How NAN & Its Founder Reshapes the Building of Hawaii’s Skyline

Despite being a young player in the construction world, NAN got off to a flying start and then impressively stepped into the high-rise construction. Is this just a pure stroke of luck or are there any hidden gems behind? Let’s explore!
NAN leadership team in a tradition ceremony of the office
Courtesy: NAN
By | 12 min read

Founded in 1990, Nan Inc. is a general constructor that provides a wide array of professional construction services — including preconstruction, general contracting, and design-build. Located in Honolulu, Hawaii, it is a renowned name in the construction industry because of its high standards and countless accomplishments, which are quite surprising to see in a company that has only been around for three decades. Over 30 years into the market, Nan Inc. delivered over 3,000 site engineering, renovation, and new construction projects. The company has more than 600 employees and generates a yearly revenue of over $190 million.

Nan Inc.’s success must be attributed to its founder, Nan Chul Shin, a man born in South Korea. However, this is not the name that most people will recognize. Instead, people in Hawaii know him as Patrick Shin because he changed his name when he moved to the United States, as he wanted to adjust to the new culture. From very humble beginnings with only himself and one laborer at his side, Mr. Shin began his company by tackling the smallest of construction projects with determination and integrity; the first contract being the installation of a single road sign. Fast forward to today, Nan, Inc. has grown to become the State’s largest locally owned and operated general contractor, with the capacity and expertise to execute the most complex projects.

A Humble Beginning

His journey from being a common man to a well-known public figure of Hawaii was far from easy. Emigrating to the US with his family, Shin had to share a one-bedroom with all his siblings. While he was still living in New York, he earned a scholarship for soccer by Bowling Green State University, which further helped him to go for his majors in business administration at the same university.

NAN project construction team assemble crank
Courtesy: NAN

Constructions wasn’t Shin’s first attempt in business. After graduation, he assisted his brother with a seafood company that produced more than a hundred accounts within a year. However, the seafood business is unpredictable in nature. Shin experienced the harshness of business, especially in a place like New York when restaurants failed to pay back the money to his company. Instead of continuing with the seafood business, he decided to move to Hawaii where he could walk in slippers and shorts all year long. “I wanted to go as far as I could away from New York City.” – Shin recalled.

As much as he enjoyed the relaxed, warming atmosphere in Hawaii, Shin learned very quickly that he needed money to live in paradise. He found a labor job at a construction company and joined the Carpenter’s union several months later for better opportunities. These experiences sparked Shin’s interest in construction and led him to ditch his day job and risk it all by forming Ocean House Builders, the predecessor to Nan, Inc.

“I wanted to do something on my own instead of working for someone else,” recalled Shin.

However, the company didn’t go smoothly. Shin struggled to find work as he just moved to Hawaii and barely knew anyone. “When I opened the company, nobody was giving me jobs because I’m not from here. Everything was on my own,” said Shin. In fact, before forming Ocean House Builders, Shin recalled one of his first big paydays in his solo venture was when he successfully bid to clean a home up on Waialae Iki. It was an insurance job because recent construction in the area had caked the inside of the home in dirt. Shin scrubbed tiles and scoured walls and got paid $4,000. “That was big, especially considering my rent was $300 a month.”

In the early days of Ocean House Builders, Shin and his skeleton crew working from an office on Moowaa Street looked for work anywhere they could find it. They didn’t know it at the time, but one key source of income would end up being a cornerstone of the company’s future success: military contracts. “Any job less than $20,000, you could bid on without needing a bond, so I went after those.” And Shin’s first “big” military job? Replacing a stop sign at Wheeler Army Airfield.

Steady Growth through Hard Work and Dedication

NAN leadership in a ribbon cutting with department of education
Courtesy: NAN

Despite the company’s humble beginning, Nan Inc. underwent a steady growth in income just few years after its inception.

Through Shin’s determination and the hard work of his small crew, more work steadily trickled in. James Gordon, now a Nan, Inc. Superintendent, was among the first handful of Ocean House employees. He recalls the early days: “Hard work. Compared to what we do now, no comparison. We would work six, sometimes seven days a week. Whatever was set for that day you had to get it done no matter how long it took. Most people quit. I came back because Nan kept his word of steady work. You take care of me, I will take care of you.” And to take care of his employees, Shin risked it all time and time again.

 “Early on, no one would give me a payment and performance bond, because I had no assets and no work experience, they would only take cash. So, in one instance, I scraped together what I had and also borrowed money from my brother to put up the $100,000 bond.”

Ocean House Builders morphed into Nan, Inc. in 1995. It was shortly thereafter that the company established and grew its corporate structure which began with the establishment of an executive committee comprised of Nan Inc’s early engineers.

Nan, Inc.’s upward trajectory continued in the 2000’s as the company landed more and more big contracts and the accolades piled up. The year 2010 saw the opening of the Bannister office and even an official proclamation from the City and County of Honolulu. The 2010s brought even more growth. In 2015, Nan Inc. landed the Honolulu Rail Project, the largest public work project in Hawaii’s history.

