Kenneth S. Yang: Love ko ‘to – family, golf & vintage cars
10 THINGS - Bianca Gonzalez (The Philippine Star) - April 27, 2014 - 12:00am

What is the pressure like growing up with business mogul parents? How do you keep yourself and your family grounded if you run one of the most popular establishments in the country? And how does a top CEO deal with what he calls a looming “mid-life crisis”?

Here are 10 things you should know about Kenneth S. Yang.

1. Kenneth recalls that he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth: “My parents taught us the value of money. ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees,’ they always told us.”

“I was born in Tondo, and we were several families living in one building on Alvarado St. in Manila. I was born there and stayed there till I was around five years old. My great-grandfather, my grandfather, my dad and me. I remember we were many families sharing one or two toilets,” the eldest of the four Yang siblings recalls. “When my grandfather was able to buy a house, we moved and stayed with my grandparents. Sa Chinese family, the eldest child is expected to stay with the parents even when they’re married. Me also, when I got married, we stayed in my parents’ house, matagal din, for around 14 years.

“My parents are both in business. My mom Kristine started with a P5,000 capital for her jewelry business, sa supermarket lang siya noon in a small stall. Then my dad, I realized, he was about to get the McDonald’s franchise when they often had American visitors over,” he shares.

On if he ever felt deprived of fun while growing up because of his responsibilities: “Life was fun and serious at the same time. And back then, medyo prestigious to work as a student. When I graduated high school I invited my friends to work for the summer in the Cubao McDonald’s. It was a great learning experience for me kasi mahiyain ako, and I was forced to deal with people. I was allowed to go out but I’m not the gimmick type.”

2. On lessons from his father George Yang, beyond the businessman persona: “He really emphasized family time together.”

“At that time maybe I didn’t appreciate it, but I appreciate it now as a parent. They really worked hard every day but on Sundays, or even overnight starting Saturday night, we would always end up going somewhere, like Puerto Azul. When I was in high school, parang ayoko na,” he laughs. “But we had to. Then we would want to hurry going back to Manila so we can go where we wanted. But I appreciate it now, how my parents wanted us to be together despite their busy schedule.

“My dad was an excellent tennis player, class A. I tried to be like him but I was not that good,” he laughs. “He also taught me golf as a kid and I took it up again at a later stage. That is where my passion is and I think I excel there. And even when I am old I can still play,” he laughs again.

3. He actually was eyeing his wife Cindy Yap back in high school, but admits he was too torpe to pursue her.

“Cindy and I went to schools that were neighbors, Xavier and ICA. I knew of her, but we were not friends. She was a batch lower than me and my first cousin was her classmate. I saw her in parties and I knew she was pretty and attractive, but I never did anything. Ano pa ako nun… torps,” he says with a smile.

“So that was just that. When I was studying for my MBA at the University of Chicago and I was here on summer break, ang uso nun Faces disco. I was there one night and I saw her. ‘Ganda ni Cindy,’ I said. . I remembered her. Then I made kulit my cousin to kind of get the ball rolling. I invited my cousin to watch a movie, and she invited Cindy. During that summer, we already got along well and we even went to Baguio together. So when I went back to school in Chicago, at that time there was no cell phone, no Internet, just snail mail, I would send her a letter maybe twice a week, she would send me almost daily. So every day when I opened my mailbox I would have a letter, with a cassette tape sometimes! Mixed tape and voice recordings,” he laughs.

He graduated from his MBA in 1990 and she became Mrs. Cindy Yang in 1992.

4. His is a family of homebodies.

“My eldest Kay is studying at Berkeley, my second Kevin is at Stanford, and my youngest Keith is here at ISM,” he shares. “Most important for us is that family comes first. Cindy and I are compatible in that we like spending time at home together rather than going out. We just have to have dinner together, and weekends we go out for dinner or a movie. I don’t have a home theater so we don’t really watch movies at home. We just hang out together.”

“My wife is more of the disciplinarian, so when the children ask for permission I’m more of the good cop, but when when it comes to their shopping, I’m more of the bad cop,” he smiles.

They also love traveling together as a family. “The whole clan has been going on a cruise the past three years. We’re close to 20 people including grandkids. We’ve gone on the Mediterranean, Baltic, and the Alaskan. My family, we take shorter trips. And, of course, when you travel we have no driver so I enjoy that, walking, taking the train, getting lost and then finding your way.”

5. His co-workers describe him as a very cool and calm boss whom  they’ve never heard scream or get mad — except for this one time.

“When I was 15, my dad brought me with him to Hong Kong because he was going to undergo McDonald’s exposure training. Saling pusa ako,” he recalls. “I was pretty excited because it was my first official part-time job,  although it was just for a week. We were service crew members. I did everything on the kitchen side. Dressing the burgers, using the grill station, toasting the buns, and even the counter. I just remember being very, very hungry after work and I was happy during break time because we had a free meal, the Big Mac.”

