McDonald's has long had a bad rap for offering low-paying, entry-level work, spawning the pejorative term "McJob." But Cody Teets recently authored a book, Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers That Began at McDonald's, about her jobs under the Golden Arches, where she started as a cashier in 1982 and is now the vice president and general manager of the Rocky Mountain region for McDonald's USA, responsible for nearly 800 restaurants. Flippin' burgers actually got someone somewhere? I suppose that in the current still-pretty-shitty job market, having gainful employment anywhere is a bonus, and McDoo's new blueberry banana nut oatmeal is pretty tasty. Still, Teets's rise is impressive, so we decided to talk with her about her book.
Westword: How did your tenure at McDonald's begin? Why did you decide to stick with the company for as long as you have, and even move up the ladder?
Teets: I started at McDonald's at sixteen. My first three days on the job I worked the fry area. I was so happy to get to work the front counter, as I really enjoyed the customer interaction. I never had intentions of staying with McDonald's. My plan was to get my degree in marketing and head into the world of advertising, communications or public relations. Once I had my degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, the job hunt began. I quickly learned that I would earn more money with McDonald's, and worked my way into management. So...I stayed. I found the opportunities and challenges very rewarding and continued to look for ways to grow and learn. As I look back now, both college and McDonald's prepared me to do the work I do today in the field of marketing, accounting, real estate, supply chain and operations.
How do you respond to people who refer to employment at McDonald's as "McJobs?"
My response is, "I love my McJob." I have had an opportunity to work my way from cook/cashier to general manager/vice president. I know I am not alone in this perspective. With McDonald's, I have taken advantage to travel across the U.S., earn my MBA and continue to see an endless road of options and opportunity.
As a followup to the last question, how do you feel about the general perception that McDonald's hires teenagers and folks who lack intelligence and/or motivation?
Frankly, I feel these individuals are simply uninformed. There are many entry-level jobs that enable learning key business principles such as teamwork, accountability, customer service, prioritization and pride. In today's economy, making money from a hard day's work is something to celebrate. What often makes it better is to understand the opportunities that will avail themselves from the skills that are mastered.
What's your funniest McDonald's story? I remember when the yearbooks came out my senior year in high school. Like everyone else, I quickly flipped to the back to see who was titled "the smartest," "the best dressed," "the most spirited" and the "funniest." To my surprise, I saw my name with the title of "most likely to marry Ronald McDonald." I guess it was pretty obvious, even back then, that I loved my McJob.
What prompted you to write this book?
The book was a work in process for many years. I found it amazing that folks would look at me puzzled when I told them I worked for McDonald's. I got used to the quizzical looks when I first started at McDonald's. I expected the questions and concerns about "living up to my potential" to dissipate as I moved up into restaurant management, supervision and field support. Unfortunately, they did not. Not only did I get the questions, but I witnessed the same thing occurring with fellow McDonald's staff. It became obvious that a large majority of people did not understand what McDonald's had to offer. I felt it was important to tell the "real story" of entry-level positions with a specific focus on what I know best: McDonald's.
Do you have any insider information about whether McDonald's has any plans to bring back those McOnion nuggets from the '80s?
I have to say, I started working at McDonald's in 1982 and I have never heard of the McOnion Nugget. Many people may find it interesting to know that we have three full-time chefs on the McDonald's staff in Oak Brook, Illinois, as well as a bench of chefs in our supplier community who work on our business collaboratively under our guidance and direction. These chefs continually look for products that our customers crave. While the Big Mac is still my favorite, I have to say I really like the new Blueberry Banana Nut Oatmeal.
What do you think is the most important thing you want readers to know about your book?
Each year, McDonald's teaches hundreds of thousands of workers business principles and work habits that will stay with them the rest of their lives.
While Webster's Dictionary defines "McJob" as "a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement," I would claim that entry-level jobs enhance skills, thus creating greater opportunity for advancement. As you will find in the book, many talented individuals began their careers behind the counters at McDonald's. Jay Leno, Andie MacDowell, Jeff Bezos, Andrew Card and Jerry Hairston recall what they learned at their first job and how these lessons helped them build their remarkable careers. I think that Carla Harris, gospel singer and managing director at Morgan Stanley, says it best: "There is really no such thing as a dead-end job. It's what you take away that adds value."
Although it's saddening to hear that McDoo isn't planning on resurrecting the McOnion nuggets, Teets is correct: The new oatmeal is delicious.
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Teets is planning a book-launch event and book signing at the McDonald's on the 16th Street Mall at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, August 29; all proceeds from this event will go directly to the Ronald McDonald houses in Denver and Aurora.