Sunday, November 19, 2006

I was a 20-something dethroned dotcom ceo that went to work the counter at mcdonald's

by scott heiferman (12/00)




5/94: graduated from the university of iowa
5/94-4/95: "interactive marketing frontiersman" at sony
4/95-10/99: founder/ceo i-traffic (acquired by 10/99)
10/99-10/01: chairman, i-traffic (an company)
10/00-10/00:  counterperson, mcdonald's (4th & broadway, nyc)
more about me


why i got a job at mcdonald's:

i spend a lot of time with bankers, lawyers, internet freaks, corporate wonks, and other people living strange lives.  as a good marketing guy, that's a bad thing.  and as a practicing anti-consumerist, that's a bad thing.  i got a job at mcdonald's to help get back in touch with the real world.  also, after over 6 grueling years in the internet whirlwind, i wanted to experience a profitable, well-oiled, multi-billion-dollar machine. and  i deserved a break today.


how i got the job:

app.jpg (40139 bytes)

i walked in, filled out an application, and was interviewed.  i was truthful.  in my interview, the manager (ralph) asked if i can handle a fast-paced, intense environment.  i said yes.  he looked at my resume and asked about my current part-time job as chairman at i-traffic.  i said, "it's an internet thing."  he said "ok" and then asked me for my waist size.


a few observations:

1. people like the "dollar menu".  the dollar menu consists of about a dozen items at mcdonald's that sell for a dollar.  not 99 cents, but one dollar.  most of these items had had existed elsewhere on the menu for about a dollar. mcdonald's has done a good job of keeping their menu relatively simple and short, but people clearly respond to the ultra-simplicity of the dollar menu.  most people weren't primarily ordering from the dollar menu because they were overwhelmed by the wider menu, but because they perceived it to be the best value.  someone call john stossel... but the dollar menu isn't always the best value. interestingly, "dollar stores" preceded mcdonald's "dollar menu" ---  it's fun to see "blue chip" kellogg-trained marketers from  mcdonald's borrow strategy from sleaze-level marketers. 

2. $5.75 ain't much. $5.75/hour X 40 hours/week X 52 weeks/year = $11,960.  that's before taxes are taken out.  some people said it was disrespectful for me to take a job at mcdonalds --- i didn't need the money, and they thought that i was making fun of people that work there.  the opposite is true:  i gained a bucket of respect for people that bust their butt for such low pay.  it's one thing to scan past stats about americans that make $12,000 per year -- or read about them in the paper.  but, to actually work a tough fry-heaving, mcnugget-wielding 6-hour shift --- and get home smelling like those fries and mcnuggets -- and realize that you only made about $30 that day... that's a serious eye-opener.  interpret as you see fit.

3.  i was never told to treat customers well.  correction:  i was never told by management to treat customers well.   before i started the job, i had read on the mcdonald's website that "our crewmembers make each customer feel like a welcomed guest."  i had even noticed a few months before that mcdonald's even went so far as to change their logo & tagline to feature the message "we love to see you smile." i expected to be specifically, officially instructed to smile and make customers feel like a welcomed guest.  well, as any patron of a manhattan mcdonald's knows, there ain't much feel-good from the counter staff.  my co-workers were downright rude to customers.  i got funny looks from my co-workers when i was friendly with customers.  they must not have seen the logo or tagline or website.

4.  nobody thanked me.  i worked hard.  i got paid peanuts.  i even ate mcdonald's food during my break (deducted from my pay).  it was intense:  the cash register was complex, people want their food NOW, the lines get deep, the mcflurry must be made just right.  i was trying hard and i was doing an ok job.  now, i've been the leader/manager for most of my life.  i've had plenty of crap jobs, but i've been the boss for the past few years.  i faithfully read my fast company magazine and my harvard business review.  i've been taught countless times the value of a leader/manager showing appreciation for people's effort.  however, my instinct has often been that showing appreciation really isn't too necessary for good people.  they just take pride in a job well done --- and, anyway, they can read my mind and see the appreciation.  well, from day 1 at mcdonald's, i was yearning for someone there to say "thanks".  even a "you're doing ok" would suffice.  but, no.  neither management experience -- nor reading about management --- teaches this lesson as well as being an under-appreciated employee.

5. most of my mcdonald's co-workers did their jobs much better than i ever could.  they just seemed quicker.  they had various talents and intuition that i don't have.   

6.  the fry basket burns skin.  

i got burned.



fry_guy7.jpg (131659 bytes)    fry_guy2.jpg (123668 bytes)


check.jpg (41341 bytes)
i got paid.


crain's called me a couple days before i started at mcdonalds.  they were doing a story on post-acquisition internet ceo's in new york.  i told them that i was starting a job at mcdonald's and didn't say much else.  i let them take my picture after i got off work one day. they put a strange spin on the piece.  most annoying were the people who thought that this was a publicity stunt.



Blogger Dmitry said...

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10:25 AM  

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