INTERVIEW: Many Filipinos have uttered the famous catchphrase: “I’m lovin’ it”!
They should also give thanks to Dr George T. Yang, founder/Chairman and master franchise holder of fast-food giant McDonald’s in the Philippines, for bringing the American chain into the country, way back in 1981. From 10 branches that have since ballooned to 670, and now with a 40,000-strong workforce, the restaurant does not just dish out its signature burgers to a loyal customer base.
Its real specialty centres on its staff and crew, with Yang, believing that treating people right and helping them to grow, ultimately helps the business to succeed as well.
In this exclusive interview with Chief of Staff Asia, Yang notes that staff have consistently been regularised, with all benefits, ever since the start of the very first McDonald’s outlet in Manila. Even today, this can be an uncommon business practice in the local fast-food industry, where staff are more often employed on less secure contractual bases.
McDonald’s employees are also able to rise through the ranks. Over the last 40 years, many have gone on to leadership and corporate positions, both within the McDonald’s organisation in the Philippines, and also internationally.
To truly understand the food business from the onset, Yang noted that he and his eldest son served as crew members during his first days as a franchisee. This humble act paved the way for him to grasp the needs of employees and relate to their aspirations.
Indulge in the rest of our exclusive interview with the brand leader that moved and shook the fast-food scene in the Philippines when it was in its infancy.
McDonald’s Philippines: Game-changers in the restaurant world
COS Asia: What made you bring McDonald’s to the Philippines, and how was the
process? Did you face any setbacks in those early years?
Yang: When I first learned about McDonald’s, I was impressed by its systems and its
people. I knew I had to bring it to the Philippines. It was sustainable, created jobs, and gave Filipinos quality food and fast service.
Back then, McDonald’s Corporation did not have the Philippines on its expansion radar, as the focus was on Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong. I was competing against established corporations and many Philippine investors who wanted to bring it to the country. I probably had the least amount of assets to show, but they chose me because I assured them I would be very hands-on and run it myself.
I immersed myself in the store and spent time with the crew. I also brought my eldest son, Kenneth, to Hong Kong where we worked as a crew and learned the ropes: from cooking to cleaning, and from systems to benchmark standards — that gave me an edge.
I was then asked how many stores I planned to open. I would be happy with just a few. I said I could build 10. They were surprised. The McDonald’s US executives thought 10 was a lot at that time.
There were many hurdles in the early years, including getting things approved. At that time, McDonald’s Corporation didn’t understand the Filipino market, so part of my strategy was to cater to the unique Filipino palate and lifestyle.
More importantly, we also wanted the company to contribute to society through employment and corporate social responsibility.
When the first McDonald’s in the Philippines finally opened on the busy street of Morayta in Manila in 1981, I can still remember the long lines of excited customers. With 670 stores today, I am glad that Filipinos continue to love and make McDonald’s a part of their lives.
COS Asia: On staffing strategy, what has worked in the manpower success of McDonald’s in the Philippine setting?
Yang: One of the things I am most proud of is how we changed the restaurant landscape. Before, a restaurant job was considered lowly, without room for growth.
At McDonald’s, we made working at a restaurant a fun, learning experience. We invested in training. I believe we set the tone and the standards of restaurant service. More companies now see the value of good and continuous training.
We pioneered employing students for part-time work and continue doing so. They learn and earn, at the same time, to support their college education and provide for their families.
Being a crewmember has become a good, respectable job. We teach them the value of hard work. They have fun working with other young people, and they enjoy the food, too!
I am also proud of our hiring practices. We are one of the few, if not the only (fast food operator) that has done direct hiring since Day One. We never did contractual hiring. Our crews were regularised, with all government-mandated benefits, and more. Many of those employees have risen through the ranks, starting as crew and now leading teams in the support office or the head office. Some employees have been assigned to foreign posts.
If you treat your people right and help them grow, they will help your business succeed.
This feature was extracted from Chief of Staff Asia's exclusive interview with Dr George T. Yang, chairman/founder and master franchise holder of McDonald’s Philippines. For further coverage please see any of the below links:
McDonald’s Philippines’ chairman lives an ageless dream (May 24, 2022)
Getting to know: Dr George T. Yang, McDonald’s people champ (May 26, 2022)