Golden Opportunity:

Remarkable Careers that Began at McDonald's

Profiles
Ed Sanchez

Hired 1974

"The day I came home with a bigger paycheck than my stepfather’s, he changed his tune. 'Wow! You really can make a career out of this.'"

Ed Sanchez was born just before Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959. He arrived in Miami when he was eight with his mother, two sisters, and the clothes they were wearing—nothing more. His remarkable career took him all the way from crew member to corporate officer, overseeing the Canada and Latin America markets. Then he switched hats and became CEO of one of McDonald’s major suppliers.

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Leroy Chiao, PhD

Hired 1976

"My experiences at McDonald’s have translated into almost anything I’ve done."

Long before he became an engineer, a scientist, and an astronaut, Dr. Leroy Chiao had an analytical appreciation for the well-thought-out system for cooking and serving food at his first job at a McDonald’s in California. He went on to apply the skills he learned there and later to master three languages, earn several degrees, join NASA, and spend 229 days in space, thirty-six of which he was outside the space station. The same principles that make a successful restaurant crew apply in most any setting, he says, and certainly when flying a space mission.

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James Collins

Hired 1976

"Do good when no one else is watching because you never know where your blessings are going to come from."

James Collins grew up in Cleveland where he was urged as a young man to get a good union job, only to discover the downside of factory work when the factories began to close. He found his calling in the McDonald’s system. Today he is a corporate officer. His journey was aided by mentors in the company who saw more in him than he saw in himself. He also credits networking with other African-American McDonald’s employees to learn how to navigate a corporate world his parents and grandparents had never known.

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Rick Colón

Hired 1977

"The day I came home and told my father I got promoted to manager, he beamed with pride. 'You’ve really made it. You’re a success!.'"

From growing up on the dangerous streets of the South Bronx in the 1970s to being one of the top officers of McDonald’s USA, Rick Colón describes his career as a pinch-me experience. He expresses amazement at the opportunities he’s had and the opportunities that others like him have enjoyed. His story illustrates what companies like McDonald’s represented to inner-city communities at that time, and his career has tracked big changes in Hispanic culture. He even got to meet Ray Kroc, under most unusual circumstances.

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Danitra Barnett

Hired 1978

"I learned to hire people who are different from me, who have different skills, and yes, who are more intelligent than I am. I make better decisions as a result."

In April 2011, McDonald’s held an event called National Hiring Day, during which some 50,000 people were projected to be recruited at some 14,000 restaurants across the country, all on one day. When it was over, 62,000 had been hired. The event was organized by Danitra Barnett, vice president of human resources for McDonald’s USA. Her journey is remarkable. She started out flipping burgers in Detroit and worked her way up despite many obstacles. She had the courage to insist on following the path she felt was best even though others had charted another course for her.

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Janice L. Fields

Hired 1978

"Had it not been for the kind words of a stranger, my career might have been quite different."

It would be hard to imagine a career as remarkable as that of Jan Fields. Starting out on crew working at the front counter, she discovered her calling—making people happy—and began her rise through the ranks. Thirty-two years later, in January 2010, she was named president of McDonald’s USA, overseeing about 14,000 restaurants employing more than 800,000 employees. Jan’s journey has inspired many other women in the business world, and she has made it a point to mentor individuals along the way.

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Carla Harris

Hired 1978

"There is no such thing as a dead-end job. It’s what you take away from it that adds value."

Carla Harris credits the sales skills she developed working behind the counter as a young woman with helping her land a job on Wall Street. Today she is a managing director at Morgan Stanley, and in her spare time is a recording artist, motivational author, and speaker. She is a gospel singer who has performed at Carnegie Hall. Among the skills she said she learned on crew, listening to customers has been one of the most valuable.

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Leo Lopez

Hired 1978

"My grandfather would often talk to me about America and the opportunity it offered anyone who worked hard."

Leo Lopez, son of Cuban émigrés, worked at a McDonald's in Miami from high school through college. He decided to pursue a career in banking, only to find himself lured back to become an owner/operator. Like many other franchisees, Leo has purchased, grown, and sold multiple locations. He has been involved for many years with the McDonald’s Hispanic Operators Association.

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Ajay K. Patel

Hired 1978

"The culture of the company and the attitude of America is that where you came from doesn’t define who you are."

Imagine being plucked out of the world you know today and dropped into the middle of Mumbai, India, not knowing the language and living on a student’s budget. That’s about what Ajay Patel experienced coming to America from Mumbai at the age of eighteen. He looked and felt out of place, was bewildered by culture shock, and wanted to go home. Two people reached out to him just when he needed it—a neighbor and later the manager of a McDonald’s. Today, he is an owner/operator in Louisiana with an only-in-America story to tell.

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Michael A. Smerconish

Hired 1978

"If I were in college admissions, I would have a lot more respect for a person who had punched a clock, gotten a little dirty, and learned how to rotate stock than someone who had a glamorous internship."

One of the threads weaving itself through these stories is nostalgia for a work ethic that seems to have fallen out of favor. This has been a frequent topic for radio talk show host and MSNBC political commentator Michael Smerconish. He has spoken and written about his experiences working on crew at a restaurant in his hometown in suburban Philadelphia. Among his observations is the irony that McDonald’s has to recruit help when so many young people are sitting at home out of work.

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