Management Professor Uncovers Fast-Food Business Lessons

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Fast Food and Health

What really happens after you place an order for a Big Mac or a Whopper with Cheese?

Jerry M. Newman, Ph.D., SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the University at Buffalo School of Management, knows because he worked undercover in seven fast food restaurants across the country, observing operations from the top down - from the biggest management whoppers to the smallest fries at the fry station.

Newman has chronicled his experiences in a new book, "My Secret Life on the McJob: Lessons from Behind the Counter Guaranteed to Supersize Any Management Style" (January 2007, McGraw-Hill).

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Unlike the cultural overview of Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation," or the dietary condemnation of Morgan Spurlock's "SuperSize Me," Newman's book reveals what molds employees working for the country's fast food producers. In spite of the high turnover and repetitive tasks, the workers consistently produce, aren't afraid of hard work and thrive under pressure. And the super-sized mega-burger companies boast steady profits in return. How do fast-food managers tease success out of employees to boost the bottom line?

"My Secret Life on the McJob" takes readers behind the scenes at Burger King, Wendy's, Arby's, Krystal and McDonald's - and serves up, with keen insights into management techniques, wise lessons that can be applied to companies with 6,000 locations, or just six employees.

Between his recollections of sweeping floors and toasting buns, Newman provides a first-hand view of how "McJobs are anything but McEasy." He details his experiences reporting to both compelling - and tyrannical - managers, and demonstrates how the ultimate key to creating a positive and high-performing workplace is a great leader, even if the team is putting pickles on burgers.

Newman is the consummate people watcher. He inspects reactions, emotions, management styles, behavior modifications and the power of praise. He gets to know his fellow workers, and reminds us that we all make a unique contribution to our employers. He writes of workers who are chided for their supposedly easy jobs, managers who cultivate positive images and encourage friendships and enthusiasms, bosses who are unfeeling; hierarchies that are rigid, and the vast corporate and day-to-day differences between competitors serving up nearly identical meals.

Newman's stories and anecdotes are often funny, occasionally alarming, the employees fascinating and human. He shows how corporate edicts and rules play out on the burger assembly line and translates this to the larger picture: how management demands translate into employee behavior. This is a management book written in a style light years away from the jargony language of business school texts, with Whoppers and McNuggets as the backdrop.

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