Sharon Lykins, senior director of product innovation for Denny’s Inc., is an integral member of Denny’s product development team. Her colleagues see her as tireless in her search for the best products and solutions to ensure high-quality, flavorful food that meets their guests’ needs. They say her passion is contagious, quickly spreading to her team members and others. Lykins shares credit with her team for their successes.

A food science graduate from the University of Kentucky, Lykins continued her culinary education with courses at both Johnson & Wales and the Culinary Institute of America. Over the last 20-plus years, she has gained experience in disciplines affecting the food product development process. She has worked on both the food service and processing sides of the food industry, with accomplishments in product development, quality assurance, purchasing and international product management. Her passion and dedication resulted in her being named to the Griffin Report’s 2014 listing of Women of Influence in the Food Industry.

“I have worked to gain experience in every aspect of the business that touches product development,” says Lykins. “Accomplishing this gives me a unique perspective on how the puzzle pieces fit together to yield results and how to teach/lead my teams effectively.”

“When you are with one company for many years, there is risk of being type cast in one role. Lykins explains. “I have changed companies to further my growth and I have approached senior leadership with business plans regarding how I would lead. Both options were successful.”

“Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have managers willing to give me assignments that stretched my abilities,” she says. “In my current role, I try to give those in my group similar opportunities to shine. I encourage the members of my team to voice their concerns and offer solutions to hurdles they see.”

Lykins’ message to those in her group, as well as other women starting their careers, is to speak up, focus on results and make sure you have a champion within your company to sing your praises. And remember to champion others as well.