I started working for McDonald’s Corporation in Tulsa the day I turned 16 in 1977. I left the corporation in 1986 to enlist in the US Air Force, where I spent the next 7.5 years of my life. My friends and family thought I was nuts to enlist in the military, but it turned out to be a great move for me because I completed both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees while on active duty and earned the GI Bill money that I would later use to help fund my doctoral studies.
During high school, I worked as much as 30 hours a week at McDonald’s to help my mother make ends meet. The day I turned 18, McDonald’s made me a shift manager. I continued to work part-time for McDonald’s for the next 4 years while I went to school full time at Oklahoma State University. When I dropped out of school at the age of 22, I went full-time with McDonald’s in their management development program.
I LOVED working for McDonald’s. It was a fun job, and the McDonald’s I joined in 1977 had tremendous corporate values that I took to heart. Because I worked for the corporation and not a franchise, I envisioned a career path that would take me out of local restaurant management and up through the corporate ranks on a local, regional, and ultimately national level. I thought it would be my lifelong career, and I was excited about the possibilities.
I was a pretty good manager, mostly because I had been lucky enough to work for some very good people. I eventually ended up running a store in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma that was extremely successful. The store was in a great new neighborhood and we had an endless stream of good employees and loyal customers. We had so much money hitting our top line that it was almost impossible for us to not have an excellent bottom line.
I was considered a promising up-and-coming manager and I was hopeful that I would soon be able to make the move from single store management to multi-store supervision – the first real step up the corporate ladder that I so badly wanted.
As a result of doing so well in Broken Arrow, the corporation picked me to turn around their most troubled store. The store had already eaten two managers before I got the job. It was the oldest McDonald’s in the state of Oklahoma. The facilities were run down, and the top line sales had evaporated as the neighborhood around the store had transformed over the years. I knew from my training that wishful thinking was not going to return this store to profitability – it was going to take money to improve the facilities and begin the long process of attracting good employees and customers back to this store.
But my operations manager had other ideas. His name was Tim Rich, and he too had aspirations for climbing even further up the corporate ladder. But for him to look good, my store had to turn a profit that it was just not capable of without cooking the books or cheating the system, which I was not willing to do.
At an end-of-month meeting, Tim put the ultimatum to me. I was told that if I did not deliver a certain profit percentage next month, I would be replaced. He was not asking me to cheat, but he knew as well as I did that the number he asked for was impossible without cheating.
For some reason, I did not hesitate. When he threatened to replace me next month, my reply was “Why wait? Replace me now.” He did. In just a few days I found myself as an assistant manager in a different store. And 6 months later, I quit the corporation and was on my way to serve my country.
Less than a year after I quit, McDonald’s Corporation sold the store I was fired from. I was right about that store. I did the right thing by refusing to cook the books or cheat my customers and employees.
By the time I was 25, I had quit my first career – one that I really loved. Although I did not know it yet, I was about to learn that you can quit and survive; indeed, sometimes you need to quit to thrive.
When I joined the US Air Force, once again I LOVED it, and thought I would make a career of it. Yet I would quit my second career about 7.5 years later, for very different reasons, but with even better results.