As the driving force behind one of the most renowned noodle companies in the world, Sun Noodle, Kenshiro Uki has an ambitious vision for the family-led company.

The third-generation artisanal noodle maker recognizes that the success of Sun Noodle is directly attributed to the grit, hard work, sacrifice, and investment that was put in years before he assumed his leadership role.

We caught up with him to learn more about his journey, his leadership style, and other secrets to the company’s unparalleled success.

Q: As a third-generation artisanal noodle maker, how do you approach hiring talent from outside the family? What qualities do you look for and how do you ensure they align with the company’s values and mission?

A: We at Sun Noodle have been really fortunate to grow and share our passion for fresh premium noodles with our customers for over 40 years. With growth comes a lot of opportunities and obstacles that challenge us every day. Looking for talent outside the family is a must as we strive to build an organization filled with great talent who can help us achieve things we can only dream of.

When we are hiring talent in Hawaii, the U.S. mainland, or Europe, we always look for people who share the same values and behaviors we would expect of our own Uki Family members.

Does the person respect their colleagues regardless of title/status/gender? Are they life-long learners and humble enough to know that there is something we can learn every day? Are they curious enough to challenge the status quo? Do they have pride in crafting some of the best products but know that we are never content with where we are? Are they willing to consistently make the right decision, even if it may be hard? We have many people within Sun Noodle who are dedicated, loyal, and hardworking so I am focused on making sure we build on this strength of ours.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

A: Demanding? Haha. Demanding but fair… with a lot of trust in our team. I have an ambitious vision for Sun Noodle. A lot of grit, hard work, sacrifice, and investment was put in years before to allow us to have the opportunities presented to us today. I remind myself and our team members not to take these for granted. Rather, we should foster and care for the relationships developed and to nurture them.

We also need to be relevant to the customer’s needs today, so we must constantly be looking to find ways to bring value to our partners. It’s not easy because there is no playbook in front of us.

I allow our team to be intentional about being creative and while some things won’t work, as long as there is an intent to make a positive change, I don’t dwell on any failures, as long as we learn from them.

I have been granted many opportunities to test and learn and it’s the best way to grow! I put a lot of trust in our team members. For us to accomplish what we have, we need to have a team of capable people who can be trusted to do what is right to achieve our goals, the right way. I don’t like to micromanage but I always try to make myself available so that we are connected throughout the process.

Q: As a leader, how do you foster team culture?

A: It’s been a lot of trial and error for me. Our company has been growing rapidly over these years so each stage has challenged me to adapt depending on where we are in our growth. When we were smaller and all in the same room, we did a lot of weekly meals and the unofficial conversations naturally led to information sharing which kept us all aligned.

As we’ve grown and now that I oversee locations that are geographically in three different locations (California, New Jersey, and the Netherlands), I’ve been intentional about hosting more in-person meetings, team-building activities, and repeatedly sharing with our team what our mission, vision, values, and goals are. We do a quarterly town hall meeting to communicate with all team members on what’s happening in the company, celebrate wins, recognize people for their great work, and take a breather! We also host annual Summer BBQs and Christmas dinners where we let loose, witness amazing dancing/singing performances, and have fun. I need to give credit to our HR team who are doing such creative and meaningful activities at each location which keeps it engaging for our staff. Thanks, Scott and Sylvia!

Q: If you could trade places with any other founder for a day, who would it be and why?

A: I’d love to trade places with two people.

One is my dad when he was 19 years old. He came to Hawaii, didn’t speak English, knew no one, bootstrapped his business, and built Sun Noodle, literally, noodle by noodle. All the profits went back into the business and he didn’t raise any outside capital from investors. I’d like to experience that for only ONE DAY because I don’t think I can do what he did. Rather, I’d like to experience a day in his shoes to fully appreciate what he has gifted us today.

The second person would be Sir Alex Ferguson, the former manager of Manchester United. I’d love to learn how he was able to successfully dominate a competitive football league in England for over 20 years while keeping a fine balance of developing young talent in the pipeline and managing some of the biggest names in the sport and winning day in and day out.

Q: If you weren’t President of Sun Noodles, what would you be doing instead?

A: If I were not the President of Sun Noodles, I’d be in whatever position my dad would give me, ha! I love this company and the people we have working with us today. Joking aside, my dream was to be a commercial pilot, flying and transporting customers from Hawaii to Japan. When I was a kid, I would go to Japan every summer to spend time with my grandparents and my cousins. We always flew a Boeing 747 (aka the Jumbo Jet). I love Hawaii, I love Japan, and I loved going into the cockpit as a kid. If I could do that as a career, how great would that be?!