McDonald's: More than just flipping burgers and making fries

Erica Soh (left) and Mohd Fairul Maan are among the few Malaysians to have won the prestigious President’s Award. — Pictures by Hari Anggara
Erica Soh (left) and Mohd Fairul Maan are among the few Malaysians to have won the prestigious President’s Award. — Pictures by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 13 — How many times have your parents told you while you were growing up: “If you don’t study hard enough, you should just work at McDonald’s for the rest of your life.”

People have a negative perception about those who work in these establishments, behind the counter serving you burgers, fries and ice-cream.

McDonald’s Malaysia director of operations Mohd Fairul Maan, 43, admits being judged or overhearing negative comments during his earlier days of working with the fast food giant in 1994.

“You cannot run away from the perception that working at McD's means you are going nowhere in your career.

“But working here has been the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

Throughout his career, Fairul has won accolades, the latest being the President’s Award, one handed to McDonald’s top one per cent employees worldwide.

It is no easy feat as the brand has some 300,000 employees — 100 countries and 36,000 restaurants, serving 70 million customers daily.

He started as a part-timer in 1994 at an outlet in Sungei Wang Plaza in Kuala Lumpur, earning RM1.50 per hour.

It was not the best paying job but it was one that allowed him to pursue a diploma in accounting.

“I just wanted to have fun and make some money. I did not come from a rich family, so a job is still a job.

“Plus, I was eager to know what it felt like preparing fries, cooking burger patties or swirling ice-cream for customers.”

His siblings were working for banks and his father had just retired as a police officer.

Fairul has 111 outlets under his watch with about 5,000 crew members.
Fairul has 111 outlets under his watch with about 5,000 crew members.

“My parents wanted me to work in a bank and I promised I would upon graduation.”

Four years on, he joined as a full-time staff member on RM4 per hour but left shortly after he received a job offer from a bank.

“I took a short break in between jobs. My dad often asked me what I wanted to do in life and advised that I should make use of my diploma.

“I couldn’t say no to the bank offer but took it up with a heavy heart.”

After a year in the bank, he felt demotivated.

“I missed working in an environment where everyone is like family to me.

“Also, I slightly missed working at the french fry station or even sweeping floors!”

Soon after, McDonald’s called and offered Fairul a chance to work as a part-time training manager.

“It was a long negotiation but we finally came to terms.

“Next thing I had to do was the hardest — going back home and telling my dad I’m going back to work at McDonald’s.

“I tried to convince my dad I had a future in the company and that there was a good career path ahead.

“After a week he had a few words with me and told me to go chase my dreams.”

Fast forward 20 years, Fairul is now the director of operations.

A career which has seen him work at several outlets — Titiwangsa, Sunway Pyramid, Cheras — along with experiences as a team leader, operations consultant and a restaurant manager.

“McD pays me quite a sum now, and I hope people’s perspective of looking down at someone who works at a McDonald’s outlet can change, there is always a future for anyone anywhere.”

His task is to monitor sales, manage check-ins and ensure all operations run smoothly.

The 43-year-old has 111 outlets under his watch with about 5,000 crew members.

“It is not that hard to work your way up.

“People imagine it as a job where you will be flipping burgers for the rest of your life.

“Any individual with the right mindset can grow and the career advancement here is good.”

Fairul’s motto is simple — dare to fail and dream big.

“Whatever we do you must have a vision and if you fail, step up and put in extra effort.”

Erica Soh manages 271 outlets, from licensing renewals, lease renegotiations and refurbishment of non-performing stores to improve sales.
Erica Soh manages 271 outlets, from licensing renewals, lease renegotiations and refurbishment of non-performing stores to improve sales.

Another employee who won the President’s Award was senior real estate asset management manager Erica Soh Siew Wan.

She joined the company in 2013 and led a team that remodelled 20 outlets in Malaysia, which in return led to an increase in sales.

“I was shocked because I never expected to beat the staff members from other countries.
“Besides, I’m still new,” said the 43-year-old.

Soh now manages 271 outlets, from licensing renewals, lease renegotiations and refurbishment of non-performing stores to improve sales.

“At McD’s, everything we do is for the customers and this is how we continuously grow and give them the best.”

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