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4 Successful Women’s Roads to the Top

(page 4 of 4)


Photos: David Croxford, Courtesy of Denise Yamauchi

Denise Yamauchi

Managing Director, Burger King in Hawaii

On confidence

I think my confidence came from my mom. She was a legal secretary and always the one working, but she was tiny, less than 100 pounds and about 4-foot-10. But she was strong and she ran the family. You don’t have to be a really big person to accomplish great things. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female or tiny; you can still lead a business and be successful. I saw that and that just carried through with me.”

On the glass ceiling

“I’ve never felt there was a glass ceiling. … As I gained knowledge, I was able to rise. Running the operation was a goal for me; after a certain point you just know you’re ready to take on more responsibility. And I had told them I was ready for that challenge. I was a little nervous at first. I don’t think you ever stop being nervous.”

On stepping up

“I got promoted first to an hourly manager in 1982 and trained at that position. My salary was $9,000 a year. I didn’t know if it was good or bad until I saw what others made. Then I was promoted to assistant manager and training manager. That was the toughest step because I’d have to speak in front of others. But it probably helped my development the most.”

On outreach

“People always helped me. I didn’t know everything I needed to know for my current position, but people helped me.”

On college

“I would still like to go back to college. That’s something that’s always been in the back of my mind. I don’t really need it anymore, but it’s something I always promised myself I’d like to accomplish. I don’t have a college education and my children see that. Times are different now; it’s almost the norm now to have an MBA.”

On starting out

“I started at Burger King in Alaska when I was 16. My first job was working on the broiler, but I was almost fired the first day. They showed me Whopper meat and burger meat and said, ‘Drop burgers’ or ‘Drop Whoppers.’ But no one told me to stop, so there was a huge bunch of meat on the other side. No one had trained me. The only reason they didn’t fire me was because my sister worked there.”

On adaptability

“We moved to Hawaii for my senior year at McKinley High School and I applied at Burger King here. I’d finish school around 11 in the morning and go to work at noon and work the lunch shift. When I graduated from high school, they offered me an assistant-manager position, so it was a natural progression. I never even thought I’d go to college.”

On family
“Lance and I have two children, but we were very lucky. My mother-in-law babysat for us, but it was a juggling act for eight or nine years. I’d get up at 4:30 in the morning, drive in from Kapolei to pick up the children at her house and drive them to school. Then she would pick them up after school and take them home. We met at her house, had dinner and helped the kids with homework. They went to bed there and then I drove home around 10:30. But they came home on weekends. We tried it other ways, but my daughter wasn’t getting enough sleep.”


1964 Born, Phoenix
1980 First job as an order taker and kitchen worker with Burger King in Anchorage, Alaska
1982 Graduated McKinley High School
1981-82 Burger King (Hawaii franchises owned by Pentagram Corp.) team member and production leader, helping managers train other employees
1982-86 Assistant manager; also helped open new restaurants
1985 Married Lance Yamauchi
1985 Birth of first child, Brittany
1986-96 Restaurant manager/training manager for a number of restaurants; added responsibilities included budgets, profit-and-loss statements, and recommending sales-building strategies
1989 Birth of second child, Lowyn
1996-2002 District manager Burger King (owned by Hawaii Cimm’s Inc.), responsible for operation of eight to 10 restaurants, and opening new ones
2002-present Managing director Burger King Hawaii (now owned by Kazi Restaurants of Hawaii), responsible for overall operations of 21 restaurants, including all financial aspects, and development of new restaurants 





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