Like a recipe the secret sauce for success isn’t just a list of ingredients: Sumo Sushi & Bento CEO


March 29, 2023 | By Rupkatha B

Like a recipe the secret sauce for success isn’t just a list of ingredients: Sumo Sushi & Bento CEO

From 21 locations pre-pandemic Sumo Sushi & Bento currently has 10 units – 3 in Bahrain, 2 in Cyprus and the rest in Dubai (3 corporate and rest franchised units). Even as its portfolio has halved what’s interesting is that the brand’s overall performance of the operating units has improved with many performing better than pre-Covid.

Asked about the brand’s secret sauce for success, Sumo Sushi & Bento CEO Julianne Holt-Kailihiwa said, “Like any recipe the secret sauce isn’t just a list of ingredients. You can have all the ingredients and get the measurements, yet the process could go all wrong and your sauce won’t come out right. The same can be said for any organisation. It isn’t one individual, one process or one particular thing. The secret sauce is not a secret, it’s the army of people that consistently show up day after day doing their best and encouraging everyone to be better than they were the day before.”

Even before the term “growth mindset” made it to the top of business jargon, Sumo Sushi & Bento had embraced the opportunity for its people to continually learn and grow. “Japanese call it Kaizen (continual improvement) and where I’m from, Hawaii, we call it ‘Ike Loa’ (the importance of never stopping the learning process),” Kailihiwa observed. That’s a key factor driving the brand’s evolution and growth.

The spirit of constant innovation is another. “While innovation is not one of our labelled core values; our ‘creativity’ core value is how we’ve been able to accomplish innovation by allowing our team the freedom, space and security to be creative. We launched a ghost kitchen in 2005 for a couple of years (way before the term existed), embraced our digital transformation back in 2010 with the development of our own web-based platform for multi-unit and franchisee relationship management & communication. Several times a year we host internal chef competitions with our team to not only create dishes but also teach the upcoming chefs more about the process and business side of food offerings. Our single most prominent innovation is understanding that innovation is not a single event but needs to be embraced as a continual process,” Kailihiwa stated.

As someone who has worked her way up from humble beginnings through a variety of careers, enhancing her growth mindset and building teams with true inclusivity, asked about a leader who inspires her, Kailihiwa said, “I could name all the well-known leaders and authors that I get weekly inspiration from – Simon Sinek, Ryan Holiday and Brene Brown, to name a few. But I’ve always been really inspired by Nainoa Thompson, the first Hawaiian in centuries to navigate a canoe across the Pacific Ocean by traditional methods without modern technology. While this doesn’t sound like an extreme accomplishment, he not only used ancient practices for multiple journeys, but culturally he was part of an entire movement of the Hawaiian renaissance, inspired a generation of Hawaiians to reclaim their proud history and helped Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) to be extremely proud of their heritage.”

In a nutshell, an organisation’s long-term success is determined by the opportunity for success it provides others, she concluded.

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