Column: Invest Yourself
Catholic Business Journal is pleased to introduce John Abbate as our newest Catholic business columnist—ed.
As the owner-operator of several McDonald’s franchises and a Catholic business leader, I believe I have a responsibility to bring the virtue of hope into my business and into the lives of my employees. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to touch thousands of employees’ lives every year.
Perception vs Reality
The cultural opinion of McDonald’s as a dead-end job is off base. The reality is that the company is a channel of hope for millions of Americans who need a place to jump-start their dreams.
If continuing education is the goal, we provide scholarships, flexible scheduling, and even tutoring. If a career in the restaurant or hospitality industry is the hope, McDonald’s has very sophisticated training programs that allow for a high level of learning and execution at every stage of advancement and complexity of the business.
The beauty of McDonald’s is that a person can become a successful general manager, supervisor or more, without a college degree. The only requirement is a burning desire to learn, work diligently, advance, and get outside of one’s comfort zone.
Moneyball riff, hope and happiness
Every year in my companies we implement a new business theme for the year. A few years back we riffed on the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis. The basic concept was to embrace the philosophy of the Oakland Athletics (a.k.a. “the Oakland A’s) baseball team and its development process.
The general manager of the Athletics, Billy Beane, realized that it does not take a bunch of highly paid, five-star players to make a winning team in baseball. What is needed is a bunch of two-, three-, and four-star players who work together to become a five-star team.
At my McDonald’s, we don’t have men and women with MBAs or degrees from top colleges. We have a bunch of hardworking and dedicated men and women from a myriad of social, cultural, economic and academic backgrounds. In order for us to succeed at the highest level, we need to complement each other’s strengths and mitigate our weaknesses.
There is great hope and happiness for all of us when we come together as a team of complementary talents. We honor and cherish each member of the team’s strengths—and understand each other’s weaknesses—to combine them in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of the individual parts.
I tell my employees that if they have limited English skills, we’ll leverage their strength in the kitchen. If they don’t like administration or accounting but are incredible hospitality ambassadors, we’ll place them up front with the customers, where they can focus on service and hospitality. If they are going to school and can only work evenings, fantastic. Their availability in the evenings will be a strength for our dinner and late-evening business.
Purpose and self-worth
The concept of Moneyball (the film adapted from Beane’s book) reinforces the fact that we all have something to add to make the business succeed. It is about conveying a sense of purpose and self-worth to each employee that he or she is worthwhile and possesses a skill set that is integral to our team and our success.
Many of our employees have résumés that the normal business culture deems less than adequate. Maybe it’s because of a lack of language proficiency or certain academic shortfalls. However, the talents so many possess are highly beneficial given the right amount of nurturing and partnership.
Maybe we are a bunch of average players individually, but together we have the ability to win the World Series!
Catholic social teachings at work
This form of reciprocity—our willingness and desire to exchange our unique gifts with each other for mutual benefit—is the foundation of the Catholic Church’s teaching on subsidiarity.
According to Pope Benedict XVI, “By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state.”
Our sense of empathy and compassion for others flourishes when we rely on each other through the exchange of talents and resources. It is part of our nature, and why humanity thrives in community versus isolation.
Reciprocity encourages the rights and responsibilities of the individual, but it also acknowledges
and supports the symbiotic benefit of community. It is the community’s responsibility to provide care and assistance to each other in sustenance of the common good and the dignity of the human person. However, this must not be done at the expense of the individual’s right and responsibility to do his or her part to
take care of oneself.
When the power of reciprocity is working in conjunction with our Christian nature as self-gift, we labor together as human beings for the greater good of society or business, along with the moral, spiritual and physical growth of each of its members.
First-hand experience of doing it wrong
Early in my business career, when I was overly focused on daily productivity and immediate results on the job, I was never truly happy in my work. I was always dissatisfied with either the sales growth, profit margin, or operational execution in the restaurants.
This was certainly at the expense of people and relationships.
The problem was that I just didn’t understand the difference between never being happy and never being satisfied. I was never satisfied with the results, and that mind-set made me chronically unhappy in my work. It took some time and coaching for me to grasp the subtle but important difference.
Aim for the stars, just don’t leave the team behind
It’s certainly all right to strive for more in business or life. I believe in pushing myself and others to stretch outside our comfort zones to reach new heights in professional development and execution. However, that is much different from projecting a perpetually dissatisfied attitude.
People do not respond well to someone who is negative, unhappy or unpredictable in his or her disposition.
I am embarrassed to admit it, but there were years when my employees cringed when I came through the door. Dysfunction ensues when people feel like they are walking on eggshells in your presence. It is a horrible and stressful way to live and be productive.
I overcame my emotional immaturity in this area by valuing people first and results second. By first focusing on people instead of my own feelings of dissatisfaction with work or with my employees, I have been able to understand how important, rewarding, and critical good relationships are to a successful enterprise.
People First: ROI that only increases
I have spent the better part of the past fifteen years investing in reciprocity as a business strategy. I have found that a higher level of loyalty and execution is the result, and my happiness has been its by-product.
The very best marriage advice I ever received was that love is a choice, not a feeling, and it’s a choice that proves itself with action. I believe the same thing can be said of happiness.
We must actively seek happiness through a life dedicated to self-discipline, virtue, and the grace and wisdom of the Church.
Starting today, choose happiness. It takes courage to make choices that delay instant gratification, utilize a well-formed conscience, and share our gifts. This is the hallmark of our Christian inheritance.
Article adapted from Invest Yourself: Daring to Be Catholic in Today’s Business World, by John Abbate.
- Invest Yourself: Daring to Be Catholic in Today’s Business World, by John Abbate
- Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis
John Abbate has three passions — faith, family, and business. Over the last decade he has become acutely aware of the challenge associated with balancing God’s... MORE »