There isn’t a challenge too intimidating for Christine Matsuda Smith and its part of the reason why her personal philosophy is “say yes.” As vice president for Bennet Group Strategic Communications, she has her sights set on taking the company to new heights and creating a healthier, more informed island community for Hawai‘i.
A local girl, Christine was raised in Kaimuki by her father, a music teacher at Kamehameha Schools, and her mother, an artist and advisor at the University of Hawai‘i. She garners much of her daily inspiration from her mother, who spearheaded UH’s academics for athletics program to prioritize academic achievement for athletes. “The older I get, the more I realize that I am exactly like her. I’m compelled to take the hard assignment, see how much I can help and how far we can push.”
After graduating from Punahou School, Christine accepted a scholarship to the University of Southern California where she took her creative genes and designed her own major around food studies. “I had to be a food writer,” she laughs. She soon scored a part-time position with Bon Appétit Magazine that brought her to an opportunity of a lifetime: assistant to Anne Willan, a renowned French chef. There, she fulfilled every foodie’s dream and immersed herself in recipe development, food photography, cooking demos, and even academic research. On the side, she worked alongside non-profits in the culinary community to help raise money and host events.
Christine discovered her passion for nonprofit development when she accepted a position with Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending child hunger. In her work throughout the western region of the US, she realized something big was happening: families in her home state were left out of the spotlight and weren’t getting the resources they needed. “There was a national movement to stop childhood hunger that wasn’t affecting Hawai‘i and I didn’t understand why.”
So, in 2012 Christine moved back to O‘ahu and accepted a position with Hawai‘i Foodbank assisting with fund development and event coordination. There, she worked alongside key stakeholders to find a solution to this problem and expand the organization’s island-wide efforts. Fast-forward to today and she now leads one of Hawai‘i’s largest public relations firms by revenue in the state.
Her personal mantra? “You are strong enough and in control. It is your choice to be who you are,” Christine shares, holding a smile behind her coffee.
Q: Bennet Group is committed to partnering with companies that are working towards a better future for Hawai‘i. Explain how some of our clients are learning from working with you.
A: Creating long-term progress. I see that they are constantly moving towards something better, whether it’s having a clearer vision or a finding better way to improve people’s lives through community, culture and art.
Q: At the end of the day, what imprint do you hope to have on your clients?
A: I know it’s been a good day when all of us are working in sync, fired up, passionate and inspired just by working with each other. In terms of the work that we are doing, it’s when they feel smarter and better informed. It’s a great feeling when new ideas are introduced that lead towards a positive impact and make our clients feel better understood.
Q: How do you define your shining moment of success as a communications professional?
A: My own way of thinking and who I am as a professional is guided by the idea that magic happens when people come together and form new connections. In our job, crafting relationships is just as important as keeping our clients informed. It’s the same thing. What I find rewarding is identifying novel ways that make that spark occur, whether it’s a simple exchange of ideas or having the opportunity to open their minds to a broader way about thinking about issues affecting our community.
Q: What characteristics of the workplace you feel are most critical in ensuring the prosperity of the overall company?
A: The first thing is trust. I am a big believer that trust is critical throughout our organization and that each and every one of us has each other’s back. The way we create trust is by being transparent, which takes a lot of effort and dedicated attention to maintain.
Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?
A: In our role, we must constantly be student of society, endlessly evolving, learning, improving and getting smarter. It can be exhausting but I love it.