By Gabriella Neal
Northwest Asian Weekly
Today, women make up only 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, according to data from Pew Research Center.
Further, women comprise only 17 percent of corporate board membership in Fortune 500 companies.
Tomoko Moriguchi-Matsuno, CEO of Uwajimaya, and her niece Denise Moriguchi, Uwajimaya’s new president, are two rarities. They are women of color leading a local institution that is turning 88 years old. In an interview, they discussed what company decisions they make to maintain their dominance as a top Asian food retailer and wholesaler, how they sustain their business, and why they are qualified to do the job.
Moriguchi’s new role as president of the $118 million business occurs a week before International Women’s Day on March 8, where gender equality is the theme of this year’s campaign. The movement is seen as both an opportunity to celebrate the economic and social achievements of women, but also as a platform to promote progress for women.
#IWD2016 and #PledgeForParity are being used to spread the theme of International Women’s Day.
Moriguchi joined Moriguchi-Matsuno as a leader of the Seattle organization on March 1. Late this year or early 2017, Moriguchi will become the official CEO.
The Moriguchi women offered insight on how they run Uwajimaya to maintain their successful business:
Moriguchi-Matsuno said their primary concern is keeping their nearly 480 employees happy and well-paid in both Washington and Oregon. Ensuring that employees get benefits and are treated fairly is our main our goal, she said. “That is most important to us.”
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that happy or satisfied employees perform 20 percent better, on average, than dissatisfied employees.
Moriguchi-Matsuno also said keeping up with product trends is a priority.
Leadership at Uwajimaya routinely evaluates the company and its products to determine how to stay relevant, said Moriguchi.
The Moriguchis plan to remodel the Seattle Uwajimaya location to meet the needs of their consumer base, which has changed over the past 15 years to include both Asian and non-Asian customers.
“We try to find ways to stay on top of everything,” said Moriguchi
One of the shopping trends surfacing in Seattle right is customers are not doing as much cooking and instead are buying ready-made meals, explained Moriguchi-Matsuno.
“Asian food has become so popular and mainstream so we try and stay ahead of that too,” said Moriguchi-Matsuno.
Uwajimaya prides itself on this, she said.
Times were not always as bright as there are now, in Uwajimaya’s history. Fujimatsu Moriguchi started the business in 1928 and shortly after, with the signing of Executive Order 9066 in 1942, he was forced into internment at Tule Lake in California. Not until after World War II were the Moriguchis able to return to Seattle to reopen Uwajimaya.
To find out what is popular among American consumers, Uwajimaya leadership analyzes grocery industry trends, said Moriguchi.
The Moriguchi’s are headed to a food show next week in Japan to gain insight about what popular items they should sell at Uwajimaya. This will give them an idea of what the next big thing is out of Japan.
Moriguchi-Matsuno said the strong, long lasting relationships that Uwajimaya has with their vendors has helped the retailer consistently be the first to sell new and hot items.
“As of recent, the green tea Kit Kat has been very popular,” said Moriguchi.
“We were the first one’s with Hello Kitty Soy Sauce containers and those are flying off our shelves,” said Moriguchi-Matsuno.
The Moriguchis said they are concerned with meeting the needs of non-Asian shoppers. We hire strong English-speaking employees to educate non-Asian customers, said Moriguchi. This includes giving customers cooking suggestions and advice, she said.
Moriguchi-Matsuno reflected on her leadership role at Uwajimaya over the past nine years and felt that during her time as CEO, she received respect by the people she did business with because others knew that she knew what she was doing as head of the company.
“In the Asian culture traditionally the eldest male was more elevated, but somehow that didn’t translate to the next generation in our family, which is fortunate for us because [Tomoko’s] brothers felt confident she could run the company even though she’s a female and the youngest sister,” said Moriguchi.
“For me it was not [about whether] I’m female or male,” she said. Her mentors include Moriguchi-Matsuno, board member Brenda Handley, and her father Tomio Moriguchi. Her mentors have taught her to have confidence, to work well with her team members, and to enlist support from other, she said.
Moriguchi talked about her new title as president, a position she felt she is qualified for because of her resume, which includes experience in business consulting and brand management. She has an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Sloan School of Management and worked for Dove Consulting and Bayer HealthCare before returning to Seattle to work at her family’s business.
The Moriguchis say the next important decisions they will make have to do with looking to new opportunities and providing positive customer experiences. (end)
Gabriella Neal can be reached at email@example.com.