Featuring: Lisa Taguchi, Founder of U-Key Career Solutions
Female Fingerprints is a new monthly feature created to highlight women around the globe who have had an impact in their local communities. Each month throughout the year I will share some of the best and brightest stories of women who are making a positive and lasting imprint on our world.
Her excitement was personified as she played with her pen in her hand. She offered a contagious smile larger than life, as I began transcribing. Here is a woman of strength and substance; not merely a survivor, but a force to be reckoned with.
Lisa Taguchi, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at U-Key Career Solutions. A Nisei (daughter of a Japanese immigrant born and educated in America), a Samurai warrior, who has been on a battleground journey, rising to claim her victories one at a time.
A Tomboy whose dream was to walk in her father’s footsteps, to be a chef, and restaurateur one day. Lisa’s dream was to hold up the “yanagiba” (sashimi knife), just like Kantro-San, her daddy would do at Kantro Sushi, his restaurant in the heart of San Francisco, downtown on Ellis and Powell Street.
A Bond with Her Father
As she glances fondly at his photograph on her desk where she is sitting on his lap at an “Onsen” (hot water springs), his favorite recreational activity. Her big round eyes and sweet smile portrayed in the picture clearly shows her love for her father. Lisa unfolds her story of her youth.
Lisa desired nothing more than to emulate her father. He was her hero after all. He was a pioneer in the art of curating sushi and sashimi in the early 70’s. His status at home and in his work was built on respect he earned. His kindness towards the homeless and the hungry. His respect for his team, his mentorship, and his endless hours at work to serve perfection as he knew best. Despite the numerous celebrities who visited his restaurant, he was known for considering their privacy.
A poignant and realistic portrayal of an angry, hurt, grief-stricken and disillusioned young woman. Lisa’s father passed suddenly, at a very young age. Lisa’s mother became sick immediately after.
A Struggle with Grief
The unfortunate circumstances, compelled Lisa to take care of her mother and younger brother whilst going to school, juggling homework and extra language classes simultaneously.
As an adolescent, Lisa started working as waitstaff in the Japanese restaurant, hoping the language skills would help bring in additional tips. In spite of his absence, she wanted her father to be proud of her. His name was perpetually mentioned in the restaurants she worked in; stories about his love for his work and his employees. This evoked an impulse in her to keep his legacy alive.
At this tender age her grief was overwhelming. Then her sorrow turned to exasperation. Lisa was exhausted by all the hard work, day after day. She did not want to be reminded of her dad. The most important person in her life had been taken away, and she began resenting that fact. There was nothing she could do to bring him back.
A Resilient Rebirth
Lisa and her brother George, in due time, both realized that chasing after their father’s dream was not attainable for either of them. Their bond was a significant seal as the young siblings decided mutually that it was time to pivot.
Barely managing to scrape enough funds to see her through university , Lisa earned a bachelor’s degree. George pursued economics and finance.
Lisa was compelled to work in corporate healthcare, where she would benefit from the experience, acquire leadership skills, accomplish many unexpected challenges, connect with like-minded people, and reciprocate selfless service to her community.
A resilient and sagacious Lisa, eventually embarked on her new journey that she chose based on the idea of “courage”. U-Key, a business that represents all immigrants and the sacrifices they made for a better life for their children.
In 2021, Lisa and her team looked at survival straight in the face. The aftermath of the COVID pandemic in 2020 coupled with consternation and challenges of a new kind. Armed with spirit and hope, Lisa and her Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Priya Shethna, launched U-Key Career Solutions.
Together the two women faced rejection and many sleepless nights, but like an army of warriors, their hope did not waver. The women knew they had to play a major role in providing jobs effectively for those who had been either furloughed or laid off due during uncertain times. Their belief in serving their community immediately and effectively took precedent over quality versus quantity of clients.
A leader, Lisa emulates her leadership style to reflect on how her father treated his employees with kindness, eliminating fear and replacing it with trust. Lisa takes pride in her clients who bring the same values to the table that align with U-Key, the values that are a key to their success.
Lisa’s father’s birthplace, Japan, known as an island nation, its majestic Mount Fuji, tranquility in the manicured gardens heavily laden with cherry blossoms, a homogenous society, industrious workforce, good relations between labor and management, characteristics of honor, a primary value entailing respect and staying true to one’s principles, practicing patience, respect, hospitality, and resilience.
Impact with Integrity
Lisa’s fingerprints are visible on the lives of the women she has inspired. Women who seek a solid and successful career path. Her confidence often brings her alongside people whom she regards with respect and kindness, gifting them with her time. Her love of good food, her creativity and generosity often finds her extending hospitality to friends and neighbors. A genuine display of inclusiveness.
She reminds me that integrity is not something we are just born with. It is an acquired skill. We need to constantly pursue it with eagerness and practice it each day.
Armed with emotional intelligence, Lisa is indeed a force to reckon with. Her inclusiveness, ability to influence and motivate; her empathy, optimism, and social skills are just a few of her many assets.
Lisa has welcomed the new year with open arms, she affirms they are ready to expand their network and continue to serve their communities nationwide!
What would say to your dad today in Japanese?
Her translated response was: “Thank You for teaching me what kindness and strength mean. I hope to make you proud one day”
What are the memories or scents that you still hold on to?
“The way he would slice all the fish to such precision, I have yet to master that! The smell of ocean and salt where the fish came from mixed with the muskiness of his cologne ….”
What are your father’s choice words in your memory?
“You only have each other (Lisa and her brother), so cherish it”
How Women Lead, Non-profit Organization Management.
Board of Directors-Member at Large, Women Healthcare Executives Norcal
“Though I may not have inherited my father’s culinary skills, I did, however, hone his gem, which was people skills. My success in my work has my father’s inscription: ‘respect and equality of all people’.”
We all wish Lisa and her partner, Priya, at U-Key Career Solutions a successful year ahead. I know that their leadership together will propel their business to another level!
Lisa, has certainly been a great influence on me, it is a joy to know such a person of great integrity, willpower and enormous strength to battle adversaries and claim victory over them. Her vivacious personality is most contagious!
To learn more about U-Key Career Solutions, visit: ukeycareersolutions.org