Q&A with Greg Solomon – MD of McDonalds

BRLP: What is the vision for McDonalds?

Solomon:  To be consumers’ first choice; and also to be an employer of first choice.

BRLP: What are the leadership challenges unique to McDonalds?

Solomon: Unique to McDonalds would be that there is this interesting dynamic of having a team that’s fragmented. It’s not under one roof – it’s split into 160 points of distribution – you have pockets in Nelspruit, Polokwane, Johannesburg, Durban – and how you impact the system when you can’t touch those people every single day or every single month is the challenge. It forces you to lead through other leaders; it has forced us to be who we are.  I always say there isn’t one CEO/MD of this business; there are 33 MD’s of this business, with 33 franchisees out there – all CEOs/MDS of their own business – it’s a system that works, and I could say the same thing for my operations people.  So my leadership challenge is this vast spread of the business, and the difficulty of getting everyone under one roof and feeling the climate of the organisation with one brush.

BRLP: How do you deal with this specific challenge then?

Solomon: Empowerment – I am very specific on how I analyse empowerment.  There are times when you can empower people to do what you want them to do but it’s not necessarily what they want. So I call it freedom within a framework.  We have 30% of things that you don’t mess around with; you do not have freedom, you do it by the rule book, because that’s the McDonalds way.  That’s the success that we’ve had in the last 55 years around the world and 16 years in South Africa.  But the other 70% is where I want you to be innovative, so I want you to have freedom, I want you to be completely empowered, and not only that, I want to listen to the best bets (ideas) from around the country and adopt the best bets and then scale them nationally.  So empowerment is the way we deal with this challenge, but it’s also through the safety net of freedom within a framework.  Best bets meaning that within the freedom we provide there is alot of innovation taking place. I spend a lot of time going around – 40% of my time – speaking with everybody and finding out what people are doing that’s new, asking them where they can teach me something. For example, they may say they have started this 24/7 campaign and I ask for more details on that, and I ask for some business results. Then I can go back to my team and we study that and then we scale it and a lot of the time it moves from a 70% down to a 30% best practise for the business.  The majority of the great ideas are coming from the organization, not from the leader.

BRLP: Just briefly, what’s it like working with Cyril Ramaphoza – what have you learnt from him?

Solomon: If I were to encompass everything I would say that he is inspiring.  He drives accountability, and there are a lot of shared values between him and me, and his organization and McDonalds. So yes, big accountability with Cyril, very inspiring to be round, he’s up high on strategy, but if you need to ask him something around the detail or get his opinion he responds to you. He’ll phone you back even on the small issues and give his opinion.  He’s really great to work for.  At first I was worried when the business became a Development licensee or a Multiple Franchisee, but the fact that it has fallen into the lap of Cyril Ramaphoza has given me a huge amount of hope for the future.  We’re moving into a period of rapid expansion with Cyril’s leadership and his resources, and he’s a good back bone for the business. He lets me run this business completely. So yes, a high level strategist, holds me accountable, gives me the freedom to act and lead, and is a mentor for me to ask detailed questions to if and when I need to.


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Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

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