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Ian Stephenson was "bit by the bug".
It was never his intention when he started working at McDonald's as a wide-eyed 16-year-old just trying to get through his studies.
But 25 years later Ian now owns ten restaurants across Croydon.
He said: "I'm South London born and bred, so this is my patch. I have family in and around Croydon. I went to school in Lambeth."
When he finished studying after two years of part-time work at the company, Ian got the opportunity to work for a year abroad in Jamaica.
There he met Patricia Isaacs, a McDonald's grandee who brought the business to Jamaica, and it was she who set him on the path to owning his own restaurant.
"One of the things she said to me was 'Would you not want to own your own?'"
Ian said. "And she had done a very similar journey and after that it’s something I had aspirations to do. So when the opportunity unveiled itself I took it with two hands."
Ian never went to university and instead worked himself through the ranks on the business management side until he was Director of Franchises across the whole of South-East England.
But then the chance to buy two restaurants - one on the Purley Way in Waddon and the other in Thornton Heath - came up and he took it.
But why did he give up managing such a huge area to own just two restaurants?
"Being hands on and working in the restaurant is always something I’ve enjoyed," he said "Probably why I stayed with McDonald's.
"It wasn’t my intention as a 16-year-old to stay but I enjoyed that side of the business. I enjoyed serving customers but also serving and helping others around me.
Two restaurants became four, and then ten. But what is the secret to Ian's success?
He said: "It may sound blasé but you are a people business. You’re serving but you're also working with a lot of people.
"When it boils down, it's how you look after your people and how you develop them.
"Everyone working at the restaurants are at a different stage of their careers.
"If you want to progress in the business I’ve got to make sure there are programmes to do that. If you want flexibility while you’re studying, like I needed, I can do that too."
Ian estimated 70 per cent of his 1,000 employees are in some kind of education.
One of the cooks in the kitchen, Miles, is studying business management in Greenwich, another, Garfield, is studying bio-medicine.
Ian said: "From my employees I want to get what the business needs but also they need to get what they want and need.
"Generally, if you take that route, you won’t go too far wrong."
For Ian running a business isn't just about satisfying customers and looking after staff. They should also give back to the community.
"It is a responsibility of businesses to give back," he said "It could be something like football kits for the local team (they sponsor 6 teams) such as ‘All Stars’ but we also sponsor Legacy, a local youth centre."
When Ian was younger he went to youth centres so he knows how important they are.
He said: "I now operate a business in Croydon so I now have the ability to give back. If everybody does a little, we can make this a nicer place to grow up. I’ve got three kids growing up here, I've got cousins, nieces, nephews."
Last year was the worst year for retail in 25 years. Would there always be a place for McDonald's on the high street?
"I think there’ll always be a place for all business," Ian said. "The high street today is a different place to what it was 50 years ago and that very different from what it was like 50 years before that.
"The High Street is in the UK’s DNA. But you’ve got to adapt to the needs of people.
"Customers are going to determine what our High Streets will look like.
"And that’s true of all businesses, not just McDonald's."
Source : MyLondon - 10/1/20