McDonald’s Entrepreneurs: John, Leslie Potts

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eslie Potts still remembers the excitement she felt when her father, John Potts, started working at McDonald's. "For children, it's great. It's like a sense of pride to see your dad working at McDonald's," says Leslie. And now that she works side by side with her dad as a next generation McDonald's owner/operator, that pride is stronger than ever.

"McDonald's is like a big family-from the CEO to the maintenance guy," says John. "If you need help with something, you just pick up the phone and dial a number. They will put you in contact with someone right away to come to your aid."

After John was laid off from his job as a financial controller at an oil company in 1979, a friend recommended he apply at McDonald's. "I said, 'OK, sell hamburgers.' And my friend said, 'Well, you don't have a job!'"

He instantly fell in love with the McDonald's training system, he says.

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"You just follow the guidelines of the system. Those things are just embedded in me," says John. "You mop, sweep a certain way. That still amazes me. Using that system, you can't fail at McDonald's."

After moving to Detroit, John opened his first McDonald's in 1984. Today, he owns two McDonald's restaurants. Most days they seem more like community centers, he says. On a regular day at his McDonald's location on Livernois Avenue, patrons play chess in the lobby, teachers meet to discuss lesson plans and a habitual group of retirees John and his daughter affectionately call the "old timers" are engrossed in deep discussions.

"McDonald's does a lot of feel-good commercials. Not about selling the burgers, but about feeling good where you are," says John, explaining that in the years he's been at McDonald's, he has seen the company's commitment to community remain the same. "Everybody loved McDonald's. It was a part of the community. They hired people from the community. And they trained young kids in part-time jobs," he says. "It's a family restaurant. That familiar brand, it's kind of like a safe haven. You have a place to meet someone. You always say, 'Where is the nearest McDonald's?'"

Leslie feels it's the friendly interactions that keep people coming back.

"Just that little familiarity, people need to hear that. We kind of take it for granted on Twitter, Facebook or whatever. You need to hear a human talk to you. And we get a lot of those interactions here," she says.

Leslie is working as her father's administrative assistant while she prepares to become a McDonald's owner/operator herself. She says working with her father has strengthened their relationship and increased the respect she has for him.

"I found out that we don't think alike on all different situations, but we both can articulate it in a way that we understand," says Leslie, who adds that her kids are just as eager as she was as a child to be involved in the family restaurant business.

"Especially my son," she says. "He pays attention. He asks, 'Is Papa going to have this or that?' My daughter, she's just excited and she wants to work here." As she explains, her kids have already learned that it's sometimes the simple things that matter the most.

"My son happened to be here and held a door open for a lady and said, 'Wait a minute, ma'am.' And opened up the second door," Leslie recalls. "And she was like, 'Wow, you are doing a good job with your son." And it's moments like that that make her proud of her children and her career at McDonald's. "From the 'old timers' to the young kids getting ready for cheerleading practice, it's just like a sense of family here. And they tell you they appreciate you," she says. "It feels great. The smile some of our employees give someone may be the only smile someone receives all day. That's a big reason why I'm still excited to come to work every day."

A good working environment is about keeping your integrity, says John.

"Try to treat people like you want to be treated. And that's what I've been doing from Day One. I try to be hands-on with my customers," he says. Some of his employees have married and now have their kids working at his McDonald's because they had such a great experience. "That's a rewarding thing," he says. "And that keeps me coming back."

Creating Opportunity for Others

McDonald's next generation owner Leslie Potts is deeply involved in the community through her church, Second Baptist Church of Detroit. As an advocate for heart health, she participates in local races to bring awareness and volunteers at PACE Academy in Southfield, where her children attend school, on field trips and other school outings.

Recently, she started a special program called Weekend Warriors with an area schoolteacher. This special partnership offers underprivileged kids the opportunity to earn some extra income by working the front counter at McDonald's.

"I think I can make a difference," says Leslie. "I like to be involved in the community and I like to help young people see that you can be successful."

Using her father's history with McDonald's as an example, Leslie says she wants to show kids that being successful comes in various forms.

"I want to show that you can start from here and make it to greatness."

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