Beyond Burgers: Author Says McDonald's Offers a True ‘Golden Opportunity’

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Ten Life Lessons McDonald’s Teaches Millions of Teens by Cody R. Teets author of "Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers That Began at McDonald's" and Vice President and General Manager, Rocky Mountain Region, McDonald's USA.

Golden Opportunity, by Cody Teets
Golden Opportunity, by Cody Teets

Chances are someone you know has probably worked at McDonald’s . What might surprise you are, and you might be surprised by the recognizable names among them— founder Jeff Bezos, former White House chief of staff Andrew Card, actress Andie MacDowell and LA Dodgers second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr., to name a few.

The lessons they say they learned as teens and young adults earning their first real paychecks—good work habits, being part of a team, taking responsibility—are the same values McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc taught his first employees more than a half-century ago.

They are the same ones that since have been taught to an estimated 20 million Americans who, at one point or another, have pinned a McDonald’s name tag on their shirts. That number grows each year by another nearly 400,000 new teen recruits.

Some stay for a month, some for a year, and some make it a career. Many use what they learn to build remarkable careers.

As a 30-year veteran of McDonald’s, starting as a 16-year-old flipping burgers, I often wondered what our young crew members take away from their time in our restaurants. Looking back many years later, I wondered if they considered it valuable. So I interviewed some four dozen people—a handful of celebrities, some restaurant owner/operators, company executives, and others—and combed their stories for the ten core work and life lessons most often mentioned as contributing to their success.

Jeff Bezos spoke of his pride at mastering a skill: cracking 300 eggs with one hand, without getting a single bit of shell in the bowl. Astronaut Leroy Chiao discovered the importance of teamwork, which served him well on his NASA space missions. Decorated Marine Lt. Col. Michael Grice learned to stay calm and focused under the pressure of a lunch rush, a lesson that helped prepared him for his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Parents who worry that their kids risk falling short of their potential by choosing to work in quick-service restaurants, or in any other entry-level service jobs, overlook the value of self-respect that young people get from work. Over and over people told me about the special thrill they felt when they were handed their first real paycheck. Many were supervising shifts of fellow workers—including people much older than them—before they’d graduated high school. Some went on to manage entire restaurants doing $2 million or more in annual revenue while they were still in college. Those were golden opportunities.

My conclusions are that there is no such thing as a dead-end job, and starting out your working life flipping burgers is as noble as any other honest dollar earned for an honest day’s work. Smart employers who have to hire a lot of young people understand that they are sponges for experience. They learn their first habits, good or bad, from what they see and what they are taught. If you are a business leader and you want to retain a productive work force, teach them good habits and skills from day one.

Here are the ten life lessons most often mentioned by those I interviewed who have worked at McDonald’s. These are not from any company handbook or values statement, but from those who learned and remember them. Just knowing these won’t guarantee success, but chances are good that success won’t come without having lived them.

  1. No task is beneath you, not even cleaning a bathroom.
  2. Teamwork means pitching in without being asked.
  3. Leadership means stepping up when you are needed.
  4. Own your mistakes and build on them.
  5. Take pride in a skill mastered, no matter how basic.
  6. Take pride in a job well done, no matter how small.
  7. Roll with the punches, stay focused under pressure.
  8. Never compromise product or service standards.
  9. Study the successes of others and learn from them.
  10. Work hard and smile often.

Cody R. Teets began her career in 1980 at a McDonald's restaurant in Denver, Colorado. Today she is vice president and general manager of the Rocky Mountain region for McDonald's USA, responsible for nearly 800 restaurants. She is the author of "Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers That Began at McDonald's."

Email me at bullishonbooks@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @BullishonBooks