Golden Opportunity:

Remarkable Careers that Began at McDonald's

Bridgett Freeman

Hired 1981

"People have to learn to be successful. You have to help them understand how they can take an average job and turn it into an opportunity."

After working for McDonald’s for twenty-five years and rising to become senior executives, Bridgett Freeman and her husband, Bruce, both had successful careers on the corporate side when they decided to become owner/operators in 2007. Their journey is unusual because they met and married as employees and because they chose to give up the benefits of a stable corporate income to become entrepreneurs.

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Marlene González

Hired 1982

"I learned from being a restaurant manager to be persistent and consistent. There are no shortcuts and no mysteries to it."

In the spring of 1982, a fifteen-year-old Venezuelan girl stopped in at a McDonald’s in Virginia to see if she could get some part-time work where she could save for college. The remarkable career that followed took her around the world and up the ladder to one of the most complex jobs in the company—in charge of global training and executive development for 2.5 million employees working in 30,000 restaurants located in more than one hundred countries. Today, she is an entrepreneur, running her own consulting firm working with Fortune 500 companies to help them develop their talent into top producers and leaders.

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Susan Singleton

Hired 1982

"Parents who bring their kids into our restaurants are often surprised when we don’t automatically hire everybody who walks in."

Susan Singleton found more than most at McDonald's—a career, a business, a husband, and a leadership role in guiding the future of the company and its 2,300 US owner/operator groups. Like many others, she has a story to tell about a stranger who stepped in to help her husband and her at just the right moment, saving the day. Who stepped in and how that gesture has influenced so many other lives is just one of the inspiring aspects of her career. Today, she and her husband own six restaurants in the Chicago area and Susan is an officer of the National Leadership Council, a group that represents the interests of franchisees who are working with McDonald’s corporation.

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Laurieann Gibson

Hired 1983

"For a long time, no one ever knew about my humble beginnings. Now it’s something I like to tell people."

Laurieann Gibson, daughter of Jamaican immigrants to Canada, was a young dance student who saw in the running of a restaurant a kind of choreographed ballet. Many of the lessons she says she learned as a crew member helped her achieve her phenomenal success. She is an internationally acclaimed choreographer for the biggest stars in the music world—most notably Lady Gaga—and a star herself: an award-winning performer, composer of movement, and director. Like actress Andie MacDowell, Laurieann saved her earnings to buy a bus ticket to New York, where her remarkable career took off.

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LTC Michael D. Grice, USMC

Hired 1983

"I learned that success meant being the person who requires the least managing. It’s what I teach my officers, my Marines, and the people I work with."

McDonald’s is often compared to a military organization because it is managed in a structured way with clear chains of command and consistent procedures. On his way to a successful career as a Marine officer, Mike Grice says much of what he learned about working in a high-pressure environment, being a good crew member, and being an inspiring manager was directly applicable in his professional life. Those lessons served him well during his tours of duty in Afghanistan, where he had to coordinate his unit with multiple coalition partners.

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Wendy Clark

Hired 1985

"The biggest lesson I learned about being a good leader was that it’s not about me, it’s about the team."

Wendy Clark was curious, driven, and competitive, and what she learned at McDonald’s has served her well. Today, she is a senior marketing executive with The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, overseeing global design, content, media connections, and interactive marketing. She has twice been featured in Fortune magazine’s 40 Under 40 profiles of up-and-coming executives and named one of its four Women to Watch.

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Stephanie Oliver-Greene

Hired 1986

"It’s not about the burgers and fries anymore. It’s about changing and enriching people’s lives."

Stephanie Oliver-Green is a second-generation franchisee whose father bought his first restaurant in Chicago in 1979. She shared some unforgettable stories about how she has used her position as a business woman and employer to help individuals who were down on their luck. “Mama,” as she has come to be known, demonstrates in action the family feeling that so many people talk about when they recall their experiences. As disciplined as one has to be to work, manage, or own a McDonald’s restaurant, Stephanie has taken risks and, in doing so, changed lives.

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Kyong Kapalczynski

Hired 1989

"I’m going to show them what I can do."

One of the success stories I am most proud to have helped facilitate is the career of Kyong Kapalczynski, a South Korean native who came to the US as the wife of an American soldier. She knew very little English. Her first American meal was a McDonald’s cheeseburger and she decided that’s where she wanted to work. When I met her, she was struggling to make the leap from restaurant manager to owner/operator. Her journey is the story of so many new Americans who cope with language, prejudice, and economic challenges, yet manage to flourish in the fertile soil of American capitalism. Today she owns four restaurants in Missoula, Montana.

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In 2009 World Series (Keith Allison photo)

Hired 1991

"No matter what you want to do in life, you’ve got put all your effort into it."

The Hairston family boasts the most members to have played in major and minor league baseball. Jerry Hairston, Jr.’s, grandfather, father, brother, and uncle have all been professionals, giving Jerry Jr. the additional distinction of being the first African-American to be a third generation major-leaguer. His father insisted he get a job and experience what it’s like to work hard. That’s how Jerry ended up at a McDonald’s, where he learned a couple of lessons that helped him in his career.

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Alma Anguiano

Hired 1992

"Life is full of roadblocks. The challenge is figuring out how to clear those roadblocks, but there is always a way."

Alma Anguiano’s story is one of the most dramatic in this collection—she entered the US as an infant from Mexico; grew up in a neighborhood of Los Angeles that was so rough she was afraid to go to school; became the first in her large family to earn a college degree; and is today a successful human resources executive with McDonald’s in California, working with the owner/operators of more than 550 restaurants. Her incredible journey is an affirmation of the American dream and the portrait of a young girl who learned to become a leader in her family before she was even an adult.

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