Persistent George

BUSINESS SNIPPETS - Marianne Go - The Philippine Star
Persistent George
George Yang

MANILA, Philippines — Twelve years ago, I had the chance to interview George Yang for a magazine article where he claimed he was already taking things easy and had turned over the management of most of his businesses to his two eldest sons.

Back in 2011, he was then at a phase in his life where he was enjoying his “musical interlude” after performing in parties and gatherings, and singing with Charice Pempengco, who is now known as Jake Zyrus, in a major CCP concert.

He had also recorded several CDs, one with no less than Jose Mari Chan.

Thus, it was with pleasure that I accepted an invitation to interview him once again, but this time to celebrate his most enduring legacy in Philippine business, which is bringing the now famous Golden Arches of the McDonald’s global franchise to the Philippines in the 1980s.

Well, as it turns out, despite “taking it easy,” George continues to remain keenly involved in McDonald’s well into his 80s, going to his office daily to keep abreast of the business and his family’s real estate ventures.

This time around, George wanted to proudly focus on his “persistent” pursuit of the McDonald’s franchise, which has now grown to 705 stores nationwide and continues to expand.

Plans are to open 50 stores a year, with Luzon accounting for 46 percent of the stores and NCR alone accounting for 36 percent; and Visayas for 11 percent, with Mindanao leaving a lot of room for future expansion.

It was quite interesting to learn that among his competitors for the franchise back in the 1970s were no less than Andres Soriano Jr., who then owned San Miguel Corp., and “Uncle Bob” Stewart, the founder of GMA-7.

However, what initially got him the ticket to get an application for the franchise was a stroke of luck when he chanced upon a small coffee shop selling a “Big Mac” burger. He immediately informed the US brand that if they do not enter the Philippine market at that time, they would eventually lose the “Big Mac” label in the country. McDonald’s promptly sent him a franchise application form.

Andres Soriano Jr., already running the successful San Miguel Corp., eventually lost out to George because while George was willing to give his full attention to growing the McDonald’s franchise in the Philippines, Soriano already had his hands full leading his conglomerate.

George walked the extra mile to even physically work as a crew in the McDonald’s Hong Kong branch for a week to show his commitment. He also promised the McDonald’s executives that he would serve as the first general manager of the franchise when and if it was given to him.

Long story short - George won the right to bring the McDonald’s franchise to the Philippines due to sheer persistence.

However, getting the franchise was just the beginning because in the 1980s, when the Philippines was experiencing a  political and financial crisis, George was finding it hard to source dollars to fund his importations for both equipment and supplies for his McDonald’s stores.

Through all those challenges, George persisted and grew the McDonald’s franchise, so much so that one Filipino entrepreneur was able to tweak the burger concept and give it a Filipino spin, proving to be a worthy and formidable competitor.

By the start off the new millennium, McDonald’s Philippines had become such a success that from an original 49-51 percent ownership split with the US parent, George was now confident enough to negotiate a complete buyout and gain majority ownership.

It was then that partner Andrew Tan stepped in to team up with George, enabling George to finally gain 51 percent control of McDonald’s Philippines to Tan’s 49 percent, a partnership that remains good to this day.

Ticket to popularity

George reveals that as a young man, he was never popular, most probably because he was quite shy.

Even though he became a topnotcher in college at De La Salle University, Batch 1962, he was still not popular.

However, when he bagged the McDonald’s franchise, he became so popular that even the politicians got to know him.

In all he does, George reiterates that “persistence” is key. He had previously told me that “if I want to succeed in something, I will persevere.”

However, he also acknowledges that while money is important, there are other aspects that are important to take care of.

“My reputation, my integrity…Integrity is very important. I always impart that to my children. In all my dealings, I am very honest with people and straightforward. I have no ulterior motive when I deal with people, ” he stresses.

He also proudly claims that “I have never screwed anyone,” and that he hopes that he will always be remembered as a “nice guy.”

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