By Jackie Hanson
The words “håfa adai” mean more to Joann G. Camacho than simply “hello.” As one of her favorite phrases, the greeting spreads Guam’s goodwill and culture, she says. And fittingly, the håfa adai spirit has effectively spanned Camacho’s lifetime of work and even before.
“As a young girl I wanted to be a flight attendant,” she says of her childhood aspirations, which were an early indication of the path she would eventually take.
Born and raised on Guam as the eldest of four children, she attended the Academy of Our Lady of Guam, graduating in 1974. Her parents, Jesse and Amparo Garcia, raised her and her three brothers with the help of Camacho’s grandmother, who played an important role of mentorship in her life.
Despite a bachelor’s in finance management that she would receive from the University of San Francisco and her first job as a staff assistant of fiscal affairs for the Paul M. Calvo-Joseph F. Ada administration, she was ultimately led to a 25-year career in which tourism and pride in Guam’s culture were the cornerstones.
Her early work with Duty Free Shoppers included directing all merchandising and operations for the retailer’s boutiques and being on the team that designed and opened 23 luxury boutiques on Guam and Saipan to include Prada, Versace, Hermes and others — the brands that continue to draw Asian tourists to Guam’s shores today.
She ceased work in the retail environment in 2003 when her husband, Felix P. Camacho, was elected governor of Guam, an office he held until 2011.
As first lady of Guam, her focus shifted to children and the environment. She established the Guam Hope Foundation to improve the welfare of children and families and fund specific solutions to their challenges in education, health care and work/life balances. She also became Guam’s “ambassador for reading” in partnership with Scholastic Books International and revitalized the Guam Bookmobile library, recruiting community businesses to serve as sponsors.
Her other initiatives as first lady included a recycling and environmental campaign to reduce the volume of waste going into the landfill, a drug and alcohol abuse prevention campaign targeting schoolchildren, a “People’s Garden” program that allowed the community to grow, consume and market their own food, and other programs and events to help children in need and those with special needs.
Following her husband’s second term as governor, she re-entered a familiar part of the workforce as general manager of GVB.
“After one year, we saw record-breaking arrivals to the island that we haven’t seen in over 15 years,” she says. “This was attributed to the hardworking men and women at GVB. As a leader, I supported their work, and we were able to accomplish great feats.”
She also reignited dialog with the Marianas Visitors Authority in the Northern Mariana Islands to join marketing efforts in growing the Russian tourism market to the region.
“I always made it a point to be inclusive with our Northern Marianas tourism team,” she says. “In fact, when Guam was blessed with the addition of Jeju Airlines, I asked the board of directors of Jeju Air to consider CNMI once their venture on Guam proved success. Within one year I received a call from Jeju Air asking who they could contact in the CNMI to expand their venture. And within months, Jeju began service to the CNMI.”
She rejoined Duty Free Shoppers, now DFS Group Ltd., in January 2013 in her current role, where she is responsible for market development activities and identifying local trends in the public and private sectors. One of the primary projects she is involved in addresses the trend in visitors’ preference for locally designed and produced products.
“Over the past couple of years, Guam has gone through a cultural renaissance,” she says.
In response, the Guam Unique Merchandising Art program was spearheaded in January 2012 by DFS Guam and the Galaide Group to harness the pride and creativity of local artists and producers into marketable products that embody the essence of Guam. Camacho has been directly involved with the project for the past year.
“Guam’s Chamorro identity is a great story to tell our visitors, and through the Guam Unique Merchandising Art program, we are able to tell that story to the widest audience possible,” she says. “As former first lady of Guam, general manager of the Guam Visitors Bureau and now as the T Galleria director of market development, it will be a continued goal of mine to support Chamorro culture through the artisans and practitioners that tell our great story.”
She believes the qualities of a successful woman in business are passion, resourcefulness and determination. Her personal passion is for getting things done, which has created some challenges along her career path.
“For me, personally, because I do a lot of things passionately, sometimes I come across being overly aggressive or assertive. That’s because if I like doing something and I think it’s right, I go out of my way,” she says.
Though she says she’s learned to be more considerate over the years, she is not apologetic, saying that being aggressive is a good thing.
“Women have to stand up for what we believe in and what we do and trust that all things work for good,” she says.
Camacho’s various community involvements are a direct extension of what she believes in. She serves on the board of directors for the Tourism Education Council, the Guam Tourism Foundation, Guam Unique Merchandise and Art and Latte of Freedom and is a long-standing member of the Guam Visitors Bureau, where she works on the Destination Management Committee to identify and execute needed capital improvement projects and island-wide street maintenance. Additionally, she serves on the board for the Guam chapter of the American Red Cross and is a member of the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free organization, among various other civic involvements.
“To this day, I like serving people,” she says. “It’s better to serve than be served. It’s in my Gumataotao family DNA.”
Yet Camacho feels her biggest accomplishment is the family she has supported. Camacho and her husband have three children: Jessica, 32; Felix “Champ” Jr., 27; and Maria, 22, as well as four grandsons: Scotty, Colin, Raymond and Mason.
In her family, in her community and in her work, Camacho will continue to radiate her innate passion for Guam’s people and culture.
“When we use the words ‘håfa adai,’ we spread the goodwill of our island,” she says. “We spread our culture and, really, its happiness and joy, and that’s what we should be looking forward to every day.” n
Joann G. Camacho, director of market development, DFS Guam; Pia Getty, daughter of Miller; and Robert W. Miller, founder and board director of DFS Group Ltd., at a welcoming reception for Miller on March 19 at the Hyatt Regency Guam.
Photo by Justin Green