We’re on a Roll! Sushi Maki’s Founder & CEO Shares His Best Practices for Leadership Success.


Abe Ng, CEO of Sushi Maki

“We’re on a roll (pun intended)” proclaims the website of Sushi Maki. Indeed, this energetic and innovative company is South Florida’s award-winning leader in innovative Japanese cuisine. Sushi Maki is poised for substantial growth and the leader who’s driving the success is founder Abe Ng. Established in 2000, the company serves fresh, quality fare in out-of-the-box environments (restaurants, airports, high schools and universities, sports arenas, etc.) Sixteen locations operate under three brands–Sushi Maki, Pao Town and Canton Chinese–and the company is a partner with Whole Foods Markets for sushi stations in the South Florida stores.His company is young, hip, trendy–and quite successful. Learn how this dynamic 39-year old is leading Sushi Maki. Industry trend watchers are betting that Sushi Maki will soon go national, the ultimate dream of most entrepreneurs.

“Someone’s going to do it. Someday there will be a national sushi brand. Why not us!” says Mr. Ng (pronounced Eng). “Even becoming an international name is not out of the question.”

Strong leadership skills are needed to inspire his team to reach that ambitious goal and Mr. Ng is the right person for the job.

His Company is young, hip, trendy–and quite successful.

“Motivating team members to achieve growth starts with painting a picture of what growth will look like, what the company can become, to let employees know where we’re headed,” he says Mr. Ng, age 39. During meetings and in company communications, Mr. Ng frequently shares his vision of a national company. “I also let team members know what’s in it for them in terms of opportunities and benefits,” he says.

“Even more importantly, I tell them why we can’t stay were we are,” he continues. “This is an important concept to convey. There’s competition out there and we must continue to innovate and grow or we will shrink. You can’t stand still.”

Mr. Ng says that as a leader he spends substantial time developing company strategy, to know how exactly to raise the bar.

“I study other companies that have grown to learn everything I can about what they did the right way as well as what mistakes they made,” he reports. “I get inspiration and strategies from other companies, other success stories.”

Joined by his wife who serves as marketing director, Mr. Ng often reflects on the incredible success story of his father. “My father was an immigrant who came to this country with $100,” he shares. “Yet I received an Ivy League education and graduated debt free. That’s a humbling platform to come from.”

Leadership in times of growth

Sushi Maki is less than 13 years old but has grown to 15 locations and 250 employees. “I am part of something bigger: this company,” Mr. Ng says. “Now with 250 employees, that’s a lot of families relying on the success of this company. You better believe that motivates me.”

Mr. Ng shares some specific leadership techniques needed for companies on-the-grow:

  • “Focus on the critical few. The president of a growing company cannot be in charge of every employee. The people at the top of your corporate team are extremely important. Make sure you hire the right ones and focus on them.”
  • “Do two or three big things every quarter. Even if you’re brimming over with great ideas, people will tune you out if you keep bombarding them with change. Instead, limit yourself to a few big innovations every quarter?and do them well.”
  • “Get people excited about the possibilities for the company and their own opportunities. Communicate your vision to all levels of employees.”
  • “Have a unified message going to employees about customer communication. For instance, at our company, we show store employees how to be ‘the cool cousin’ who knows about healthy eating and our ingredients. Even as we grow, especially as we grow, that message needs to be consistent.”

Ethics and leadership

Corporate policies at Sushi Maki reflect a high ethical standard, internally and in corporate practices, including an emphasis on obtaining sustainable fish and using ingredients free of MSG and artificial colorings or flavorings.

“Such practices are not common in the sushi business but these are standards I have set,” Mr. Ng says. “It’s an important aspect of leadership to ensure that people not only follow adherence to the ethics of the company but also understand why these practices are in place. Continual training at the corporate and store levels goes a long way to achieve these goals. We have monthly chef meetings and weekly general managers’ meetings where we repeat the same things in a fresh way.”

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