesson transforming failure into positive energy and actions.

“Failure is not necessarily bad when you live through it and learn from your mistakes,” Morgan said. “Be accurate in your self-assessment. There’s a lot of different skills that different people have, and one of the biggest problem I saw as manager was dealing with people who don’t have an accuracy of self-assessment. This goes back to asking people for feedback.”

Morgan covered numerous personal learning points from his experiences and challenges from his past and ongoing plans for Kualoa. He took the time to summarize these learning points after each story.

“One thing that I found about being in these circles [organizations and associations], that when you’re uncomfortable, it’s okay. No one really cares about how good you’re doing and so even in the managing part of Kualoa Ranch, when you don’t feel that confident, you gotta be confident, and you’ll learn to be confident. They say teaching is the best way to learn. Be accountable and responsible for your actions.”

The seventh generation family-owned nature reserve mission is to be a role model as stewards of the land by preserving, protecting and enhancing Hawaii’s natural beauty and culture while developing recreational and agricultural enterprises that are compatible with the environment. They care and wish to communicate their reverence for the natural environment, the unique Hawaiian culture and the sacred history of Kualoa Ranch. The mission of Kualoa was manifested from the marching orders of Morgan’s responsibility and given marching orders.

“When I was really young, marching orders were given to me by my grandmother and my great aunt,” he said. “I was the first one in my generation to be on the board of directors, and my grandmother and great aunt owned two-thirds of the land. They basically said, ‘We owned this land for over a 140 years at the time, we’re not going to sell, we’re not going to develop, we’re going to run in ourselves.’ It was typical at the time for landowners to lease out the land, it was a low-risk way of doing it, but it was not their (grandmother and grand aunt) marching orders.”

Kualoa Ranch has demonstrated sustainable land stewardship and economic stability into protecting the environment for future generations. Hundreds of thousands of people visit Kualoa Ranch every year and see the beauty of the land and learn about ecosystem services that ranching provides to the community.

The company stands well for a “corporate citizen” by supporting the community by offering educational programs, serving products they grow and supporting local farmers in the area, providing in-kind donations, encourage staff to participate in community committees, boards, and projects.

Kualoa Ranch plans to expand and improve programs for internship opportunities in environmental (native habitat management), agriculture, and business.

“We want to preserve these three ahupua’a’s (three land sections of Kualoa) to the best of our ability, so they look and feel the same 200 years later as they do now,” Morgan said. “From a community perspective, we would like to be [a] positive impact on the community that can manifest itself in a lot of different ways. We would like to have more reach. We are stewards [of] our land, communities, employees, and we’re doing what we can.”