Chang Named Young Business Leader of the Year

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By Janis L. Magin
Pacific Business News
June 20, 2010

David S.Y. Chang says Hawaii’s future depends on its ability to help its small businesses compete in the international marketplace. Keys to that goal, he says, are improving education and making life in the Islands more affordable.

David Chang is an entrepreneur, a military veteran and a minister. And he’s always on the lookout for opportunities.

At age 30, he has accomplished more than many people twice his age.

He started his WealthBridge wealth-management firm two-and-a-half years ago after leaving active duty with the Army.

He founded two more startups last year after looking around and seeing opportunity in working with the military — a construction and remodeling firm called The Stone Factory and a bottled-water company called Power H2O.

“David is one of the most active and one of the most intelligent young men I know,” Roger Godfrey, former president of Times Supermarket and consultant to WealthBridge, wrote in support of Chang’s nomination. “Until you meet him and get caught up with his excitement and drive, it is hard to imagine what an impact he has on people.”

It is for this excitement and drive that Chang has been named PBN’s 2010 Forty Under 40 Young Business Leader of the Year.

Growing up in Sacramento, Calif., Chang says he knew from an early age that he wanted to be in public service.

He entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point after graduating from high school, and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2002.

Instead of entering active duty with the Army right after graduation, Chang came to the University of Hawaii as an East-West Center scholar and used the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in political science during that time.

After finishing his studies in 2004, he returned to active duty with the Army and was stationed at Schofield Barracks as a cavalry officer before switching to military intelligence in 2005.

His work in intelligence took him to Iraq in 2006 and 2007, where he served as the intelligence officer for the Army’s 25th Combat Aviation Brigade based at Wheeler Army Air Field.

Chang is currently the military intelligence company commander for the Hawaii Army National Guard, and spends one weekend a month serving the Guard. The Guard’s two-week annual training happens to be going on this week and next.

Being a commander, Chang puts in an additional five to 10 hours per week and says he has more responsibility, including four full-time staff officers who report to him.

He has always been a multitasker.

While in the Army, he began to work part-time as an associate financial adviser for Ameriprise Financial “as a hobby,” and was the director of outreach ministries to Trinity Church in Mililani on weekends.

He also became a minister along the way after years of volunteering with churches, earning a master’s in theological studies from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

It was the work at Ameriprise that gave him the credentials and securities licenses to start WealthBridge in January 2008. The firm focuses on financial management for high-net-worth individuals and closely held businesses.

“We’ve got 100 clients now,” he said. “We’re doing pretty well.”

Not content to run one company, Chang started looking at doing business with his former employer, the U.S. military, and in late 2008 started a residential and commercial construction and remodeling company called The Stone Factory with some partners after realizing that he could sell products to military contractors.

Since the company’s showroom opened on Puuhale Road in April 2009, it has been averaging sales of $140,000 to $150,000 per month for cabinets, granite countertops, vanities and tile, plus installation.

Last year, he started looking around again and zeroed in on the bottled-water market.

“Water is one of the highest profitable margins,” he said. “I contacted water companies, said ‘hey this is a good market.’”

His idea was to find a company that could supercharge drinking water with ionization, more oxygen, electrolytes and minerals. The reason: Because the body will absorb the water more quickly and stay hydrated longer, Chang said.

He eventually found a bottler on the Mainland who could do all that. The product, Power H2O, is set to hit the shelves in military commissaries and stores soon, and will branch out to private retail after, he said.

Chang’s next project is to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming a statesman — he has pulled papers to run for the District 28 seat in the state House of Representatives, which covers Chinatown and downtown Honolulu, and has a found a fan in one of the district’s constituents, the governor.

“David has the qualities of a natural leader: genuineness, intelligence and integrity,” Gov. Linda Lingle wrote. “David’s potential is unlimited, and he is committed to making our community an even better place than it already is.”

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Posted on June 10, 2010 and filed under Business.