We are often told that individuals are “stuck” in fast food jobs, as if there is no hope for advancement or development. But these aren’t dead end jobs for people willing to learn, grow, and work really, really hard.
At Domino’s Pizza, over 90 percent of franchise owners started out as hourly employees, and the chain’s 5,000 locations are largely owned and operated by franchisees.
Rob Cookston is one such owner who worked his way up. Cookston started delivering pizzas out of his cherry red Volkswagen Beetle 25 years ago. But, eyeing the store owner’s yellow Ferrari, Cookston knew that he wanted more, and soon enrolled in the corporation’s manager training program.
Cookston learned all aspects of running a pizza chain, from properly massaging pizza dough to managing payroll. But it wasn’t easy. His store had five phone lines, each of which had to be answered promptly every time, and every order had to be delivered within 30 minutes. “It was a big challenge. I wanted to quit at times,” says Cookston, continuing: “We’d take turns giving each other shoulder massages we were so wiped out.”
But after five years, Cookston’s ambitions were higher than store management. He soon enrolled in franchise management school and then took an enormous risk, borrowing money from his parents and grandparents to start his first restaurant in New York City. Accumulating savings for future expansion, Cookston spent the next five years living in the basement below another Domino’s while he was a manager. But with financial prudence, Cookston gradually grew his enterprise, buying and selling restaurants and expanding to Long Island and Connecticut. Everything said and done, Cookston owned and operated 32 different locations, and made a fortune in the process.
McDonald’s also has its share of Horatio Alger stories. 40 percent of its executives have started out as hourly employees, and so have over 50 percent of its franchise owners.
Tyrone Davis is the operations manager—essentially, second-in-command—at six McDonald’s restaurants in Darien, Connecticut. Davis works marathon 14+ hour days, running around ensuring that his restaurants are operating smoothly. Davis coaches employees on being more efficient, spots where additional hands are needed, even grabbing a broom himself when the situation calls for it, and always keeps a watchful eye to ensure that every customer is satisfied with his order, deftly intervening to replace a beverage or sandwich when needed.
Like many McDonald’s managers, Davis started as an hourly employee—his first job with McDonald’s was over 20 years ago, when he was 19—and worked his way up. Now he is making a comfortable manager’s salary—likely six figures. (Davis was featured in the 2007 CNBC Originals documentary of McDonald’s: “Big Mac: Inside the McDonald’s Empire.”)
J. Nicole Daniel is another McDonald’s success story. She knew that she wanted to own a McDonald’s the day she started as an hourly employee, which was not that long ago by her account. Now she owns two in Alabama and passionately works long hours to keep them running. Daniel, who starts every day at 6 a.m., explains: “When you do something you really enjoy for a living, 14 or 15 hours go by pretty quickly.”
Even the current president of McDonald’s U.S.A., Jeff Stratton, began his 40-year career with the chain as an hourly employee, making $1.60 per hour in his hometown city, Detroit. But he persevered, worked his way up the corporation, and now oversees the operations of more than 15,500 restaurants in North America.
Some might dismiss these stories as exceptional cases. In a sense, these individuals are exceptional. Not everyone is willing to put in the hours that they do. Not everyone has the ambition and career focus that they do. Not everyone is able to successfully keep a restaurant afloat like they can. Although these individuals are the exceptions, there is no reason why every hourly employee cannot strive to be more like them.
While some disparage fast food jobs, they can be the first step of a prosperous career for many others—others who are focused on where they want to go in their careers and what they need to do to work toward it.
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