Golden Opportunity:

Remarkable Careers that Began at McDonald's

Profiles
Lester and Joanne Stein

Hired 1955

"Great leaders know they’re in the spotlight all the time and constantly act as role models."

Lester Stein was one of the first hires a month or so after the April 15, 1955 opening of the first restaurant in the McDonald’s System, Inc. (predecessor of today’s McDonald’s Corporation) in Des Plaines, Illinois. Nearly six decades later, the lessons he learned are the same ones being taught each year to hundreds of thousands of new McDonald’s crew members. Lester’s feeling like part of a team is a sentiment expressed by every one of the people interviewed for this book. It is remarkable how far the company has come from those early years, when only men could work in the restaurants. Lester met his wife, Joanne, because of his job at McDonald’s. In July 2012, McDonald’s agreed to host the Steins’ fiftieth wedding anniversary at the museum that now stands at the site of the original restaurant.

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James McGovern

Hired 1956

"At fifteen, you’re not really exposed to the world and dealing with people like Ray Kroc—I never had to please anybody like that before—you grow up quick."

Jim McGovern worked in the first McDonald’s System restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois. Lester started at age fifteen and had the unusual experience of learning the business directly from founder Ray Kroc. That’s an impressionable time of life, which may explain the passion with which he talks today about the many interactions he had with Ray and what he learned from them. Two of the lessons that guided him in his later career as a supervisor in the electrical industry are timeless yet challenging to implement: no detail is too small; and being honest with superiors when you find yourself in over your head is better than trying to fake your way through.

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Phillip E. Rosner, PhD

Hired 1959

"Dignity came from what you did, not where you worked."

Team building is a core concept in business today. Back when Phil Rosner worked at a McDonald’s for a summer, no one had to explain it or put a name on it. He went on to become an industrial psychologist, helping large corporations solve problems like team building, and he often drew upon what he learned on a McDonald’s crew to do it. While working on that crew, he discovered that he enjoyed working with people, which influenced his decision to choose a career helping others. The discipline he learned helped him get through graduate school.

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Frank J. Sandoval

Hired 1965

"I was only nineteen years old and already managing a busy restaurant."

Frank Sandoval is the first person in the book (chronologically) who started as crew and ended up being an owner/operator. As of this writing, his company owns fourteen restaurants in Colorado—two of them owned by his older son. He is noteworthy for being one of the first franchisees of Hispanic heritage and one of the youngest when he started. He comes from a modest background and is a great example of a group represented by many others in the book who achieved a remarkable degree of success starting from an entry-level position.

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Jay Leno

Hired 1966

"Promoting from within is a lesson I took with me from McDonald’s to The Tonight Show."

There are many celebrities whose first real job was under the Golden Arches, but Jay Leno may be the most recognizable. Like others of lesser fame who have gone on to successful careers in other fields, Jay connects the dots from the experiences he had as a teenager with his career path and even his management philosophy. And, of course, he tells a few good stories.

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Henry “Hank” Thomas


Hired 1966

"They wouldn’t let him operate the register, so he bought the restaurant."

A college student at Howard University, Hank Thomas volunteered in 1961 to become a Freedom Rider, engaging in civil disobedience protests against segregated public facilities throughout the South and very nearly getting himself killed by vigilantes. Then he earned a Purple Heart as a medic in the Vietnam War. Given a chance to prove himself at a McDonald’s restaurant in Washington, DC, he went on to build a family business that has included multiple McDonald’s franchises. Today he is celebrated as a hero of the civil rights movement.

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Andrew H. Card, Jr.

Hired 1967

"McDonald’s was a great equalizer—wealthy and poor, black and white stood in the same lines and sat at the same booths."

Andrew Card was a young husband, father, and college student when he began his three years working at a McDonald’s in Columbia, South Carolina. Being slightly older and more settled than most of the crew, he fell into a leadership role. He enjoyed mentoring and serving as an example for others, along the way teaching a young man a surprising lesson about integrity. He recalls developing instincts that served him well in his career, including five and a half years in the White House as President George W. Bush’s chief of staff. Card would later say that running the White House was like working a fast-food counter during a lunch hour rush that never ends.

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Marcia L. Fudge

Hired 1967

"Decent work is never beneath anybody."

To be successful in the restaurant business, it helps to have a flair for dealing with many different kinds of people. That proved to be good training for Marcia Fudge in her later career in public service. After getting her law degree, she served as a prosecutor, county finance official, mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, and went on to represent the Eleventh District of Ohio in Congress.

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Don Armstrong

Hired 1969

"Each of the owner/operators I worked for influenced me in a significant way, beyond making hamburgers and dollars and cents."

Don Armstrong’s story is one of unusual focus and persistence. He decided in high school he wanted to own a McDonald’s franchise. It took him a decade and he met his share of obstacles along the way but refused to be dissuaded from his dreams. Today he owns one of the largest restaurant groups in the McDonald’s system.

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Steve Plotkin

Hired 1969

"We are always developing our people and moving them up the ladder, creating the next generation of leaders."

Steve Plotkin started his journey forty-three years ago with no particular plan in mind, assuming one day he’d get a “real job.” Today he has one—president of the West Division, responsible for nearly 4,300 restaurants and 647 franchisees covering six geographic regions in sixteen states, with about $9 billion in annual sales. That kind of continuity is rare in business but common at McDonald’s. Steve in particular is known for developing and promoting people through the ranks.

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