Barbara Tanabe

2013 Distinguished Alumni Award

BA in communication, 1971, University of Washington
Executive MBA, 1983, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

Barbara Tanabe is owner and managing partner of Ho‘ākea Communications, a Hawai‘i public affairs company. She has 30 years’ experience in communications, public affairs, crisis and issues management, and broadcast journalism in the U.S. and Asia. Tanabe previously served as president and CEO of Hill & Knowlton Hawaii/Communications Pacific and formed Pacific Century consulting company in 1996. She has counseled clients in cross-cultural communications, crisis and issues management, marketing communications, and news and presentation training.

Tanabe began her professional career in 1970 at KOMO in Seattle as one of the first Asian-American women in TV news in the U.S. In 1974 she became a news anchor and later senior business correspondent with KHON in Honolulu. She received an Emmy for the 1971 documentary about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Tanabe is one of 56 American journalists selected for the Washington Press Club Foundation oral history project on pioneer women, and she is also one of the pioneer journalists featured in the Newseum in Washington, D.C. In 1999, she received local and national honors from the Asian American Journalists Association.

Tanabe is actively involved in community and civic organizations and has been volunteering at UH since 1974. She was a guest lecturer at UH Mānoa and served on advisory councils for the School of Travel Industry Management and Honolulu Community College. She was inducted into the Shidler College of Business Hall of Honor in 1996, and she has emceed the annual event for the past five years. She also co-chaired Shidler’s 60th anniversary celebration steering committee. Tanabe recently worked with the College of Engineering to establish a science and engineering exhibition to encourage secondary students to study STEM and pursue careers in Hawai‘i.

Tanabe has served on many state boards and commissions and was a delegate to the 1980 White House Conference on Families. The YWCA recognized her with its 1987 Outstanding Achievement Award. She was the first woman to chair the Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau. She now serves on the boards of Bank of Hawaii, East-West Center and Pacific Forum, is past board chair of the Japan-America Society of Hawaii, and is founding chair and board member of the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs, a groundbreaking think tank that fosters public discussion on complex state issues.


Tribute video produced by Tom Galli & Stacia Garlach. Mahalo to Jim McCoy, Sharon Weiner and William Kaneko. Special thanks to Ms. Tanabe for sharing photos and videos, KHON for archival footage, and Benny Chong for permission to use music from Ukulele Jazz (2005).