From being service crew in Hong Kong to service crew in Manila, then after graduating with a degree in Management Engineering from Ateneo, he became assistant manager at the Greenbelt and Landmark branches. “I had to deal with problems like biglang dadami ang tao, or absent ang crew, or equipment broke down, so it was stressful. I rarely get mad but there was this one time, we had a rush of customers and parang ang bagal bagal ng kilos ng crew at ang daming palpak. Nagalit ako. I banged something. That was the first time that happened and nagulat sila. But I really rarely get mad.”

6. On his biggest weakness: “I think I’m too nice.”

At one of McDonald’s Philippines company events, the LED screen flashed the name “PSY” that morphed into the letters “KSY” and Kenneth came out on stage in a sparkly outfit dancing to the tune of the hit song Gentleman, as part of the program. “Cindy had to borrow my jacket, shades, and shoes from Tim Yap,” he says about donning his brother-in-law’s clothes. “In high school I used to dance, but I think I forgot how already.”

“A self-described flexible leader, he tries to surround himself with individuals he trusts to complement his strengths and weaknesses,” a John Clements article reads. “I’m good with numbers, finance is my background. There are other things like marketing that I need experts in, and for operations I learned it and I understand how it works. I believe in delegating to people and trusting them in making decisions,” Kenneth shares. “Sometimes they may make the wrong decision, but I think that is part of it. I think you need to allow for mistakes so they don’t get gun shy, they don’t become timid, and so they don’t stop taking risks. At the same time I also want to foster teamwork, wala yung ranko-ranko. I value different view points.”

7. KSY in numbers:

30,000: Approximate number of McDonald’s Philippines employees nationwide including crewmembers and franchise stores.

3: Number of vintage cars in his collection. “Part of my mid-life crisis stage,” he laughs. “There’s only one I had restored, a 1966 Mustang. Yes, I drive it, on Sundays.”

2: Number of times a week he plays golf. “I just play for fun now. Single digit handicap, I think I can still manage an eight or nine.”

1: Number of cups of coffee he takes a day. “Only in the morning.”

2: Number of years he has been playing the drums. “Another mid-life crisis thing. That was my high school dream, but my mom didn’t want to buy me a drum set because it was expensive — and noisy.”

8. On his advice to young, budding entrepreneurs: “Stick to it.”

“I find it good to see many young entrepreneurs pursuing their passion, whether it is designing and selling bags or opening a small restaurant. I see a lot of that and I think we should encourage it.”

“I think they have to keep in mind, that as much as possible, if you can differentiate yourself, and know what your business stands for,” he says. “It may start small but it can grow really big. I have also had my failures and sometimes, I realize that I quit too early. So don’t quit. The early years will be very, very difficult, you could lose money, but if you stick to it, you can turn it around.”

9. His built and weight in his 20s is still the same as his built and weight now that he’s turning 50.

“I think genetics! I was blessed with a lean physique,” he shares. “But I do go to the gym thrice a week, consistently, since I was in my MBA. I value health and fitness talaga. I believe in eating what I want to eat, but not excessively, and working out. I don’t believe in dieting only and not working out.”

On his looking-way-younger-than-50 skin: “When I play golf, I use sunblock and bring an umbrella. I asked Cindy if I should start using face creams because she has a lot of those, and I did start but after a while I got lazy so I stopped.”

10. On how he has handled all the pressure, failure, and challenges in his life: “I don’t know if this is called fatalism but I just have a belief that things will work out.”

“Things have a way of working itself out for me. Of course, I had benefits, obviously with my dad having the business already so I had that opportunity. But to get to where I am today, I didn’t plan it that way,” explains the president and CEO. “I never worked for my dad directly, until we became a wholly owned company in 2005. Prior to that my bosses were all McDonald’s expatriates. When I was appointed managing director in 2003, it wasn’t him who did, it was McDonald’s.”

“Even if it seems hard or difficult, I believe things will work out. And God always makes me feel blessed that something good is about to happen. I choose to stay positive in that aspect.”

* * *

You expect white hair and wrinkles from someone with a challenging job and huge responsibility, but instead you get youthful, calm, and collected. You expect turning 50, but instead you get looking 40. You expect schedule like clockwork, but instead he stayed on to chat with me and other McDonald’s employees for a good 20 minutes after the interview. His colleagues are right to call KSY “not your usual CEO.”

* * *

Email me at askiamsuperbianca@yahoo.com or message me on Twitter and Instagram @iamsuperbianca

 

BUT I CINDY CINDY AND I DON HONG KONG THINK TIME WHEN I
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