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What It Takes to Work Here: McDonald's


Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a... university curriculum?

Okay, so maybe it doesn't have a football team or a Greek system or a campus bookstore that sells giant foam fingers bearing the school logo, but that doesn't make McDonald's (MCD) Hamburger University any less legitimate an institution of higher learning.

The fast-food behemoth's global training facility, dubbed by its dean (yes, it has a dean) as the "Harvard for our industry," is the epicenter of McDonald's operations and leadership development training where Ray Kroc's sacred Quality, Service, Cleanliness, and Value (QSC&V) maxim defines the McSyllabus. The university's four-tiered curriculum is career-path-specific, offering separate coursework and job training for restaurant crew, managers, mid-managers, and executives. From shift and systems management, equipment operations -- including learning to dismantle, clean, and repair equipment -- to human relations, effective communication, and consulting, the coursework is designed to teach operational practices in the McDonald's system. Company policy dictates that only Hamburger University graduates may own and operate a McDonald's franchise, where one can only imagine their bachelor's diploma in Hamburgerology hangs proudly on their office wall.

While the mission of Hamburger University is to move McDonald's personnel up its own corporate ladder, the coursework (excluding learning the holding time for fries or the receiving temperature for Big Mac sauce) is applicable to global business best practices. All 46 credits of the university's manager and mid-management curriculum have been recommended by the American Council on Education for college credit. The average McDonald's manager has completed over 21 credit hours of college-equivalent coursework at HU which can be transferred to both public and private institutions toward an associate's or bachelor's degree. The prerequisite coursework for company employment or advancement isn't free to staff or franchisees, and the cost of tuition is proprietary information (according to the company representative I spoke to). But McDonald's does offer a filet-o-financial aid for those Hamburger University students who qualify.

The grounds of the Hamburger University campus, located at McDonald's corporate offices in suburban Chicago, may well rival those of the Ivy Leagues. Set amid 80 acres of wooded, carefully landscaped grounds, the campus includes a series of winding footpaths called the (what else?) McNature trail and the twin lakes, Lake Ray and Lake Fred (after the McFounders), where the public is encouraged to hike and fish. Now, if you're looking for collegiate ivy-covered Gothic gray stone architecture, try Princeton. The architect who designed the Hamburger University facility seems to have had a penchant for classic McDonald's drab brown brick.

Established in 1961, the original Hamburger University facility started in the basement of a McDonald's restaurant in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, and had a graduating class of 14. It was moved to its current location in 1983 with a $40 million investment in a 130,000-square-foot facility that boasts state-of-the-art service training and kitchen labs, a 300-seat auditorium, and a dozen interactive education team rooms. Each year, more than 5,000 students roam the hallowed hamburger halls and since its founding, 80,000 managers, mid-managers, and owner/operators have called Hamburger University their alma mater.

Graduating from one of seven Hamburger University campuses around the world, McDonald's personnel across the globe are trading their dead-end "McJobs" for bona fide management careers. One might even say, it's out of the frying pan, into the fryer.

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