Lifelong entrepreneur Fred Hornbruch gives back through mentorship

  • Kailua-Kona resident Fred Hornbruch has been an entrepreneur since the age of 10. (Courtesy Photo)
  • Kailua-Kona resident Fred Hornbruch has been an entrepreneur since the age of 10. (Courtesy Photo)

Fred Hornbruch has been an entrepreneur since the age of 10.

It all started with a loan from his dad to buy a Reo power rotary lawn mower in the early 1950s. He charged 75 cents per hour and was soon cutting most of the lawns in his Merion, Pennsylvania, neighborhood. When winter came, he diversified into snow removal. That was just the beginning.


Next came a printing press, ‘Shine-ease’, a travel shoe shine kit manufactured in his basement and sold nationally, and a British-made Vauxhall sedan. Freshly minted drivers license in hand, at 16 Fred became what he likes to refer to as “the first Uber driver,” giving fellow students rides to and from high school for 10 cents each way.

“What I love most about being an entrepreneur — from my first venture through my adult life — is being engaged with my community,” says Fred.

After an undergrad at Yale, followed by an MBA from Stanford in 1969, Fred co-founded Creative Publications, Inc. in California. He partnered with a high school math teacher to develop mathematics class materials from preschool through 12th grade. They started with eight products and increased their offerings to over 1,000 items by the time they sold the company to Westinghouse in 1981.

Fred’s love of travel led him to his next venture when he noticed a bookstore in downtown Palo Alto called Phileas Foggs Books, named after Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days. He bought the struggling store in 1985 and relocated it to Stanford Shopping Center in 1986 — where he built a travel junkie community around the store, offering slide shows, workshops, book signings, and even a travel agency inside for a one-stop travel shop.

“What I’ve learned in business,” says Fred, “is find your niche and specialize in it 100 percent with the motto: If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!”

After 17 years in business, Rand McNally made him an offer in early September 2001. The next week, when planes crashed into New York’s Twin Towers, Rand called to say the deal was off. Rand went bankrupt and Fred closed down Phileas Fogg’s, taking a big loss. Coupled with the death of his parents that same year, 2001 served as a powerful wake-up call for him to consider what was most important to him, and what kind of legacy he wanted to leave behind.

The answer was service, travel, and athletics. As a 30-plus year member of Rotary International, Fred spent the next two decades leading groups of Rotarians over seven continents. An athlete since childhood, Fred’s passion for triathlon was what first brought him to the Big Island. He was an Ironman finisher in 1982 and ‘92, and Ultraman in ‘83.

After visiting Kona for over 30 years, Hornbruch decided to move in 2017. Upon arrival, he plugged into the local business community and volunteered to serve as the west side ambassador for Hawaii Island Business Plan Competition, or HIplan. Hornbruch serves as a volunteer mentor for entrepreneurs on everything from writing a business plan to fine-tuning their elevator pitch. HIplan’s 2018 contest winners were announced Saturday, with Big Island Coffee Roasters taking the $25,000 grand prize.

“HIplan incentivized us to dig deeper into the big picture questions —the messaging, financials and growth strategy, and then communicate it succinctly,” said Kelleigh Stewart of Big Island Coffee Roasters.

When he’s not working with entrepreneurs, Fred works as a substitute teacher and is a member of the Keauhou Canoe Club. As the saying goes, successful people have a system — and Fred is no exception. When it comes to big decisions, Fred relies on “A SLICE,” which stands for Attitude and Sector, Location, Industry, Company, Expectations — because our outlook on life sets the stage for everything we do.


Contact Fred at, or visit him online at For more information on HIplan, and how to enter the 2019 competition, visit

Emily Gleason is a member of Business Network International (BNI) Alii Networkers Chapter in Kailua-Kona and helps business owners reach their dream clients at She contributes a monthly business feature, Imua in Business, to West Hawaii Today.

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