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4 Successful Women’s Roads to the Top

(page 1 of 4)

Clockwise from top left: Constance Lau, Denise Yamauchi,
Dr. Virginia Pressler, Crystal Rose 
Photo: David Croxford

Each person’s road to success is unique, but these four women shared similar challenges and goals. Each explains that success has never been about money or power, but about personal goals and helping communities.

• Attorney Crystal Rose, chair of Central Pacific Bank, also works as a Gentry Homes board member, helping develop lots for Hawaiian Home Lands, so families can have homes of their own.

• Denise Yamauchi, Burger King’s Hawaii managing director, who started work there before she graduated from high school and never went to college, has guided the restaurant chain in supporting local college scholarships through the “Have It Your Way” Foundation.

• Constance Lau, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries, set up the financial infrastructure for the Consuelo Alger Foundation, which built self-help, low-income housing in Waianae and is now one of the largest private social-service organizations in the Philippines.

• Dr. Virginia Pressler, executive VP and chief strategic officer at Hawaii Pacific Health, created a specialty practice in breast-cancer treatment, becoming the first Hawaii surgeon to recognize the need for specialized training and care for this disease.

All four have bucked the male-dominated status quo, and either never saw a glass ceiling or ignored it. “My career has never stalled,” reflects Lau. “And I think it’s part of having a lot of balls in the air. A lot of the things I did led to the next thing.”

Each has balanced career with the demands of marriage and raising children, and each believes they would not have succeeded without strong family support. “My dad’s name is Charlie,” says Rose, “and I could call him at 4 o’clock to pick the kids up if I was in court, and he would always be there. To this day he calls himself ‘Charlie’s Taxi.’ ”

 

Constance Lau

Photos: David Croxford, Courtesy of Constance Lau

President and CEO, Hawaiian Electric Industries

The glass ceiling? You just ignore it. I think I was probably fortunate to have people around me who really believed in equality and were willing to give me a shot. But I also remember all those classes in business school about how you become successful in business. One of the key qualities is you have to take risks and you have to get to a line job that’s actually running an operation, being responsible for a profit and loss, rather than a staff job like PR or HR.”

On law school

From the time I was little, Dad encouraged me to go to both law school and business school. He grew up in a very different Hawaii, before the Civil Rights Act, and I’m not even sure he went to sixth grade.  He was born in 1904 and Mother in 1906, and there was still a Chinese Exclusion Act or quotas on immigration. He always told me he thought it would be important to become a lawyer so I would know my rights and be able to protect myself and my family and others.”

 

 

On adaptability

“I grew up without a lot of structured anything. I remember writing one of my college application essays back at Punahou saying how adaptable I was and that probably characterizes my life more than anything else.”

On balance

“You have to manage the balance. You should never take on more than you can balance. I learned early on I could only manage four major nonprofit boards at one time. I turn things down all the time.”

On childhood

“I have a sister quite a bit older, so I grew up more like an only child. We lived on Kaneohe Bay and I grew up watching the rain squalls come in across the bay, watching the sky a lot; things in nature were our toys. … (Brain research shows) kids who grow up around nature tend to be very creative because it’s changing constantly. But I also took a lot of martial arts as a kid and they teach you how to meditate and be calm.”

On her career path

“When they asked me to go over to American Savings in 1999 to understudy the president, I didn’t want to go. Ever since the Savings & Loan crisis of the late 1980s, it’s been a dying business model. (But) I saw it as a tremendously under-utilized asset that could do so much more for the community. So we set out to transform it and grow a commercial banking unit and a real estate unit and a full panoply of banking services. It’s about the same size now but creates double the net income, and the profitability metrics are much higher.”

 

 

On family life

“As I was taking over American Savings in 1999 as COO, I was also helping rebuild Kamehameha Schools as an interim trustee. I would go to my day job at American and then my evening job at Kamehameha. And my kids were there every evening. We had a whole cabinet full of kids’ movies and Russell would bring dinner. We’d bathe them in the shower there and they’d fall asleep. Even at HECO in my early years, my daughter tells stories of taking the cushions off the couch and building caves.”

On education

“Education probably made the biggest difference in my life. It made up for not having mentors. There are many ways to the top. But I do think highly technical backgrounds and highly disciplined backgrounds are very helpful. When I run a company, it’s as important to look at the hard data as it is to rely on my intuition and creativity. The literature will tell you that the most successful people are those who can draw skills from both sides.”

 

TIMELINE

1952 Born Honolulu
1970 Graduated, Punahou
1974 Graduated, Yale, B.S. in administrative sciences
1977 Graduated, JD, University of California
1977 Married Russell Lau (she knew him on Oahu and they met again skiing at Lake Tahoe)
1979 Graduated, MBA, Stanford
1979-1983 Attorney, Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe, San Francisco
1984-1987 Assistant corporate counsel, HECO
1986 Birth of first child, Jennifer
1987-1989 Treasurer, HECO
1988 Birth of second child, Gregory
1989-1999 Treasurer, HEI
1991 Birth of third child, Eric
1997-1999  Financial VP/treasurer, HEI Power Corp., Director and/or officer of other HEI subsidiaries
1999-2007 Interim trustee, Kamehameha Schools
1999-2001 Senior executive VP, COO and director, American Savings Bank
2001-2006 President and CEO, American Savings Bank
2006-present President, CEO and director, HEI; chairman, HECO; chairman, American Savings Bank

 

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