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Jones, Finance Director for McDonald’s Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa Region, spoke to accounting and finance students, and the Women in Business Club, sharing career insights -- including branding and how to climb the corporate ladder -- with tomorrow’s financial leaders.
“There’s a phrase that I remember hearing when I graduated (1996, accounting) and I thought it was the most absurd thing ever – ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’” Jones said. “At 22, I was sitting there thinking, ‘Well that just can’t be right. If I work hard enough and I contribute and I’m a valued team member, well then I’m just going to move up.’ That’s partially true.”
Jones, who once had Associate Professor in Accounting Dr. Sarah Stanwick (pictured to the right) as a professor and spoke to her students, believes there is much more than that and shared lessons about having corporate mentors, sponsors and advocates with students.
“It’s also about establishing connections and having those people who are going to go to bat for you that are going to bring you up with them,” added Jones, who initially thought she would be a psychologist, not a business professional. “The faster you know how the game is played, the easier it will be for you to adjust.”
Jones, who started her career at KPMG and then moved to the Home Depot in various roles before joining the McDonald’s team in 2004, firmly believes employees leave their managers – not their companies – and talked about how to deal with “bad” bosses.
“You always have two options. You can stick it out, or you can leave,” she said. “You’re not always going to have the same type of personality in each boss.” One such boss drove Jones away from one company.
“I could not work for my boss anymore,” she said. “I tried everything in my power to move to a different area of the company and to get a different experience, but he blocked me. He said, ‘You’re not leaving this group. You’re staying here. Take it or leave it.’ And I said, ‘Ok, here’s my resignation letter.’ He thought I was kidding.”
It turned out to be an amazing career move. Jones has had the opportunity to travel to 45 countries and will soon begin a new, three-year assignment as the Regional Finance Director for McDonald’s Singapore, Malaysian and Indian markets, in addition to managing the fiduciary responsibilities out of our headquarter offices in Singapore.
“We do anything in our power to help support our markets from a finance perspective so they can focus any and all attention on the restaurants,” she said. “We are the gatekeepers of all of the different finance groups that may have questions for our markets from tax, treasury, legal or accounting standpoints. We try to have them come to us first, so we can address it versus directly going to the markets.”
Jones said she and her colleagues live by the example of McDonald’s corporate “three-legged-stool.”
“It’s the legs of our franchisees or operators, the company, and our suppliers,” she explained. “The premise behind it is when all three are balanced, and in harmony and working together, toward the same short and long-term goals, it’s ultimately driving profitability and shareholder value. If one leg is out of balance, or wobbling, the whole thing is going to fall over. We all have to be working in harmony for the best of the company and the shareholders. That phrase is used almost every day.”
McDonald’s restaurants overseas must carry staple items such as Big Macs, Quarter Pounder with Cheese, hamburger, cheeseburger, chicken nuggets, French fries, and so forth, Jones explained. But some items on menus overseas can’t be found at the McDonald’s on Magnolia Avenue in Auburn. For instance, there’s vegemite on toast in Australia, chicken porridge in Malaysia, spicy “Shaka Shaka” chicken in Malaysia, and a shawarma sandwich (lamb or chicken) in Egypt. Jones’ favorite is the EBI Filet-O, a shrimp patty sandwich much like the traditional Filet-O-Fish.
Could this product find its way on American menus?
“The patties are manufactured over in Asia,” Jones said. “It’s costly to get the product to the U.S., and we couldn’t replicate it here, we just couldn’t make it work from a profitability standpoint.”
One international menu item to enter the U.S. market is the Premium McWrap, which Jones said originated from McDonald’s restaurants in Germany.
“Five years ago Germany started these large wraps as a meal replacement and the U.S. and other areas of the world have picked up on them. As much as we can leverage globally, we will,” Jones said.
“In Oak Brook (McDonald’s home office near Chicago, Ill.), we have a chef and his whole culinary team devises up all of the fun, new menu ideas. In Asia, our studio is in Hong Kong, and Germany is where our studio in Europe is. We have a whole team of chefs and culinary experts that come up with and create different taste profiles. Then we have millions of panels taste the new products and perform advertised sales testing. We do a lot of testing before we would add it permanently to our menu, or make it a limited time offer.”
Ever noticed that a McDonald’s cheeseburger at one franchise tastes the same as one at another? It’s by design and that’s expected to be par for the course worldwide. How does it happen?
“Because you have thousands of people, multiple processes, multiple functions helping to ensure that that product is consistent around the world,” said Jones, who noted that McDonald’s supply chain division was recently named No. 2 in the world behind Apple, and ahead of Amazon. “Our supply chain, our suppliers, our distribution, and logistics, the way we try to drive our gold standard in consistency to 34,000 restaurants around the world every day is what I think a lot of people don’t know about us.”
Jones, who grew up in Southern California before graduating from high school near Chicago, said Auburn’s warm climate helped lure her to the Plains in 1992. Her dad, Bob Lown, an avid Penn State football fan, helped too.
“Dad said, ‘The only school that’s off limits is Alabama. You will not go there,’” Jones explained. “It was because of the Penn State-Alabama rivalry between Joe (Paterno) and Bear Bryant for all those years. I had no idea how much my dad hated Alabama until I got to Auburn, and then it was like he had even more reasons to hate Alabama.” Education at Auburn made a difference in her career.
“It encouraged me to ask questions and challenge things that you don’t understand and to not always go with the flow, and that it’s OK to have differences of opinion and to inquire and seek to understand,” Jones said. “What I liked from the professors I had is that they weren’t churning out robots. They were churning out people that had critical thinking skills.”
Jones was the second guest speaker with McDonald's ties to visit Harbert College in two days. On Wednesday, Nov. 13, Larry Thornton, who owns five Birmingham-area McDonald's franchises, addressed accounting students.