Hilo native Glenn Hashimoto recently replaced Rex Matsuno as president of Suisan Company Ltd., a 106-year-old Hilo-based food distribution business that employs 175 people on the Big Island and serves local hotels, supermarkets, schools and restaurants.
Hashimoto, who started in the position Jan. 1, said he hopes to continue Suisan’s long history of expansion.
“I have goals for the company. Over the years, Matsuno has built a very good foundation for the company,” he said. “I think it’s important to use that platform to grow the company and by reaching farther in the food industry for growth. We’re exploring several things right now.”
Although Hashimoto did not disclose what his plans for growth are exactly, he said the company is exploring going “more green.” According to a press release, he wants to “develop further efficiencies via technology in the business to control costs and improve productivity.”
He also said he would like to see Suisan’s food and non-food divisions expand in order to create more job opportunities for the Big Isle’s future generations.
“I think it’s important for young people to have mobility,” he said. “They talk about moving to the mainland because there aren’t any jobs here. It’s important for the organization to continue to grow and to create more opportunities for these smart kids.”
Suisan has expanded several times since it first opened as Sui San Kabushiki Kaisha in 1907. The company saw its first growth spur in 1950 when its fish exports increased to neighboring islands and the mainland. Suisan expanded again in 1970 when it opened its westside division and its current annual gross sales total $81 million.
According to a press release, Hashimoto’s predecessor Matsuno led the company’s growth during his time with the company. Matsuno started at Suisan in 1947, and is credited with its 1950s expansion into frozen foods, produce and other products, as well as the post-tsunami rebuilding of the fish market on Hilo Bay (the Suisan fish market was destroyed twice by the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis). He became president of the company in 1967.
Hashimoto said Matsuno has been an invaluable mentor to him since he first started at Suisan as a bookkeeper in 1973.
“We play golf together, have meals together and, of course, we talk business together,” he said. “We’ve traveled together, and have done a lot of things together and you can’t help but learn when hanging around the guy.”
And one of those lessons includes maintaining the company’s main objective, which is to build long-lasting relationships with its customers and the community.
“On New Year’s Eve, I went up to him to wish him a happy New Year and he said, ‘Glenn, what is the most important thing at the company?’ I said, ‘The people.’ He said, ‘Good,’ and walked away.
“We pride ourselves on customer service. That is the mantra here,” he said. “We try to build our relationships with our customer.”
In 2013, a scholarship was created in honor of Matsuno and will go toward a Big Island student looking to pursue a culinary arts program at Hawaii Community College.
Hashimoto said plans are underway for the first student to receive the scholarship in May or June.
According to a press release, Hashimoto is a graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa in business management. He is a past president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Hawaii and of the Kanoelehua Industrial Area Association. He is also a member of the Board of Governors Hawaii Employers Council.
Hashimoto said he became emotional when he first heard the news in December he would be Suisan’s seventh president in company history.
“Of course I’m excited. I’m excited for the transitions we’ll be making. But when you step back and think about it all, you become emotional. You think about all the people that helped you get to this point — my mother, my wife, all these people made sacrifices to help me, the employees, too,” he said. “When you do that, it can really tug at your emotions.”
Email Megan Moseley at email@example.com.