‘Growing up poor was biggest motivation’


McDonald’s Saipan and Guam owner Jose “Joe” C. Ayuyu shows off the cover of Guam Business Magazine, which featured him as its Executive of the Year. (Mark Rabago)

Indeed, McDonald’s Saipan and Guam owner Jose “Joe” C. Ayuyu has come a long way.

Now the proud owner of both McDonald’s franchises on Saipan and Guam, Ayuyu wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In fact, the oldest of 12 children of Esteban and Juanita grew up poor.

Rather than forget the struggles he and his siblings went through during their formative years in Chalan Kanoa, the 2016 Guam Business Magazine’s Executive of the Year embraced it.

“Growing up, I would ask my parents for something. I would say, ‘Can I have money to watch a movie or buy candy?’ and they would always say, ‘We have no money.’ I came from a very poor family. It was a struggle just to make ends meet,” he said.

When it was time to go to the University of Hawaii on a scholarship, Ayuyu said his father, a mechanic, couldn’t even give him pocket money, only saying, “Good luck and you have to pay for your own education.”

“I didn’t want to go through that again. I also don’t want my kids to go through what I went through, which was growing up poor. What I am now has a lot to do with my upbringing and this has been my driving force to become successful.”

The 64-year-old Ayuyu, who is the franchise owner of two McDonald’s stores on Saipan, made news when he acquired six McDonald’s restaurants in Guam last year. It’s probably the main reason why Guam Business magazine chose him to be this year’s awardee.

Winning the award was, however, farthest from his mind.

“I wasn’t expecting it…I was surprised after I was nominated. I always thought my chances of winning were very slim. I still have to thank them for recognizing the contributions I made in business.”

Ayuyu said everyone was surprised when a businessman from Saipan managed to purchase six Golden Arches restaurants in the U.S. territory from the McDonald’s Corp. of Chicago.

“I bought the six McDonald’s in Guam that was owned by McDonald’s Corp. for the past 45 years. A lot of people were under the impression that somebody in Guam owned the franchise on the island,” he said.

Acquiring the McDonald’s stores in Guam had been a long-cherished dream.

“For many, many years I’ve been bugging the corporation to buy them out. They’ve always been reluctant to sell it,” he said, adding that they finally relented in 2016. “The people in charge probably thought that, ‘You know, Joe has been doing a good job there. Let’s go ahead and sell the restaurants. He needs to grow anyway. Let’s sell it to him.’”

Ayuyu said he wanted to expand to Guam as long as 10 years ago at a time when Saipan’s economy hit rock bottom.

“I was doing OK but I saw that I needed to diversify myself to protect my business establishment from having to depend solely on the Saipan economy. From there on, I always thought that if ever I had the opportunity to go to Guam, it will really help me because if things really go from bad to worse on Saipan, I have a backup plan and we’ll have something to fall back on.”

After acquiring McDonald’s Guam, Ayuyu made sure to implement two things—keep the current staffing and renovate stores that showed their age.

“My plan all along was to retain everybody. I want a smooth transition. A lot of people working in the company have been there for a long time so it makes a lot of sense to keep them.”

He also plans to renovate the Tamuning branch, which has been around 75 years. The other McDonald’s Guam branches are in Hagatna, Maiti, Tumon, Harmon, and Yigo.

Ayuyu plans to add another store in Yigo this year and has scheduled its groundbreaking in March.

On Saipan, Ayuyu said he wants to expand his McDonald’s Express in Garapan but is holding back right now from opening a third store.

“The bottom line in opening a new restaurant is if it will be viable and feasible. Opening a new restaurant is always easy to do, but we want to open in a place and stay there for a long, long time. Two stores on Saipan is OK right now, with the possibility of upgrading the store in Garapan,” he said.

Since there is no longer a master concessionaire at the Francisco C. Ada-Saipan International Airport, Ayuyu is thinking of opening a small store at the airport.

“At any given time there are 800 to 900 people working there. To top it off you also have the tourists, who sometimes have to wait for hours and hours before getting a flight or coming out,” he said.

Another source of strength for Ayuyu is the support of his family and employees, some of whom have been with the company for 20 years.

Ayuyu is married to Marcia and the couple has four children: Joe Jr., Mable, Ashley, and Maria.

Joe Jr. is Ayuyu’s heir apparent and recently graduated from Hamburger University. He is the manager of McDonald’s Middle Road. Mable, meanwhile, is Ayuyu’s executive assistant and Ashley is the personnel director of McDonald’s Guam. Maria, the youngest, is a student at Mt. Carmel School. Ayuyu also has a daughter from his first marriage, Nadia, who lives in California.

Ayuyu’s ascension from simple beginnings to now the franchise owner of eight—soon to be nine—McDonald’s stores in Guam and Saipan can be summed up when he was approached by one of the previous winners of the Executive of the Year award during the annual gala last week at the Hyatt Regency Guam.

“He came up to me and said ‘welcome to the big leagues. Now you’re no longer a small potato. You’re now part of the big leagues,’” recounted Ayuyu with a bit of amazement since he knows he’s been playing in the big leagues since overcoming his humble beginnings in Chalan Kanoa.

Mark Rabago | Associate Editor
Mark Rabago is the Associate Editor of Saipan Tribune. Contact him at Mark_Rabago@saipantribune.com

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