Late McDonald's CEO Fred Turner: Guardian of standards

 
Jan. 11, 2013 | by Barry Klein

For some of us who worked with Fred Turner — even those who often incurred his displeasure, like me — he was always a person to be respected and admired for his laser-like focus on making the customer experience perfect. His standards of quality, service and cleanliness were the most exacting, the most rigid and uncompromising the restaurant industry had ever seen, and they were set in stone. Fred Turner wrote them in a book called the McDonald's Operations and Training Manual in the 1950's that is still the company bible today.

No one involved with McDonald's guarded those standards more obviously, or worked harder at enforcing them. A Fred Turner visit to a store was always fraught with peril for the operator because he would usually find something that was not up to his standard, and he pointed out the defect directly and forcefully. The specific issue didn't matter — from fingerprints on the glass of a door to a sandwich that was improperly made; a grill not recovering temperature properly to trash on the parking lot or the street — it was all the same to Fred: imperfect. After pointing out the problem as a serious flaw in the store's operations somewhat angrily, he would then discuss the proper procedure for correcting the problem until he was satisfied that it would not happen again. Once the operator understood that Fred was in his teaching mode, any animosity dissolved and it became a pleasant meeting.

That never-ending guardianship of the standards, coming from so high up in the company, was the most important factor in the growth of McDonald's. No matter how it is defined, the consistent satisfaction of the McDonald's experience is the fundamental reason that people patronize the brand again and again. Fred's standards pervade every aspect of the company: sizes of the patties, buns, fries and all ingredients ... equipment specifications ... order taking ... speed of service ... all the details. No matter where in the world you go, even if the menu has a few different items on it, the overall experience will be consistently similar because it usually conforms to Fred's standards.

Recalling my personal relationship with Fred Turner after all these years, I'm aware that we disagreed often. He never hesitated to voice his opinion of the TV commercials we were producing, usually commenting on details we missed — some relevant, some not. He seriously disliked "too-perfect Hollywood kids" and encouraged the casting of more ordinary children in Ronald McDonald commercials. It was his persistent calls that resulted in the best-remembered commercial of the "You Deserve A Break Today" campaign. As his children grew away from the appeal of Ronald McDonald, he pushed for trying to make older kids become interested in the clown.

Those, my long hair, and other points of contention between a young advertising guy and the boss are memories I'm proud to share. What a privilege to have learned from the tough man who built McDonald's by enforcing his standards, May they never change. God bless you, Fred.


Topics: Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Operations Management


Barry Klein / Barry Klein is best known for creating the Ronald McDonald character and led the "You Deserve A Break Today" advertising campaign for McDonald's. In his current occupation as a marketing consultant, Klein has developed business-building concepts, new products and more for Coca Cola, Pizza Hut, Quiznos, Cadillac, Ruby Tuesday, Friendly’s, Perkins, Pay Less Shoes and others. He has been a key contributor to such projects as Stuffed Crust Pizza for Pizza Hut, Prime Rib Subs and Torpedoes for Quizno

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