Improving Health Through Technology

Over the last 20 years, May Yamada-Lifton has been able to work globally, bridging cultures and expanding growth in the pharmaceutical, health tech, and nutritional supplements business. Today, she is the CEO of Maypro Industries, a nutritional supplements trading company started 45 years ago by her father, Steve Yamada. Maypro is one of the largest global suppliers of nutraceutical ingredients and fine chemicals such as Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). First introduced by Maypro from Japan and now sold globally, CoQ10 is a health supplement that improves energy, augments the immune system, and acts as an antioxidant. Maypro’s customers include multibillion-dollar consumer brands and direct-to-consumer companies.

Before joining Maypro, Yamada-Lifton climbed the corporate ladder at Pfizer, SAS, and CSL Behring and worked at investment banks. She loves leveraging technology to improve health; she is very proud of having supported the setup of the statistical systems for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine development. She also serves on the board of Predictiv, a digital twin startup.

Yamada-Lifton was born in the US, but raised as a Japanese expat child, meaning she attended Japanese School of New York and eventually enrolled in the University of Tokyo. In high school, she was fascinated by the human body’s ability to be impacted by nutritional supplements such as Tryptophan and by the biotech revolution that made human growth hormone. She also attended MIT, where she pursued her passion for learning about the world economic situation and biology. She studied business at Columbia Business School, where she met her husband. They live in New York City with their two children.


Iroha: Please tell us about your past work, projects, or initiatives.

May: Currently, I am most energized by combining technology and data analysis to improve marketing and sales activities and planning innovation for our family business, Maypro. I was recently appointed CEO, and as COO, I put together a five-year strategic growth plan to grow our business to $200 million in revenues in our major markets of US, Japan, and China, as well as expanding in Europe and Latin America. We are known for our research and high-quality supplement ingredients, and we have a lot of growth planned for beauty and weight-management products in the US and Japan.

I am excited to use many of the new technologies to understand our consumers’ needs better and then provide market insights to the customers who purchase our ingredients. We can use these insights to develop new products that resonate with consumers’ needs, which ultimately include their happiness and well-being. I also see how wearables for diagnostic purposes are revolutionizing the way we understand consumers’ health needs. They can now self-manage their health, beauty, and fitness for maximum happiness.

Iroha: Tell us about what you are currently working on.

May: At Maypro I encourage innovation and plan for growth. I have worked on developing nutraceutical products and launching them globally over most of my career. I am now incorporating AI capabilities into the drug development process.

I also encourage my Maypro team to use a method called Lean Canvas, which is an approach to developing a one-page business plan that helps managers assemble hypotheses for a particular business model to launch any start up. The goal is to solve a customer need or want and to let technology create a solution or a service.

Outside Maypro, mentoring women in business is an important initiative I support. Because many industry women are underrepresented in Chief- and Board-level positions, I started helping mentor and grow future C-leads. I manage the mentorship initiative with Dr. Sybille Buchwald-Werner as my co-lead to coach future leaders to unlock their personal and professional potential.

Iroha: Please share your story in relation to the Asian glass ceiling. Based on your experience, have you been involved with any organization or activism to address the problem?

May: Asian women make up less than 1% of C-Suite promotions in the United States. This means there are so few role models. Recently for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I participated in an event with other female Asian C-leads as part of Chief, a private female membership network, to share my story on how I rose the corporate ladder of Pfizer.

For example, I was able to leverage my Japanese as a differentiator to help reduce the lag in drug launches in Japan by supporting the communication between the global marketing team and the Japanese marketers and scientists. My knowledge of Japanese language and culture, combined with being proficient in financial analysis, helped me build a network with leadership at Pfizer. This led to other high-visibility projects that were not Japan-related, such as expanding digital marketing capabilities in emerging markets, growing the European and Russia market, and integrating global M&A and innovation activities. I try to share my success and failure stories, so that I can be a visible role model. 

Iroha: What is your advice to younger Asians who want to break through the Asian glass ceiling?

May: Consider yourself a product. Do people know about you? Do they know what you are good for? Do others say good things about you? Do you present yourself well? Do you have the features of the product/solution you want to be? I think many Asian immigrants are told to be humble, but they end up becoming invisible instead.

Iroha: What do you plan to work on in the future?

May: I am a proud and active Fellow of US-Japan Leadership Program and honored to be a part of strengthening ties between US and Japan.

Iroha: What causes do you support and what activities are you involved in?

May: I retired from figure skating at age 16 because I couldn’t get my triple salchow jumps consistent and school seemed like a stronger career path for me. At age 49, while driving my daughter to the skating rink, another skating mom encouraged me to start skating and competing again. Since I am at Ice House, a famous training center, I restarted skating and getting my double jumps back with the help of Russian coaches. I came in second place for my age group in the Nationals, and this upcoming year I hope to compete again and go to Worlds, where Japanese Olympic silver medalist Midori Ito was still competing at age 50. 

Iroha: Do you have any advice or a message for young people who want to follow in your footsteps?

May: Be curious. Opportunity doesn’t come to those who don’t try to get closer. Your network is your greatest asset. 

Iroha: Outside of work, what are you most interested in right now?

May: I am obsessed with wearing every one of my grandaunt’s vintage kimonos. It is a fascinating hobby she had, and learning to wear one has been an incredible experience.

written by Susan Miyagi McCormac  


May Yamada-Lifton | Linkedin