Finding a second home under the Golden Arches
By Uma Venkatraman
Forty years on, the non-stop "ka-ching" of cash registers and unending queues when McDonald's opened its Singapore outlet at Liat Towers in 1979 are still fresh in Mr Jeffrey Tan's mind. He was part of the crew that served a record 25,683 hamburgers in a day.
Because of a delay in the shipment of ingredients prior to the launch, the crew practised assembling burgers with pretend buns, cardboard for patties and raffia string for lettuce. The ingenuity paid off – when the supplies finally arrived for the grand opening, everything went on smoothly as the young crew rushed to complete orders for customers all day long.
Mr Tan, who wears a 10-year McDonald's anniversary ring on his finger, has been with the company ever since, save for a break between 1981 and 1983. He had signed up after seeing its recruitment ad while hanging out with his friends, and rose through the ranks to his present position as senior director of operations.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF JEFFREY TAN
"I owe my success to the company. When it promoted me, it looked at my results, not my qualifications."
- Mr Jeffrey Tan (far left), who was part of McDonald's pioneer batch of crew
"The army disciplined me and McDonald's harnessed me," says Mr Tan, adding that National Service taught his mischievous, younger self to be focused. The Secondary 3 drop-out eventually obtained a diploma in Management Studies from Singapore Institute of Management and completed many other courses – all sponsored by McDonald's. "I owe my success to the company. When it promoted me, it looked at my results, not my qualifications," says the affable 61-year-old.
The reason he has not left the company despite many tempting offers is McDonald's work culture. "We always put people first. We'll do anything to take care of them, not only in their work but also their personal lives."
With stints in McDonald's Malaysia and Indonesia under his belt, he observes: "As long as you wear the M logo, the company culture is the same. We are there for each other in good times and bad."
Ms Kelly Leong, too, has never left McDonald's because of its people-centric culture. She joined the crew when she was 16, fresh out of school.
She worked briefly at the Liat Towers outlet before moving to its second outlet at People's Park. Calling McDonald's her "second home", Ms Leong has never wanted to work anywhere else. "All the managers I have worked with have been caring and treat us like family members."
Although she's now a 56-year-old business consultant, she still looks forward to working together with her crew members every day. "We have lots of fun and always meet up after work for dinner and movie."
Other than encouraging the employees to be close-knit, Mr Tan says McDonald's also empowers them to make decisions that are within their job scopes. "I tell my team members that I'm here to support, not to supervise them. They can be independent, but they must also share their problems, so we can help to solve them."
Mr Tan acknowledges that one of the main challenges facing the F&B industry is labour, so "the best hiring tool is retention."
He estimates that the average tenure for ground crew is between 15 and 30 years, with up to 70 per cent of the leadership promoted internally.
The customer profile has also changed, and customers now have higher expectations. McDonald's has adapted by introducing table service for families and shoppers, while keeping up the quality of the food "because Big Mac must always taste great".
Behind it all, Mr Tan points out, is a great company he is proud to work for. As he looks back at his long career, he says, "I couldn’t have asked for anything more. And I would do it all over again."