The story of George Yang; the story of us

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Most if not all of us have a McDonald’s story, big or small. Perhaps, we celebrated milestones in a favorite branch or worked as part of the crew. Or maybe, we treated ourselves to a Big Mac after a hard day’s work.

McDonald’s Katipunan, for instance, was where I spent a lot of my high school years. I spent countless afternoons studying with friends in that branch across Ateneo. Not surprisingly, we met a lot of Ateneans there; it was a soiree of sorts.

I also won’t forget McDonald’s UN Avenue. One time decades ago, while walking alone in the streets of Manila, a big, burly man appeared out of nowhere, talked to me and wouldn’t leave me alone. Sensing danger, I stepped inside McDonald’s UN Avenue, hoping to lose my stalker but he also followed me there.

After mustering the courage to talk to him, I told him to order food for us so we could finally sit down and chat. Mr. Stalker did just that and while he was busy talking to the crew, I quietly headed to the exit door, walked as fast as I could and never looked back.

A backdrop to our stories

In a sense, one way or another at some point in our lives, there was a McDonald’s that served as a backdrop to our stories, whether it’s a heart-pounding moment with a stalker, a celebration of a milestone or a meal shared with one’s big high school crush.

But each and every McDonald’s story here in the Philippines, started with one man, the low-key and young-looking tycoon George Yang, who is already in his 80s.

He is the businessman who owns the master franchise of McDonald’s in the Philippines.

Last week, I heard his story for the first time, of how, through persistence, determination and hard work, he succeeded in bringing the McDonald’s brand to the Philippines – an enduring legacy and a colorful story that is his, and his alone.

As an MBA student at Wharton in the 70s, Mr. George read about the story of the American fast-food chain and how it was already successful in the US and in Europe.

This caught his interest and he thought of bringing the brand to the Philippines. But it was not easy, he recalled.

He kept writing to the McDonald’s head office in the US but they were not interested.

‘Big Mac’

One day, he chanced upon a small coffee shop in Cubao selling a “Big Mac” burger. He immediately informed McDonald’s that they would eventually lose all their labels including Big Mac in the Philippines, if they do not enter the country.

McDonald’s promptly replied to him with a franchise application form. But it was only the beginning of a tough race among the fiercest competitors, including richer and more powerful businessmen such as Andres Soriano Jr., then owner of San Miguel Corp., and the famous “Uncle Bob” Stewart, founder of GMA-7.

Beating the competition wasn’t easy. One time, when a team from McDonald’s US came to visit the Philippines, he offered to take them around in a Mercedes he borrowed from a relative.

But lo and behold, the air-conditioning of his borrowed car conked out with his guests on board.

He was so embarrassed but still, he didn’t give up. He even worked as a crew in Hong Kong to show McDonald’s how serious he was.

After some four or five years of trying, Mr. George succeeded and was awarded the franchise. In 1981, he opened the first McDonald’s in the Philippines in Morayta, Manila.

Filipinos of course fell in love with McDonald’s just as much as we loved everything American – from Hollywood to the US bases – at least at the time. Nobody was counting excess calories or sodium content.

The rest, as they say, is history. Today, McDonald’s Philippines has at least 700 stores and it continues to grow.

As I said, one way or another, at some point in the past, we all had our McDonald’s story.

For some of us, as we grew older and moved along in this thing called life, we may have left our comfort zones – including McDonald’s – and discovered new things.

As for me, I’ve grown to like other dishes other than fast-food.

But we never really forget, do we? Once in a while, I still visit a McDonald’s store.

As for George Yang, he has gone a long way and has successfully written a story of persistence, hard work and luck. Anyone who’s anyone knows him.

In fact, when we had our lunch in this famed Japanese restaurant, the Japanese master chef went to our room to say hello to Mr. George. I’ve been there many times but it was the first time I’ve seen the master chef say hello to an esteemed guest.

I’m also pretty sure Mr. George no longer rides a decrepit Mercedes.

But despite his tremendous success, Mr. George never forgets. Believe it or not, he still actually eats McDo food. His favorite? The Quarter Pounder.

This indeed, is his story, with all its twists and turns.

It is, as I said, a story of hard work, persistence and luck, intertwined with our own individual stories which, one way or another, were occasionally mixed with a serving of Big Mac, Quarter Pounder or what-have-you; in my case, it’s a cup of hot fudge sundae with fries.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

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