Kelsey Kawana (FEMBA ’22)

2020 John Wooden Global Leadership Fellow 

Kelsey Kawana (FEMBA ’22)

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Kelsey Kawana (FEMBA ’22)

Manager of Corporate Strategy, JSL Foods Inc.

Kelsey Kawana’s family has been in the food business since her great-grandparents immigrated to the United States in the 1930s. She essentially grew up in the Pasadena office of premiere Asian foods manufacturer JSL Foods, alongside her father and grandfather.

After graduating from Brown University with dual bachelor’s degrees in business and East Asian studies, Kawana began her career as a financial analyst at BlackRock. But she was ultimately destined to follow in her father’s footsteps and she joined the family business, working her way up to manager of corporate strategy.

“You can’t ask people to do something you’re not willing to do yourself,” Kawana says. Early in her tenure, she realized the value of working on the production floor, which she still does quarterly. “Learning our manufacturing processes and sales funnel, and gaining a sense of ownership and trust are irreplaceable,” she says. “At JSL, each team is willing to go to bat for one another. This is our culture.”

Beyond work and school, Kawana runs CYT & Co. with her two younger sisters. The nonprofit e-retailer celebrates the Asian American experience through their art. Proceeds are donated to Keiro, an organization that cares for the elderly Japanese community.

From a young age, the John Wooden ethos played a part in Kawana’s relationship with her father, who coached her in a Japanese-American basketball league. His one tenet? “Do the little things right, and all else will follow.”

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