After 50 years, Austin owns 5 McDonald's

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2011

By Joanie Morris
For the Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS — Bill Austin sprays disinfectant on a table, wipes it down and looks up and smiles. Since he was fresh out of high school, he’s been wiping tables as part of a crew at McDonald’s.
“It’s the only full-time job I’ve ever had” since starting at a Charlotte McDonald’s in June 1960, Austin says.
After being with the famous fast-food company for half a century, though, Austin has gained a few responsibilities besides cleaning tables. He now owns and operates five McDonald’s restaurants — three in Salisbury, one in Kannapolis and one in Rockwell.
And he wants people to know working at McDonald’s doesn’t have to be just a “McJob.” It can be a career.
That’s also the word from McDonald’s Corp. as the company holds its first national “hiring day” today to fill 50,000 openings at restaurants nationwide. At a similar event in its western region last year, more than 60,000 people applied for 13,000 positions.
The company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., says it is making a concerted effort to add staff as business improves and more of its restaurants stay open 24 hours a day. Crew members and management are being hired for both full- and part-time positions and the company’s hiring goal translates to between three and four new hires per restaurant.
About half of the company’s franchisees — such as Austin — and more than 75 percent of its managers started as store workers. The company hopes to also shed the negative connotation of employment at the fast-food chain, once dubbed “McJobs.”
“A McJob is one with career growth and endless possibilities,” the company said in a statement.
Austin agrees. As a young man living in Monroe, he was looking for work out of high school and landed at the local mill. But Austin couldn’t stand working in a blanket of snow-like cotton every day. That’s when his brother-in-law — who was working at McDonald’s — suggested he get on there.
Austin first started on the crew, making 85 cents an hour, a wage he called “not terrible in those days.”
Within six months, he had been promoted to the management team. By 1963, he was a store manager. After working his way through the management levels within the company, Austin became an owner-operator in 1993, taking over the three restaurants in Salisbury and one in Kannapolis.
Austin admits the image of a burger-flipping job for high schoolers or “McJob” does tend to follow McDonald’s, but he defends the positions in his company as career opportunities.
Most of his employees will agree.
Nicole Booth, the store manager in Kannapolis at only 24, has been working for the company for nine years. With a cheerful smile and helpful attitude, she has quickly worked her way up through the ranks. As store manager, by going through the management training program offered by McDonald’s, she’s already achieved college credits that will transfer to any accredited institution.
Mary Eller, a supervisor at the store in Kannapolis, has been with the company since 1987 and can’t imagine being anywhere else.
“I like coming to work,” she says. “Every day is different.”
Kevin Kluttz, assistant manager at the store in Kannapolis and a member of the McDonald’s crew for 37 years, agrees.
“I like the people I work with,” he says. “It’s been a great job.”
Every employee who comes to work at McDonald’s has something in common, says Austin. They are available and personable. At the job events nationwide today, Austin said, store managers will look at the potential hire’s appearance — cleanliness and professionalism is a must — and availability to work a flexible schedule. Full- and part-time positions will be filled.
Each McDonald’s is run on a service standard that includes quality, service, cleanliness and values. When looking for potential employees, Austin says, they look for much the same.
“We’ve got some good people,” says Austin, “but we’re hoping to pick up a lot more.”
Depending on the quality of potential hires, Austin says his stores may hire as many as 10 to 15 people per store.
And while someone with no experience in the restaurant industry may start at the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage, no employee ever really starts that low when you calculate that the company provides uniforms and Austin feeds his employees free of charge each day they work.
He also offers extra money through contests to help motivate his employees.
Along with being a caring owner-operator — most of his employees can attest to his compassion at one point or another — Austin says considers employees part of his family.
“A lot of companies, you’re a number,” he says. “Here, you’re a person.”
And he’s never too good to do what they do every day.
“Every day, I bag french fries,” says Austin. “I sweep floors. I make hamburgers. … Whatever it takes to make the stores presentable to my customers.
“You have to be able to do that” as a new hire, says Austin. “You can never set yourself above that. If you do, you’re going to fail.”
If you don’t, say Austin and McDonald’s, you could have a McCareer.
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Joanie Morris is a freelance writer. Contact her via the news editor’s desk at 704-797-4248.