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SBA Award Winners 2014

(page 2 of 8)

Exporter of the Year

Jorma Winkler
Winkler Woods, LLC

Sponsor: Naomi Masuno, Bank of Hawaii

Photo: Courtesy of Winkler Woods, LLC

A few years after earning a business degree from UH-Hilo, Jorma Winkler moved to Japan seeking adventure. There, like a lot of Americans, he taught English and eventually started his own school.

One day, his ukulele-loving dentist asked why he didn’t make ukuleles if he came from a lumber and wood-products family on Hawaii Island. Winkler had never thought about it. He wasn’t a musician and had no desire to go into the family business.

But running a business was his ultimate goal and the dentist had planted an idea. Meanwhile, his father kept asking him to move back to Hawaii and Winkler eventually agreed. But then his dad’s business, Winkler Wood Products, which had started in the 1970s, ended in bankruptcy three decades later. People ask Winkler if his business evolved from his dad’s. No, he emphasizes, but he gained “experience and knowledge” from years of watching and helping his dad, and that helped him start Winkler Woods on his own.

He found a niche in the music market: tonewood supply. Highly desirable koa wood could be made into veneer in Japan, giving the look of koa to ukuleles.

Today, the company he started in 2001 is a major supplier and retailer of Hawaiian hardwoods, largely koa, but also ohia and Hawaiian mango. Exports include koa ukuleles, solid and veneer koa lumber, and other hardwood veneers.

However, securing a regular supply of koa is “a very difficult thing to do – it’s a rare and protected commodity,” Winkler says, and sourcing koa was one of his most important accomplishments. “Once the bigger manufacturers trust and know that you can source it for them they are willing to use it,” he explains.

Today, he divides his time between business and production sites in Hawaii and Japan, attends trade shows and loves creating new projects. Winkler Woods employs 10 people and has done more than $1 million in sales for each of the past three years.

“Jorma Winkler tries very hard, every day, to provide a quality product at a fair price,” says Naomi Masuno, a Bank of Hawaii VP who nominated him for the Exporter of the Year award. “Of course, he’s had his difficulties, like any other company, but his promise to the customers is to work as hard as he can to provide an instrument that will give them many years of happiness, laughter and even tears.”

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