Peddling burgers may seem like an easy business, but there’s far more to it than a quality bun, juicy beef patty, and crispy fries. The minds behind McDonald’s success are grinding night and day to guarantee every strategy, promise to customers, and new restaurant (not to mention every chicken nugget) is the best they can be. Thomas Kelly, the managing director of Food Folk Sweden – the owner and operator of the McDonald’s brand in Sweden –lives and works by two mantras: surround yourself with good people and keep things simple.
“You may be forgiven for thinking that McDonald’s is a hamburger business serving people, but we’re actually a people business serving hamburgers,” says the MD of Food Folk Sweden Thomas Kelly, who is preparing to hand over his role to Joachim Knudsen before taking up the senior advisor position in Food Folk Nordics. Over three decades, the Glaswegian has worked his way up from flipping burgers (during a graduate trainee scheme 29 years ago) to overseeing thousands of staff and dozens of restaurants proudly displaying the iconic golden arches. “People make this business successful, without good people you’ll find it very difficult to move forward,” he adds.
It’s therefore no surprise that during his time in management Kelly has urged McDonald’s to invest heavily in its employees to keep the company one step ahead of the game amid some fierce competition. Millions of dollars are pumped into staff training workshops each year, not only in Sweden, but in the 100 plus countries in which McDonald’s has set up shop, to make sure the customer service at the forefront of every strategic move is second to none – whether it be opening a new restaurant or rolling out a reimagined menu. Kelly continues to position both the employee and customer at the heart of every decision McDonald’s makes – this philosophy paid dividends when he was operations director for Scotland and Northern Ireland (managing 91 outlets, 5,500 staff, and a million customers a week in Scotland alone) and continues to bear fruit in Scandinavia. Before moving to Sweden three years ago he was MD of McDonald’s Finland.
Kelly is not the only one working for McDonald’s who knows the organisation from the ground up: “Everyone starts out in the restaurant, even people coming into the office positions. We give them orientation within the restaurant so they understand the process. All staff, no matter how senior, need to know how to serve customers, it’s the foundation of the business.” He has played a big hand in propelling the business forward and has fuelled some major changes in recent years, like installing free WiFi in all restaurants, sourcing coffee from sustainable farms, and promoting healthier menus. McDonald’s can’t afford to sit still for a second in such a dog eat dog industry, there are always popular rivals nipping at its heels. It’s not just a case of selling burgers but staying relevant to a customer base ranging from young children all the way to old age pensioners. The on-going challenges and variety of work are what pique Kelly’s interest.