Sumo’s “Secret Sauce”…decoded


April 4, 2024 | By Rupkatha B

Julianne Holt-Kailihiwa, Chief Executive Officer, Sumo International Inc.

“Our ‘secret sauce’ isn’t really a sauce. It’s a way of operating and like a recipe the secret sauce isn’t just a list of ingredients. The secret sauce doesn’t sit with any one person, it’s an army of people who consistently show up day after day doing their best and encouraging each other to be better than they were the day before” – Julianne Holt-Kailihiwa, Chief Executive Officer, Sumo International Inc.

From a humble beginning doing various jobs – from on-air television station engineering coordinator, office cleaner to becoming a retail leader, Julianne Holt-Kailihiwa has worked her way through a variety of careers, enhancing her growth mindset and building teams with true inclusivity at core. After relocating to the Middle East and working at Cisco Systems as an internet marketing coordinator in 2000 she teamed up with the co-founders of Sumo Sushi & Bento where she worked from ground up to build the brand.

Sumo Sushi & Bento at a Glance

  • 24 years in business
  • Outlets in the UAE & Cyprus
  • Plans to expand across the GCC, Egypt, South Asia and the Mediterranean.

Asked what drives her energy and passion, Kailihiwa summarised in one word – ‘Aloha’.

“Coming from a small Pacific Island, I’m extremely thankful and grateful for all the amazing experiences I’ve had and find it an honour to be able to share the foundation of Aloha, the core of treating everyone with respect and to work towards positive outcomes for everyone, not only the company but the customers and team members as well,” she elaborated.  

Kailihiwa firmly believes that an organisation’s long-term success is determined by the opportunity for success it provides others.

Reflecting on the future, she said, a key focus area for Sumo is“to get the word out and remind the market of who we are.” For a two-decade old legacy brand like Sumo, Kailihiwa feels it can become challenging to position the brand competitively against newcomers that market themselves as “new and fresh.”

“Yet, I’ll admit that there is an immeasurable value in being a trusted restaurant that’s been around for decades. We’ve stood the test of time thus far and are grateful to be a part of the fabric of the communities we serve. On some days though, I just want to walk around with a bullhorn and shout to the world ‘hey we’re still here!’”      

Pick up the April edition of IMAGES RetailME Magazine to read the full article that will be published as part of our cover story on ‘50 Outstanding Women in MENA Retail’.

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