Kristine Stebbins ‘87 remembers completing a long list of internships as a Communication undergraduate at Chaminade, including the one that would launch her whirlwind career and eventually bring her back to the islands for an executive role created expressly for her.
Stebbins was recently named senior vice president and director of digital experience innovation and technology at Bank of Hawai’i. The position is an opportunity for the longtime marketing entrepreneur—who has been breaking ground in the industry for decades—to come full circle, returning to the place where she met her husband, attended college and began to build her marketing philosophy.
She described her work at Bank of Hawai’i as “one of those awesome roles.”
“I have the opportunity to look five years down the line at the ways we’re planning to build these amazing digital experiences,” she said, adding that digital innovation is an exciting and growing area of the banking sector that has been put on a fast-track because of the pandemic. “Today when you’re looking at marketing in particular, you need to think of yourself as a marketing technologist.”
Stebbins said her projects at Bank of Hawai’i have allowed her to bring her marketing and digital innovation expertise to bear to create excellent digital customer experiences. Stebbins joined Bank of Hawai’i full-time after previously serving as a consultant for the company, including on a key digital transformation project that helped put the institution on the right footing for the pandemic.
In other words, she was designing for the future.
And that was a role she was completely comfortable with. After all, Stebbins likes to say the only constant in marketing is change. Every five years or so, there’s a big disruption in the industry—the kind of seismic shifts that companies can learn to dread. Great marketing strategy, she says, is about harnessing those moments and using them to create new opportunities to reach customers.
“The pandemic has been a moment where it’s basically made digital interactions in banking a requirement,” she said. “So we’re trying to build out digital experiences that bring humans together.”
Her message to young marketing professionals is one she learned early on, too, including as a Chaminade student: Be ready for those moments of disruption by embracing adaptability and change.
A start in Hawai’i—and at Chaminade
Indeed, change has defined some of the biggest moments in her life.
Stebbins secured her first position in marketing with an internship, which she acquired through Chaminade, at top-rated advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather. She worked in their Honolulu office and got hired shortly after graduation. It was a dream come true.
It was also far from the life she’d imagined for herself just a few years earlier.
Stebbins had first come to Hawai’i with no intention of staying. She was visiting for the summer to spend time with her brother, who was in the Navy. Stebbins would take the bus into town and then back to Makakilo. And it was at a bus stop at Ala Moana Center that she met her future husband.
She’d asked him for directions and the two ended up spending the day together. And then summer together. When it came time to head back home to Texas, she did—and he followed. John Stebbins ended up driving her to the East Coast to drop her off at college and then going back to the islands.
A semester later, it was Kristine Stebbins who was knocking on his door. She’d transferred to Chaminade University and he enrolled a short time later. They were both taking classes together and would graduate within a year of one another. They married in 1988 at Seabury Hall on Maui.
Stebbins says she is still grateful to have transferred to Chaminade, and not just to be closer to her husband-to-be. She said Chaminade offered a more individualized experience and gave her access to opportunities she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. She counts her experiences at the University as central to setting her up for success and can still rattle off the names of some of the professors who served as her Chaminade mentors, including Communications Professor Dr. Mary Jude Yablonsky.
In addition to an internship at Ogilvy & Mather, Stebbins also worked at Chaminade’s student newspaper and the radio station and secured an internship at Hawai’i Public Television. She says of her mentors at Chaminade, “Obviously, they stuck with me.” Speaking to Chaminade Magazine, she added, “They were so supportive. They really guided me and encouraged me to get that real-life experience.”
Experience, she said, that was invaluable. It gave her an opportunity to apply what she’d learned in classrooms in a real-world setting—doing everything paid employees were doing—and she was hooked.
After graduation, Stebbins and her husband stayed in Hawai’i for several years, building their careers.
And then they headed to the mainland, moving to new cities—San Francisco, New York City, Seattle—as new opportunities emerged. Stebbins worked as global account director for IBM, senior marketing manager at Microsoft, and as a marketing consultant to some of the world’s biggest brands.
She also started her own marketing company, which she later sold.
All the while, the two maintained a strong connection to Hawai’i, especially after their daughter was born. (She’s now a junior in high school.) John Stebbins still has family in the islands, and this is where they one day saw themselves returning. They didn’t think it would be quite so soon, Stebbins said.
But then, as she often says, embrace change—because it’s inevitable.
During the pandemic, Stebbins started to assess her life and her work. She realized she’d been doing the work she wanted to do already, with Bank of Hawai’i. Fast forward several months and they were offering her a position, a new digital innovation role at the company created just for her.
She joined the bank in September, taking the first step in transitioning her family back to Hawai’i.
‘The world is definitely changing’
In addition to a passion for marketing, Stebbins is committed to helping the next generation. She believes strongly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education programs, especially those targeted at young girls. She’s even coached a Robotics team for the Girl Scouts.
Stebbins is also proud to work for a Hawai’i company with a strong commitment to diversity—and no shortage of women in executive positions. Things weren’t always that way in executive suites, she said, and in some places they still aren’t. In fact, Stebbins recalls that when she first started out at Ogilvy & Mather she couldn’t speak at meetings with major clients even when she was a topic’s expert.
“You laugh now because it’s so outrageous but is indicative of the experience in terms of how far we’ve come,” she said, adding that there have been many times in which she was the only woman in a boardroom. Her advice if they underestimate you: Let them—so you can prove them wrong.
“Quite frankly, I’m pretty smart and I know what I’m talking about,” she said, adding young women entering the business now may not face all the same barriers she faced but will undoubtedly face some of them. “You need to be confident in your abilities. It’s all a matter of being true to who you are.”
Plus, she added, “The good news is the world is definitely changing.”
And Stebbins is all in for that.