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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Joe Ayuyu: In the fast lane

Guam is now a second home to prominent Saipan businessman Jose “Joe” Ayuyu, who acquired six McDonald’s restaurants on Guam in 2016. “I spend most of my time here now; there’s so much to do,” says the president of JCA Guam LLC, who also owns several residential and commercial properties on Guam.

Ayuyu is getting ready for the opening of the seventh McDonald’s outlet in Yigo this month, after completing the renovation of the Tamuning location, which has been rebranded with a new contemporary look. Upgrading the Hagatna outlet is next in line. “The facilities here are old so I am spending a lot of money on renovation. But it will be worth it because I want to modernize the restaurant to position the company for growth in the future,” says Micronesia’s new burger czar. Ayuyu also owns JCA Inc. which operates two McDonald’s outlets on Saipan and are now being run by his children.

The burger chain franchise outlets on Guam were operated by McDonald’s Corp. of McDonald’s USA LLC for 45 years before Ayuyu and his wife, Marcia E. Ayuyu, took over. The wholesale purchase included the transfer of hundreds of corporate employees. “It’s quite different now, with me coming in as a new owner, because you have a local person from the Marianas who owns the restaurants,” says the 64-year old businessman. McDonald’s Guam and Saipan have approximately 400 employees combined.

Born and raised on Saipan, Ayuyu attended high school in Lisbon, North Dakota and earned a bachelor’s in economics from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Before taking the step to private business, Ayuyu served in the CNMI government. He became the director of the Department of Commerce and Labor from 1976 to 1981. He later joined the private sector, serving as vice president and manager at the Bank of Guam, and later became vice president and general manager of Hakubotan Saipan Enterprises Inc. until he entered the fast food world.

Summarizing 2017 as “a successful year,” Ayuyu is the recipient of the 2016 Guam Business Magazine Executive of the Year Award. “I am honored by this recognition. My entrance to the Guam market is a big step. I have been working on this for a very long time. I’ve always worked to expand my business and in 2016, I had that opportunity,” Ayuyu says.

For anyone living on a more quiet island most of their adult life, moving to Guam can be a bit of a culture shock—what with the traffic, a western environment, a bigger crowd and kinds of distractions. But Ayuyu is getting acclimated to the fast life— well, faster than Saipan— on Guam. And for someone engaged in the dining business, expanding to Guam, which has an insatiable appetite for fast food, is a good business move. “The most obvious difference between the Guam and Saipan markets is that it’s more competitive here. There are more restaurants and there are greater opportunities because you have a

large population base.”

The larger labor pool on Guam is a plus, as well, he says. “My employees here are U.S. citizens. On Saipan, you rely on contract workers, which is going to be a problem when the CW program ends.”

Averting the looming labor crisis in the CNMI is a challenge for local leaders and business owners. “There is a big imbalance because the growth of the CNMI is outpacing the labor availability,” Ayuyu says. “Saipan leaders need to develop a long-term plan to build a local labor pool to support the growth of economy. I was really hoping we could continue to access the CW program until such time as we have a sufficient labor force.”

What’s driving the CNMI economy now is the Imperial Pacific Resort, which Ayuyu views with a sense of pragmatism. “I am not a gambler and I don’t necessarily agree with what the casino is about, but I’m happy for those in the community who are able to find jobs,” Ayuyu says. “So I may not agree with what the casino stands for but I see its contribution to the economy. I am just happy to see people making decent wages and prospering.”

Last year, the Rotary Club of Saipan named Ayuyu “Citizen of the Year” for his work and contributions to the community. “Helping the community is part of my business philosophy. Without them, I wouldn’t have been successful,” he says. “Now that my own children are beginning to enter business, I remind them without the community, their business is not going to be around.”


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