20th Anniversary Story | Emily Santiago: Inspiring Success

Emily Santiago

Emily Santiago

When Emily Santiago joined UHA 20 years ago, little did she know how her decision would impact the lives of so many others.

In 1996 Emily was working as an administrative assistant at the University of Hawaii Medical Residency Program, when co-worker Linda Kalahiki (now UHA senior vice president and Chief Marketing Officer) called her to talk about joining a new company started by UH’s Dr. Max Botticelli (Dr. B) and others.

“Dr. B’s vision was to have a health insurance company that was operated by physicians,” recalls Emily. “At the time a lot of physicians saw the insurance companies as adversaries, and he wanted to change that view and actually work together with the physicians.”

Christmas ornament contest at UHA

Celebrating Christmas 2004 at the UHA office with an ornament making contest.

Emily joined the fledgling UHA as the Human Resources Coordinator. In the years that followed, she was repeatedly inspired by the example Dr. B set for his employees. “He was very passionate about his people. He would give you the opportunity to learn and do whatever you wanted to do. If you were headed in the wrong direction he would let you know — but he always did it with love.”

Paying It Forward

Now a senior vice president and Chief Human Resources Officer at UHA, Emily attributes her own success in large part to the encouragement and support that she received early on. And she is actively paying it forward in her own interactions with the employees in her charge. “At UHA we don’t believe in performance evaluations — we believe in helping you grow as an individual and working with your strengths. It’s really rewarding when you are able to work with an employee to find a position that truly suits them. It’s a win for both the organization and the individual.”

During Emily’s tenure in the HR department, UHA has received numerous awards recognizing it as one of Hawaii’s best places to work. Emily has helped institute a number of programs that help ensure that employees enjoy flexibility in their work hours and healthy work/life integration. “It’s nice to see the fruits of our labor and the recognition we are receiving in the community for our efforts,” says Emily. “I think it’s due to the family environment that we have always had here at UHA — we truly care about our people and all aspects of their well-being.”

Giving Back to the Community

At UHA, employees are encouraged to give back to the community in ways that best fit their own interests and beliefs. For Emily, that means volunteering through her church and working on the boards of the Society of Human Resources Management and the Arthritis Foundation. “If I can give back to the community and share my experience with others, it’s a pleasure, a perfect fit,” she says.

Emily with Olympian Tamari Miyashiro

Tamari Miyashiro, part of the 2012 US Olympic volleyball team, showing Emily how to "dig" at the 2015 SHRM Hawaii Chapter State Conference.

Now, 20 years after getting that phone call, Emily recognizes that she is fortunate to be in a position to inspire others to achieve great things in their lives. “For me it has just been an awesome journey,” says Emily. But she is looking ahead to even greater challenges. “It’s wonderful to be able to say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’ve been successful in my work, but now I want to move on to something that can positively impact people more significantly.’” Perhaps her mission trip to the Philippines through New Hope Windward and Compassion International has helped to satisfy that calling to help others reach their full potential — while inspiring the rest of us with her example.

Emily in Northern Samar, Philippines

Emily and her husband Greg (behind the camera) visiting 2 of the children they sponsor in Northern Samar, Philippines in July 2016.

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