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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 19, 2001

Chamber of Commerce gives top job to Lily Yao

By Glenn Scott
Advertiser Staff Writer

At a business event focused on the promise of higher education, the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i yesterday turned over leadership to Lily Yao, a bank executive who started out as a teller while taking night classes at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

Yao, now a vice chairwoman at First Hawaiian Bank, told more than 1,000 people gathered yesterday for the chamber's annual meeting that she expects the association to expand its advocacy and to serve as "the main conduit" between business and education.

"Without quality education, I don't think we have a future in this state," she said.

Such was the theme yesterday as business people gathered at the Hilton Hawaiian Village to hear Yao's plans for raising the chamber's profile and new UH President Evan Dobelle's ambitious vision for the university.

Their interests merged. The Shanghai-born Yao, who speaks four languages, spent eight years in part-time study to earn her bachelor's degree in business while working full-time for Pioneer Federal Savings Bank.

Yao eventually rose to become president and chief operating officer prior to the bank's 1993 merger with First Hawaiian. She also was appointed that year to the UH's Board of Regents.

In her latest achievement, Yao, who said she always believes in "group dynamics," becomes the first Asian woman to head the chamber.

To lead a mission to improve connections between local business and educational interests, Yao said she has named David McClain, dean of UH's College of Business Administration, as chairman. Hamilton McCubbin, chief executive officer of Kamehameha Schools, will be vice chairman.