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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 23 February, 2020

#sponsored by mcdonalds

“IF YOU GAVE me the chance to stand at a drive-thru window, I’d stay there all day chatting to customers.”

Like many teenagers, Elaine Sterio wanted to find a job to support her during college. When a friend told her that McDonald’s on Grafton St was hiring, Sterio applied for a part-time job as a crew person. 

That was in 1989 – and, 31 years later, she’s still with the company. 

“I got an interview, got hired and started working part-time,” says Sterio. “By the time I finished college, I went full-time.”

“I started out working as a crew person. It’s a really sociable job, as you can imagine, and it was an instant new social outlet. The people you work with are similar to you.”

Tessy Tracey, who has been working at McDonald’s for 39 years, tells a similar story: “It was just after my debs and I didn’t know what I wanted. A girl down the road from where I lived was working at McDonald’s, so I said I’d see what it was like.”

“Now I’m 55, still working there and, excuse the pun, I’m still lovin’ it,” she says. 

A little encouragement goes a long way

Not many people can say they’ve stayed with the same company they started working for as a teenager throughout their careers, so how did that happen for these two women? 

“All I wanted was to go in, do my job and that was it,” says Tracey. “I was at the O’Connell St branch for 25 years, O’Connell Bridge for two years, I spent a year at Grafton St and then moved to Northside Shopping Centre.”
But the franchisees at Northside saw something in me and wanted me to be a General Manager.

“I said ‘no way’, but I was talking to my husband and daughter and they said I should go for it,” she says.

Nowadays, Tracey is the General Manager of nine stores around Dublin.

I’d always doubt myself, but through the years I’ve been able to progress and that has given me so many skills and so much confidence. Now it’s my greatest strength.

It was this same level of encouragement from management that progressed Sterio’s career at McDonald’s too. “I would have never put myself forward for more senior roles or positions, but my manager could see what I was capable of doing and encouraged me to put myself forward,” she says.

“Over the years, I went from Crew Trainer to Floor Trainer, to Salary Manager, to Business Manager in 1994. There weren’t even 20 McDonald’s restaurants in Ireland then. Seeing that growth is almost like seeing that you were part of building a family.”

And some growth it was. Today, McDonald’s has been operating in Ireland for 42 years, has 95 restaurants, and employs almost 6,000 people across its head office and restaurants across the country. 

Room for change

After progressing to the role of Field Consultant, Sterio was due to go on maternity leave. “When I came back, my manager said ‘you could be a franchisee’, and the timing was just lucky for me,” she explains.

Some people have a disappointing experience coming back from maternity leave, but it was the opposite for me. It allowed us to see where there was room for change.

Today, Sterio is a franchisee and owner of five McDonald’s branches in the north east of the country. “To be a franchisee, you have to be a Jack of all trades. I’ve skills in human resources, in business control, profit and loss. I work with different groups, I know about the supply chain, logistics, finance. On the ground, there’s a lot of problem-solving – plumbing, electrics. You’ve to put all of your skills together to be an owner,” she says.

“There’s an old McDonald’s quote, ‘we’re a people business that serves hamburgers’, and I love it. I’ve over 300 employees now and I know all of them. I interview all of them and get to see them grow and achieve what they want. That’s what I like.” 

If you love what you do…

For General Manager Tracey, every day at work is different – but her favourite moment remains the same. “As cheesy as it sounds, my favourite moment of the day is when I wake up and know I’m going to work in a place I love – a place that makes people happy. Not many people can say that, and I count myself very lucky.”

“I never want to retire, and that’s the truth,” she continues. “I never wanted more than to work on the fries.”

To this day, there’s been more ups than downs. I’ve always said, ‘the morning I don’t want to get up and go to work, that’s it.’ 

Like any job, however, each position comes with its own challenges. “Personally, I struggle with being able to turn off,” says Sterio. “I like being accessible, but you learn to draw the line. Even when I’ve free time or I’m on holidays, I’ll read something from work that I haven’t read. It’s very fast-moving. There are a lot of changes and you have to keep up.”

“Saying that, I don’t feel like I work and don’t have to drag myself out of bed every morning, which is what I try to teach my kids.”

The same, but different

For both Sterio and Tracey, it goes without saying that their own lives have changed and evolved dramatically since they were teenagers, but one thing remains the same: the company which they work for. 

“I started at Grafton St when I was 19, and have gone on to work at McDonald’s as a single parent, through getting married, through having more kids,” says Sterio. 

“My job has been flexible the whole way. When I needed to do pick-ups from school or from creche, I could work my schedule around that. If I needed to go to the school for something, I’d work a late shift. The schedule changes with you.”

Whether you’re there for six months, six years or 31 years, like me, you always get something from it – whether that’s a skill or a friend.

And Tracey agrees: “Working in McDonald’s is sometimes people’s first job, and I love watching them grow and progress. Even if I meet someone who doesn’t work there anymore, they always tell me that their McDonald’s training stood to them.”

“I’m happy to be able to be where I am. I’ve my husband, my daughter, a nice house and a job I love. That’s all that matters,” says Tracey. “I took 12 weeks off when I had my daughter, but other than that, in 39 years, I’ve never taken a sick day. I’m very proud of that. I haven’t stood still since I started – and I don’t plan to.”

Are you interested in a career at McDonald’s? Working at McDonald’s provides training, progression and experiences that stick with people for life – wherever your journey may take you. Find out more about the Made At McDonald’s campaign, plus career opportunities, here 

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