Profiles: Bruce McDonald

Bruce McDonald

Bruce McDonald

MBA 90

Realtor - Broker, MBA at Maui Real Estate Advisors LLC

Selling Paradise


Born and raised in Millbrae, California, his mom ran the house and raised the four boys in the family, while his World War II-veteran Dad worked as a salesman. McDonald's first job was delivering newspapers as a way to help his mother, who had returned to the workforce after the divorce. Today McDonald is one of the island's top realtors, specializing in luxury properties and cultivating relationships and sales to China's billionaires.

After about fourteen years working at the country club, he went to work for United Airlines. He was then advised to get a business degree. In 1985, he graduated from USF with a BS in Business Administration, Hospitality Management and later, an MBA in Finance with GGU.

Like many GGU alumni, Bruce selected GGU because of its practical focus. "I thought about going back to USF for my master's degree, but decided that I'd already had enough theory; I wanted to get the insider's perspective. At Golden Gate the professor has a PhD, but he's also working in the industry. We had a lot of guys at the golf clubs who were obviously professional and successful businesspeople, a lot of finance guys from downtown, and they agreed."

With his new MBA in hand in 1990, Bruce decided to try the corporate side of the hospitality industry, taking a position with Taco Bell owned by Pepsi, a Fortune 50 company. "But after a year and a half I knew it wasn't for me."

From there, he went to work for a food-service contractor that ran in-house cafes and cafeterias for big Silicon Valley corporations, including Apple and Sun. Then, in 1999, a neighborhood tavern in San Carlos came up for sale. The place had been around for fifty years. The bar was at the end of Laurel Street in San Carlos. With his brother as a silent partner, Bruce took over operations. He was supposed to work four shifts a week but "basically I was there seven days a week." Then one day, a customer announced her retirement to Hawaii. After more than 30 years in the hospitality industry, McDonald decided it was time to leave and take a chance somewhere else. It was 2003, and America's housing bubble was still expanding. McDonald was impressed with the possibilities he saw on Maui.

Initially he went to work for Prudential Real Estate on Maui. The office was an appealing four-minute commute from home. Bruce joined Wailea Realty as a realtor and salesperson after three years with Prudential. When the housing bubble burst, pummeling real estate values, Hawaii fared somewhat better than the mainland. "Still it was horrible, really tough," he admits. "That's when I started dabbling in Asia." The Chinese economy was booming. Bruce learned that while his initial idea of first establishing a business in Hong Kong was limiting, mainland China was wide open and virtually nobody was cultivating that opportunity. Bruce had virtually no connections in China, a country in which personal relationships are prized in business, so the first step was to establish some. Undaunted, he kept going back to China and building more networks in Hawaii. "I have been macro-concentrating on contacts and relationships to China since our economic debacle in the US took full effect. I had the foresight to look beyond our borders and started looking to Asia. I started feeling the need for us to be able to assist China because we seem to be both such a logical and strategic position for them. We're right in the middle between America and China. What could be better? The airlines have opened up, so there are now six direct flights a week from Beijing to Oahu and also two direct flights from Shanghai to Oahu."

Since becoming a realtor in 2004, and eight years later a broker, he's been building a reputation for matching Maui's luxury properties to some of the world's wealthiest international clients. Increasingly, those clients are from China, a trend that McDonald predicted long before the market appeared to be opening. He credits that prescience in part to his MBA in finance, which he says gave him the ability to forecast growth.

In Hawaii, Asian buyers dominate. Although Japan-based buyers still account for nearly sixty percent of all international sales in the islands, Chinese buyers are a growing part of the market comprising six percent of all international sales. Nationwide, Chinese buyers bought more than $10 billion of U.S. real estate in 2011, and the properties they purchase for personal homes tend to be in the $1-million to $5-million range.

"There is so much going on here. That's how the education I've received has truly helped me: I can see the big picture. I understand the financials and that alone helps tremendously. If you have a grasp on international marketing and international finance, you're ahead of the game. As a result of everything I've learned and everything I've done, there is nobody on this island who is better prepared because I have an understanding of the whole global package. Asia is coming to our market, and it's up to us to make the most of that opportunity."

McDonald recently moved to a new strategic location -- Maui Real Estate Advisors. Like his clients, he moved to the islands for the lifestyle. And he's become an integral part of improving his local community. His favorite projects are sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club, which he helped to start on Maui. "Kids are priority one. Our whole focus is on the youth of our community." He's most proud of a holiday program dubbed "Shop with a Cop", which he instituted, that matches underprivileged children to a local policeman for Christmas shopping with gift cards donated by the Kiwanis and the local Kmart store. "The usual introduction these kids have to Maui's police officers is often not the best. This outing shows the kids that the officers are here to help, that they're our friends. Often you'll see kids buying presents for other kids in their family or the officer ending up taking money out of his own wallet when their gift cards aren't enough. It's the best day of the year for me."