Amidst the pandemic crisis, Shin is optimistic about his company: “I think we have a lot of great past experience, good performance, and a lot of people who are really dedicated to the company. That in turn allows us to teach the younger engineers who will be able to carry the company into the future.” That future includes tremendous growth slated for Guam where Nan, Inc. has established a permanent office and numerous contracts have recently been awarded.

What sets Nan Inc. apart boils down to the matter of perspective, reflects Office Manager Jocelyn Soriano. “It’s all the people coming together and putting all they have into each project. Our clients see the dedication and also the results, and that keeps them coming back,” said Soriano. Gordon pointed to another hallmark of Nan, Inc.: “The fact that we self-perform much of our work and we are able to multi-task.” And Shin added: “We make decisions very fast. The Executive Team and I are very hands on, so we really know what’s going on.”

All these statements have one theme in common: the men and women of Nan, Inc. both out in the field and in office give it their all. And it’s no secret that over the years, Nan, Inc. has strived to keep fully staffed, even if profit margins suffer at times. “It’s not just making money for yourself. You must have the mentality to try and take care of the people who depend on you,” said Shin.

Stepping into the High-Rise Construction 

Whether its building rail stations, a school, or a massive new sewer facility, Nan, Inc. and its dedicated workers have never been afraid to blaze new trails. And thanks in large part to Shin’s determination, the company is carving out a new niche as it makes the first foray into the high-stakes world of high-rise construction. The Park on Keeaumoku, the Honolulu-based construction company’s $600 million mixed-use project that has 972 condominium units and commercial space in two 42-story towers, is constructed by Nan Inc. in first quarter of next year.

staff work on a model of complex building in Hawaii downtown
Courtesy: NAN

The project, located diagonally across from the Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club shopping and restaurant complex, has been in the works for a few years now. It started when Shin seized on the opportunity to become co-owner of the land. The City and County of Honolulu had flagged it as being ripe for re-development as the project is within the planned Honolulu Rail-Ala Moana Center Transit Station and within the designated Transit Oriented Development (“TOD”) zone, which caught Shin’s eye. Shin also knew it could serve as a springboard and a résumé builder for Nan, Inc. as the company enters the world of high-rise construction. ““This is an opportunity for us to enter this market and fine tune our work in this area and build another pillar for Nan Inc. construction,” he shares.

A Root in Giving Back

Patrick Nan Shin is not only a popular name of Hawaii’s building industry but has gained a lot of appreciation for his social work as well. His roots are still firmly planted in the culture of Hawaii and he leaves no opportunity to serve the community.

Through the years, Nan, Inc. and its employees have actively participated in various fundraisers and have donated to many charities. Shin and his company have donated $1 million to St. Francis Healthcare Foundation as a grateful son whose mother received a compassionate care from them. Nan Inc is always the first one to support different charity events. The company employees wholeheartedly participated in Relay for Life event, which is a celebration, memorial, and rally against cancer.

Aside from charity, the company makes great efforts to implement practical projects that uplift the life of the unfortunate. The company played a leading role in an annual hands-on effort to improve people’s lives in southeast Asia. Shin and his employees donate money and manpower alongside Pacific region YMCAs and the Rotary Club of Honolulu to make infrastructure improvements in impoverished rural areas in the Philippines and Cambodia. The volunteers, underwritten largely by Nan, Inc., do things like remodeling a school, providing dental and eye care services to villagers, and constructing new housing.

Hawaii airport and downtown view
Courtesy: NAN

Shin also emphasizes the importance of giving back in terms of knowledge and experiences. He believes so strongly in the power of mentoring that he opened a Small Business Administration’s SBA 8(a) Mentor Protégé Program in 2005. One of the company’s shining successes is Aulii Construction, Inc., a small local construction company. Nan, Inc. provided a broad range of business development assistance and guidance to support Aulii’s growth and development. The mentorship continued for several years and culminated with Auli’i’s successful completion of the SBA 8(a) program.

The Bottom Line

Nan Inc was a new company but quickly received many multi-million projects over the year.  The construction company was a major player in the hospitality industry, having different chains of hotels such as the Hilton giving them contracts.

It is only because Shin was dedicated to transforming Nan Inc. into a successful and full-fledged construction firm in Hawaii that could make a difference. He started out with just one employee, but there are almost 600 people that make up Nan Inc.’s team today. Patrick Shin ensured that his company didn’t make any comprises where quality and professionalism were concerned, and this helped them in enhancing their reputation. Thanks to the trust of the Hawaiian community and local businesses, Nan Inc grew to one of the largest construction companies in Hawaii.

  • About: Lina Tran
    Joining EnvZone with a focus on performance analysis, Lina is thrilled to explore the business world by covering the ups and downs of hundreds of companies from which her clients…