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December 19, 2021

McDonald's Invented Diversity

My McDonald's history is divided into two parts, the part I remember intimately and the part I've observed from 30,000 feet.

The first part is the hard work McDonald's Corporation expended to diversify the franchisee base dating back into the 1960s. My involvement in these efforts began in the 1970s as a shave-tail McOpCo guy learning to understand a diverse workforce in Southern California. Then, as a field service guy opening new stores in dusty southwestern towns with a diverse group of franchisees.  That was followed by years in the franchising department, most of which were spent recruiting and processing franchise applicants with a focus on diversity.

But I was just a foot soldier in the effort to make McDonald's a diverse franchise system. My work was duplicated thousands of times across the country. Was this an altruistic effort on the corporation's part? Maybe to some degree but it was generally thought that it was just darned good business. Was it all done with perfection? Afraid not, we only had human beings to work with.

And in my post-McDonald's career, I can only look at things from 30,000 feet. I have no direct knowledge about what happens at the corporate level or at the McDonald's home office. But, it does appear that around five or six years ago "diversity" fell off the corporate radar.

After all, how could a new CEO parachute in from Europe and immediately understand the history of USA race relations and the history of diversity at McDonald's? That CEO was soon sent packing. How could the next CEO, possessing minimal McDonald's experience, have any interest in diversity in the McDonald's system? Especially given the fact that his first years at McDonald's were spent downsizing the franchisee community. This downsizing was done with a spreadsheet and a machete, no humanity was involved. Certain franchisees were a liability to corporate cash flow and had to go, ignoring the corporate culture of inclusiveness.

Then the new CEO proceeded to blunder into politics, making mistake after mistake and embarrassing the McDonald's brand.

The greatest danger is that the still "new" CEO might claim he inherited a McDonald's system that was racially insensitive and he would be the hero that would fix the corporate culture. His recent letter says some good things about the system's history but leaves many opportunities for future falsities.

Spending the next year acting holier-than-thou and claiming he's fixing a broken system might be the only way he can save his job - or his entire career.

What's your version of McDonald's history?


Anonymous said...

Please write a book Richard describing your history with McDonalds. It would be fascinating to hear about the history of the brand over so many years.

Richard Adams said...

The definitive book on McDonald's was published in 1986, "McDonald's, Behind the Arches" by John Love. Republished in 1995 in paperback.
It should be required reading for next-gen Operators and anyone who has been in the system for less than 25 years.
The first line in the author's acknowledgements says, "This is not a corporate book". He goes on the explain that he was given complete freedom to research and write whatever he wanted.
I know he had access because he did his research while I was still with corporate, Mr. Kroc was still with us, and Love spent a lot of time in the San Diego office trying to get some time with Ray. He had no handlers or spin doctors following him around.
A must read - Amazon always has new and used copies of both hardback and paperback.

Anonymous said...

I doubt he could claim he inherited a racist system after his own insensitive, racist remarks