Chinn Ho was born on February 26, 1904, to a store worker dad Ho Ti Yuen and mom Ho Kam Lan along with 8 siblings. His grandpa, Ho Tin Hee, migrated to Hawaii from China to labor as a warden for a coconut orchard eventually becoming a rice grower on the island of Oahu. Chinn showed sharp business understanding even as a child, raising ducks to increase the family wages and as a juvenile peddling pencils door to door and spending the money on penny stocks. He did not acquire a private education like the privileged individuals in Hawaii acquired for their kids, but in its place received a public education at McKinley High School, beside other impending self-made Hawaiian frontrunners like Hiram Fong. While in school, he structured the Commercial Associates club which was a investments club, shared insurance plan and venture group. Once he graduated in 1924, he got his first occupation in work at Bishop Bank as a bank messenger. The next year, he progressed up to working at a stock brokerage house, Duisenderb, Wichman and Co and was rapidly renowned as a customer favorite because of his thorough study of the stock market news. When he turned 30, Ho did his earliest real estate investment deal, buying a plot with 3 cottages on it for $5,500 and reselling the cottages independently a year later for $16,500 while he kept ownership of the plot for himself and renting the land to the new cottage owners. In a plot deal further along in his profession, he said, “I sold the structure for $850,000 and kept the plot lease. I currently pay $6,000 a year in property taxes for land and accumulate $50,000 a year from the building owner.” It was a method Chinn Ho would use the rest of his investment lifetime.
As Chinn Ho was just beginning his investment path, during that time period in Hawaii, the businesses, the land, the banks, the secluded clubs and the command over the islands was firmly ruled by a very close intermarried mesh offspring from the earliest Caucasian families who came to the island hundreds of years ago. This “bamboo drape” went to boundless extents to shut everyone else out, particularly those of Japanese and Chinese ancestry, since it was those first white settlers who had sent the Chinese and Japanese to Hawaii to labor the farms with the belief that they would depart to their homebased country after they had earned enough funds. Most of those original farm laborers didn’t depart to their back home, but as an alternative remained on the islands and with every fresh succeeding generation, gradually but systematically moved away from the physical labor farm laboring occupations and into the parts of business possession. Chinn Ho would turn into the icon of this advancement from the farms to the conference room.
Subsequently the Caucasian ran banks would not loan money to the Chinese, so the Chinese raised funds themselves by putting their money together into what was termed hui. The Chinese public saw Chinn’s economic intellect and started to put their faith in his capabilities by promoting him manager over part of their hui. And it was from this financial front that Chinn Ho would go on to place together astonishing business and investment deals, come to be splendidly rich and ultimately break through the racial barricades shaped by the Hawaiian bamboo drape. He became the earliest Asian American to be on the board of directors at a “Top Five” company, Theo H. Davies & Co, the earliest Asian to run a huge acreage estate, the Robinson Estate, the first Asian requested to join the businessmen’s Commercial Club, the first Asian president of the Honolulu Stock Exchange and the first Asian head of the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.
As a director over the Chinese hui, the first noteworthy decisions he made involved purchasing as much property as conceivable throughout World War II whereas many landowners were hiding away due to the chaos, taking a sheet from the Rothchild’s paperback of purchasing when the roads were draining. He even bought some of the acreage on Waikiki for the low price of $0.40 per acre. In 1943, he left his run-of-the-mill brokerage job to run the hui full time and started the Capital Investment Company. In 1947, he took one of Hawaii’s traditional big five corporations, Castle & Cooke, to business school, overbidding them on the Waianae Sugar Co contract and purchasing for $1 million. It was the biggest land buying by an Asian in Hawaii at that time, 9,000 acres in Makaha Valley. Over the following years, he packaged off 40% of the acreage to minor ranchers, amassing a sum of $4 million leaving the other 60% for the future.
Smart and bold, Ho saw the growth of the vacation industry and in 1959, in spite of disapproval from some of his hui stakeholders, through a mixture of acreage he had acquired beforehand and with the leasing of a small number of contiguous lots, Ho industrialized the first profitable high rise structure on Waikiki. The Ilikai Hotel would eventually be highlighted on the hit TV series Hawaii Five-O. In 1974 he sold the hotel to United Airlines for $35 million, gathering an $11.4 million return for him and his financiers.
And Chinn Ho had just begun! In 1955, he outsmarted another reputable Hawaiian company, the Oaho Sugar Co, for over 200 acres that it urgently sought because that land took part in the irrigation into the sugar company’s fields and the motorway over which its distribution trucks drove. Reasonably instead of flattening them, Ho gave them a break. “I could have been very hard on them,” he said, “I could have sold for a half a million dollar return instead of the $150,000 I charged, but this is a small town and they would never talk to me again.”
Ho had two rules in his business dealings: “Kill them with kindheartedness in rivalry” and “Accomplish success by backing to the achievement of others.” He also learned from the beginning not to be excessively avaricious. “If you purchase something for 25 cents and it went up 20 cents, that was nearly doubled up…which is great,” he said. He was married to his wife for 53 years, existed modestly and his only vices were the cigars he always had on him, and a Scotch nightcap every night. “I can live contentedly on $250,000 a year,” he said. “A man doesn’t need more then that.”
In 1961 Ho was a member of the board of directors at The Honolulu Advertiser when he heard that the other local paper, the Star-Bulletin, was being put up for sale. Chinn wrote out a check to the New York newspaper agent to introduce an offer which earned him a response of, “Who in the world is Chinn Ho?” That agent knew who he was once Ho efficaciously won the bid at $11 million and came to be the first Asian to be a primary proprietor of a chief daily newspaper. A decade later, Chinn sold the paper for $35 million to the Gannett Corp and continued as a chairman for the Gannett Pacific Corp after the sale.
Ultimately, Chinn Ho’s Capital Investment Company stretched through the Pacific; including a 2,200 acre extravagant real estate expansion in Marin County, California, a 166 room hotel in Hong Kong and even a smaller concentration on the Great Wall of China. As stadium board president, Ho also aided in bringing Class AAA baseball to Hawaii.
Even though his 6 days a week work agenda had him full of activity with business and investments, Chinn Ho set up time for kindness. He assisted as an unpaid employee and executive on many boards and local administrations, and donated to many different types of projects and nonprofits.
A couple of years before he died in 1987, he told a journalist, “I am not a holy man but from time to time I go to a mountain peal and ask, ‘Mr. Ho, what will people reminisce of you?’”
Chinn Ho will be forever be reminisced as an astonishing Chinese American entrepreneur and investor and a hero to all those in front of ethnic discrimination all over the world.