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Career Success
FEB 13, 2017

“Still Lovin’ It!” CEO Sarah Casanova working her passion at McDonald’s Japan

By Saskia Rock, Presenter Sarah L. Casanova

On January 17, 2017, McDonald’s Holdings Japan CEO Sarah Casanova spoke at a seminar at GLOBIS. GLOBIS MBA alumni Saskia Rock shares her takeaways from that experience. 

I didn’t know what to expect from this seminar, but boy am I glad I went!

Ms. Casanova is a great speaker, effortlessly mixing personal history with company strategy, and witty throughout a Ted-talk worthy presentation that had the audience hanging from her lips. She talked about the amazing way McDonald’s got its mojo back. As a GLOBIS alumni, let me share my takeaways. To add some flavor, I will tie in a few quotes from Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s.

“If you love what you’re doing, success will be yours.”

In all honesty, some of us are (still) trying to figure out what we want to do with our lives. Ms. Casanova told us that she knew as child that she wanted to work for McDonald’s. In reality, how many of us actually even remember that kind of childhood dream—let alone follow up on it? What impressed me was that she made a plan to get to where she wanted to be, and then executed it. It took time, a lot of guts and persistence, and undoubtedly some synchronicity along the way, but she did it.

Some people like Ms. Casanova just know where they are going from the start. I met plenty of people like this at GLOBIS, and, oh, how I envy them! What about the rest of us? If you have no path carved out, then you might—just like me—decide to do an MBA to find out what to do next. Thanks to the kokorozashi (meaning personal mission, or true ambition) courses at GLOBIS, I have a much better idea now, but finding and doing what I truly love will take a leap of faith, determination, and guts.

At the seminar, I think I (and we, the audience) already knew all of this before listening to Ms. Casanova’s presentation, but her talk was just one big energy boost to step up the effort to follow our dreams. I think a lot of people in the room felt the same: there was definitely magic in the air.

“Plan your work and work your plan.”

Ms. Casanova talked a lot about taking chances and saying “yes” to new opportunities. She mentioned how this lead to her expat experiences in the USSR, Malaysia and Japan. While I agree with this “yes” principle, I would like to add a few nuances.

If you have an impulsive streak like me, taking chances and saying “yes” comes naturally. However, I realized that, without a plan, saying yes doesn’t always pay off. I’ve been pretty lucky in the decisions I have taken so far: leaving a well-paying steady job to start my own company, and then 5 years later quitting my successful “baby” to come to GLOBIS. In both cases I took a chance, and, even in hindsight, those were the best choices I could have made given the situation.

The various types of McDonald’s coffee is one example of how the company continues to innovate.

“The more you give of yourself, the more you receive.”

Since then, saying yes has proven to be somewhat counter-productive. I thought I had a pretty clear plan of what I was going to do at my current company, but I ended up mostly carrying out other people’s agendas, because I like helping people and I like saying yes. I think it’s a trap many service-oriented people fall into, and while it’s worthwhile to help other people, forgetting your own purpose leaves you empty after a while. Worse, you’re wasting your time and not going forward. Keep your goal in mind!

You might think that after 26 years in the business, Ms. Casanova would be pretty convinced of her own expertise in everything McDonald’s. Still, she made the effort to find out what the McDonald’s Japan consumer really wants. She talked to mothers in order to get families back into McDonald’s, and listened to employees and franchisees to find out what support they need. Imagine a CEO making time to visit restaurants in each and every of the 47 prefectures, to get to the real problem in order to start afresh. Imagine being staff at a McDonald’s restaurant and the CEO coming in to say a simple thank-you. How inspiring is that?

The Dalai Lama already said it: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.

As we get older and gain life experience, it’s so easy to slip into an “I know that already” mode and stop listening. As we climb the corporate ladder it’s so easy to take things for granted and stop saying thank you. Becoming a CEO without losing the humility, open-mindedness and kindness most of us started out with is just amazing.

Still lovin’ it.*

Hearing somebody talk with so much passion about a 26-year career at the same company was simply amazing. I wish for all of us to find that thing we are passionate about, believe in it and work at it until we are as much on fire as Sarah Casanova still is about McDonald’s.

A last quote from Ray Kroc to inspire us all to carry out our own dream: “If you believe in it, and you believe in it hard, it is impossible to fail.”

*”I’m lovin’ it” is a famous McDonald’s marketing campaign.