Aloha Business

Photo by Duane Zehr

By Matt Hawkins
March 13, 2015

Maui Jim, Inc. President Mike Dalton brought Hawaiian spirit to the Hilltop as he shared the philosophy that built the sunglasses company’s brand. Dalton shared his “Aloha Spirit” approach to corporate culture at the annual McCord Lecture.

The “Aloha Spirit” refers to a culture that encourages selflessness, concern for others and positive attitudes. As a result, Maui Jim leadership emphasizes a relational approach to employee job satisfaction and productivity, product innovation and customer service. 

“We’re all connected and dependent on each other for mutual wellbeing,” Dalton said. “Our successes are rooted in the people we have. We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”

Maui Jim, now the third-largest sunglasses company in the world, began as Walter Hester’s small sunglasses business in Maui. The business notably developed the first polarized sunglasses in the late 1980s. Dalton was the mainland U.S. distributor for Maui Jim and president of RLI Vision until the sunglasses company bought out RLI Vision in 1996.

Dalton, appropriately attired for the lecture in a blue Hawaiian shirt, said the “Aloha Spirit” flows from Hester, who rarely has intervened in executive financial discussions. Instead, Hester is attuned to relational matters.

“I’ve only had one call about finances, but if he hears we’re not doing repairs in 72 hours or people are on hold, he’ll be all over us,” Dalton said. “When that commitment to success starts at the top, it’s easy for the rest of us to go all-in.” 

That spirit carries into customer service, where customers talk to Peoria-based staff who are empowered to resolve issues. To enhance customer satisfaction, the company works toward limited wait time on the calls and eyewear repair within three days.

“We want customers to get off the phone and go, ‘Wow! I just had the best customer service experience of my life,” Dalton said.

The same outside-the-box thinking drives product development as Dalton maneuvers the company through a rapidly changing economic and technological marketplace. To maximize flexibility, he limits long-range planning and hires other companies to manufacture sunglasses.

As a result, Maui Jim has become an internationally known brand. The freedom to innovate and adjust enabled the Peoria business to challenge established brands in the mid-1990s when manufacturers like Oakley dismissed polarized eyewear as a “fad.”

At the time, polarized lenses were costly to produce for companies that had recently invested in their own production technology.

“We were there at the right place and right time with the right product,” Dalton said. “Companies come to us first because they know we can turn on a dime.”

Sponsored by Illinois Mutual Life Insurance Company, the McCord lecture series features top business leaders discussing the challenges of leading a major enterprise. Illinois Mutual also established the Robert A. McCord Endowed Professorship for Executive Management Development in 1990 to honor the late Robert A. McCord when he retired as Chairman of the Board and CEO of the company.

The professorship, held by Dr. Joshua Lewer, recognizes a Bradley faculty member who teaches students in the Foster College of Business with creativity and passion and supports that faculty member’s research and professional activities.