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Several years after her graduation from university, Randy Lai (EMBA 2005) joined the world’s largest global chain restaurant ― McDonald’s. She started as a marketing executive and was promoted to Managing Director of McDonald’s Hong Kong, the first time ever for a Hong Kong person. She was also commended for her achievement on numerous occasions for the successful promotional campaigns and innovative services she introduced. In order to manage 15,000 employees and 230 plus restaurants, the young Managing Director’s mantra is that the leaders of the new generation must be armed with 'Wisdom', 'Benevolence' and 'Courage' to usher in an innovative style of leadership.
Randy (2nd row, 9th from right) joined her EMBA classmates on an exchange visit
In her earlier years, Randy majored in Economics in Canada. Upon returning to Hong Kong, she worked for international corporations including Microsoft and Nike, eventually joining McDonald’s. At that time, although she had a few years of working experience, she felt there was plenty of room for self-improvement. “The Executive MBA Program at CUHK is world renowned for excellence in both theory and practicality. Even my boss was a graduate of this program, so several colleagues, including myself, were encouraged to sign up and go for it.”
Randy happily reflects on her study days because from Monday to Friday she had to rack her brains to the fullest extent, whereas on weekends, she could improve her learning by absorbing new knowledge from classes. “I remember distinctively in the Marketing course, I was taught the thinking model of using the ‘Left & Right Circles’. The ‘Left Circle’ represents company’s needs. The ‘Right Circle’ represents product superiority. The more the two circles overlap, the more our products satisfy customers’ needs. Even today, I still apply this thinking model to our company’s development strategies.”
Making the acquaintance of classmates from different backgrounds became another plus for Randy. “Some of my classmates came from the government or volunteer groups. I tended to see things from a commercial angle and their ways of thinking quite differed from mine. Being able to communicate with them freely really broadened my mind.” It seems to us Randy really had a lot to gain. No wonder she goes back to CUHK year after year as a guest lecturer to share her marketing insights.
Ever since childhood, Randy (left) had celebrated her birthday with family members at McDonald’s. Her love of McDonald’s began at an early stage.
Ever since her childhood, Randy had been a big fan of McDonald’s. She had always held her birthday parties there and even dreamed of becoming a member of the company one day. Randy knew that McDonald’s never hired marketing personnel through advertisements, so she took the initiative to approach the company directly, through which she successfully got an opportunity for interview.
Prior to attending the job interview, she did her preparation well. She drafted a proposal on the improvement of the McDonald’s website. She also compiled a video clip of the marketing campaigns where she had previously worked, together with relevant news clippings and press releases she had worked on. Her efforts made a great impression on the interviewers and Randy was hired eventually. Looking back on this process, Randy always says to her co-workers: “If you are 200% ready, you’ll never miss any single opportunity.”
Randy started working for McDonald’s China and went frequently to the Mainland. Sometimes, she traveled so much that she would wake up and wonder where she was. Subsequently, Randy was transferred to McDonald’s Hong Kong and was given promotions as a result of her diligence, willingness to learn, and sharp sense of market trends. She was also recognized for her personnel management skills and her leadership abilities. She finally advanced to the top level of senior management, but before that, she had to undergo operational training for a period of one year.
In 2009, Randy (front row, centre) participated in a one-year ‘Operational Training Program’ at the McDonald’s Restaurant in Admiralty Centre. Randy and her colleagues were dressed in uniforms to work on the frontlines.
As a result, Randy (then Vice President of Marketing & Communications) traded her executive suit for a frontline uniform and worked on the restaurant floor. She learned to brew coffee and fry French fries. In addition to this, she had to go through courses and exams at McDonald’s 'Hamburger University' to acquire management proficiency in order to be promoted to Restaurant Manager. “I was taught the Golden Rule in Lesson Number One: respecting others X trusting co-workers = team influence.” That year, not only did she learn to operate capably as a frontline manager, she was also able to hear her co-workers and her customers speaking from their hearts. On a funny occasion, she was also recognized by some of her acquaintances, who embarrassingly mistook her position as a demotion!
One year later, Randy was dispatched to Singapore, one of the Four Little Dragons of Asia, in a test of her abilities, before she was reassigned to Hong Kong to become the company’s Managing Director. And all of a sudden five years have quickly passed by. The media often calls her the 'Big Sister of McDonald’s', a name she frankly dislikes. This is because she maintains that the company owes its success to team work throughout the entire organization. In this state, there is absolutely no single hero. She compares herself to being the conductor of an orchestra who is responsible for co-ordinating the entire team striving for the best performance.
Prior to promotion as Restaurant Manager, each McDonald’s employee must complete a training program operated by the 'Hamburger University'. Randy (front row, 4th from left) posed cheerfully with her fellow graduates.
Along her career path, she has come to the realization that in order for a company to maintain its competitive edges in an ever-changing market, leaders must be trained to cultivate three special qualities — Wisdom, Benevolence and Courage. “That is to say, having the knowledge to thoroughly understand the market; the ability to understand and share the empathy of another; to exercise courage to accept responsibility and to rectify mistakes.”
In terms of 'Wisdom', Randy had been keeping a keen eye on the potential of the after-hours market for a few years. She convinced those who did not agree with her to introduce 24-hour Service at McDonald’s which proved to be a very welcoming move. With regards to 'Benevolence', she showed great care for mothers visiting McDonald’s and provided them with a breast-feeding friendly seating area. Mirroring this for her employees, she initiated a duty rotation system and flexible work hours. She also insisted on giving back to society by hosting the annual Kidathon, which aims to raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. With respect to 'Courage', each time she dealt with a corporate crisis, she would quickly review the situation, through which she further strengthened the company’s communication and crisis management strategies.
This year, Randy (left) was again awarded the 'Asia Pacific Outstanding Customer Relationship Excellence Award ― CEO of the Year'
Talking about her future plans, Randy says that she has an ambition to follow the footsteps of the late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple. On top of fulfilling customers’ needs for today, she endeavours to create their needs for tomorrow. Consumers demand higher quality of food and service day by day. She hopes to lead her team to elevate McDonald’s to a new height. The Concept Restaurant which opened in Admiralty last year was only the beginning of this process.
The secret of Randy’s success is that she strives to be her own greatest rival. In this process, she injects new elements into her company and presents a unique experience to her customers.
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