Behind the Arches

Higher Education

For Ivanovic, it's a plus that McDonald's is so demanding. When he first came to the U.S. in the late 1980s, he didn't know much about the restaurant, and when he started dating his future wife, Alexandra, who was a field consultant for McDonald's, he was still largely clueless. But as he learned about her work and met McDonald's employees, he was impressed.

"You start to see why McDonald's is one of the leading worldwide corporations," Ivanovic says. "You go into one restaurant and don't see the connections or understand the mechanism behind it, but then you slowly recognize why McDonald's is so big and powerful. They employ 1.6 million people. Engineers have a tendency to think logically, and logically, you have to know there is something big behind this, that you can make the same quality of hamburger in America or in Asia."

Ivanovic had wanted to own his own business for several years. He looked into real estate or possibly opening a business in Europe, but kept coming back to his wife's place of employment. "I tend to think where you should be is where the really successful people are. If I wanted to open a food store on the corner, I wouldn't have all this support, and I know a lot of businesses fail in the first three years."

Ivanovic is certainly right that he'll have a lot of support. Vest says franchise owners needn't stop learning on the job--they can attend the McDonald's worldwide convention, held every other year, as well as local and regional training seminars and workshops. Meanwhile, every seven years, owners are invited to attend a restaurant operations leadership practice course--a weeklong visit to Hamburger University--to catch up on new technologies and evolving practices.

That's what Susan Singleton, 44, did five years ago. Along with her husband, Chris, 54, she owns four McDonald's locations in the Illinois towns of Algonquin, Hampshire, Huntley and Marengo, all of which perform slightly better than the average unit. She returned in 2000 for her third week at Hamburger University, which she says was extremely rewarding. "My advice, when you go, is to thoroughly enjoy everything," says Singleton. "While it's easy to just focus on the exam, that's only a small part of it. I'd really suggest taking in everything that happens to you there, especially with the people you meet and the relationships you make. It's going to be something you refer to and remember for the rest of your McDonald's experience."

Basic Training
Before buying a franchise, make sure it has a quality training program.

After all, if you're expected to learn the language, you'd better have capable instructors. Bob Garrow, professional speaker, leadership trainer and author of Ahoy Mates! Leadership Lessons from Successful Pirates, knows what it takes to get people started on the right foot. Based on his suggestions, we've culled five rules to live by when looking at a franchise training program:

  1. Do what you can to make sure the training content is relevant to what franchise owners experience in their natural environments.
  2. You may hate exams and testing, but you'd better make darn sure that the franchise training program requires some sort of test, because you'll hate being a clueless business owner much more than that test.
  3. The program should be fun.
  4. Two words: interactive learning.
  5. The agenda should contain a variety of learning methods and changes of pace so it holds your attention.
Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to Entrepreneur magazine and maybe a little-too-frequent visitor at quick-service establishments. One of these days, he intends to sample that fruit-and-walnut salad.
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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the January 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Behind the Arches.

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