Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers That Began At McDonald's
In Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers That Began At McDonald’s, author Cody Teets recounts some of the more notable stories of the 20 million Americans who began their careers working at McDonald’s--including Jay Leno, founder Jeff Bezos, actress Andie MacDowell, and Andrew Card, former White House chief of staff. Click through to see the lasting lessons they learned about building a career during their years flipping burgers and slapping together McDLTs.
Andrew Card, former White House chief of staff, hired 1967
"I remember thinking that McDonald’s was unique as a great equalizer. Wealthy and poor, black and white all came to McDonald’s and stood in the same lines and sat at the same booths. The fact that the restaurant was integrated was somewhat novel for South Carolinians at the time. For me, coming from New England, the fact that it was novel was a shock."
Jeff Bezos, founder, hired 1980
"The most challenging thing was keeping everything going at the right pace during a rush. One of the great gifts I got from that job is that I learned to crack eggs with one hand. My favorite shift was Saturday morning. The first thing I would do is get a big bowl and crack three hundred eggs into it."
Jay Leno, comedian, hired 1966
"One of my favorite stories about McDonald’s has to do with a sack of potatoes and a pair of underpants. In those days, the French fries had to be made from scratch. We had to cut what seemed like a ton of potatoes every day. I had these massive forearms from cutting those potatoes. One day, I went into the store room to get a fresh sack. Tom Curtin, the owner/operator, was with me and there, on top of the sack of potatoes, was a pair of underpants. Sometimes crew members changed into their uniforms at work and somebody had apparently forgotten their underpants. I expected Tom to tell me to throw out the top layer of potatoes and wash the rest. Instead he said, simply, “Get rid of all those potatoes.” So the standards for quality were quite high. It was one of those life lessons I never forgot."
Andie MacDowell, actress, hired 1974
"Coming from my background, it was a big deal to be able to buy my own clothes. I’m a very independent person and working at McDonald’s was my independence. I loved the freedom of not having to ask anybody for money, of being able to take care of myself. It was a crucial lesson for me to discover how highly I valued my independence."
Jerry W. Hairston, Jr., L.A. Dodgers second baseman, hired 1991
"I was exposed to an incredibly diverse group of people of different ages and backgrounds. In sports and in school, everyone was around the same age and came from a similar upbringing. I remember noticing that everybody on crew was equally industrious, no matter what their background. I gained their respect and trust by sharing their work ethic and the goal of serving customers."
Janice Fields, president of McDonald's USA, hired 1978
"I had a knack for reading faces and could tell if someone was happy or ready to complain. A person who had waited too long to be served and was wearing a frown inspired me to try to turn it into a smile. It felt great to be helping others, especially parents with kids. I had my own child so I could relate."
Henry "Hank" Thomas, Freedom Rider, McDonald’s franchise owner, hired 1966
"Two white men owned that restaurant, but the manager was black. That fascinated me, coming out of the culture of the South where black folks weren’t in charge of anything, let alone a business owned by white people. I asked the manager, “How in the world could I get to be a manager?” He took the time to talk to me and showed me as much as I wanted to learn. I recognized what a good business it was and even though it seemed like an impossibility at the time, the idea of owning one intrigued me."
Leroy Chiao, astronaut, hired 1976
"It was hard work, and I was busy the whole time. I couldn’t just stand around. I was impressed by how they had optimized the operations, and this was something I appreciated later as an engineer. Everything arrived on time. The buns came out and were dressed, the meat was pulled off the grill, the cheese was put on it, the top layer of buns went on, and they all went up to the front to be boxed. The whole operation was very efficient. There was a lot of pressure not to mess up your part, because that would slow down the machine."
Carla Harris, managing director, Morgan Stanley, hired 1978
"I had to sell my father. He agreed to let me apply on one condition: “If you have one grade, just one, that goes down, you’re done with the job.” Getting my first paycheck made me even more determined to keep my job, so I made sure to keep my grades up. I worked from 1978 through the summer of 1980, when I went off to college at Harvard, and worked there again the summer after my freshman year."
Marine Lt. Col. Michael Grice, hired 1983
"McDonald’s was a meritocracy. You were recognized by the skills you had acquired, not by whose kid you were or who your friends were. Their best employees got the best raises. There was a sense of pride and accomplishment to be able to say, 'Yeah, I can do that.'"
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Golden Opportunity: 10 Famous People Who Started Their Careers At McDonald's (And Loved It)

If you think a McJob is a dead end, better think again.

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