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Navy Veteran Joel Pellicci Successfully Melds Military and Brand Values and Standards

It takes leadership to succeed in a franchise business. 

By Kraig Baker

 McDonald’s is very proud of the partnerships and commitments we have made in the veterans’ community.  McDonald’s USA and the restaurant owner/operators are proud to be a part of the White House’s Joining Forces Coalition and have committed to creating more than 100,000 career opportunities for veterans over three years.

We currently have thousands of veterans who work within the McDonald’s system as employees within the restaurant, corporate employees or owner/operators.  Joel Pellicci is one of many veterans who are current owner/operators.McDonald’s is very proud of the partnerships and commitments we have made in the veterans’ community.  McDonald’s USA and the restaurant owner/operators are proud to be a part of the White House’s Joining Forces Coalition and have committed to creating more than 100,000 career opportunities for veterans over three years.

Pellicci initially began his career by entering the Registered Applicant Program (the initial step to becoming an owner/operator) 37 years ago.  He started with his first restaurant in Lewisburg, N.C., and now runs 12 restaurants in partnership with his son Joel Jr. in the Myrtle Beach, S.C. area.

Pellicci has been an integral part of several leadership teams across McDonald’s.  For six years he was the chairman of the East Division Leadership Council, the team that assists in the development and execution of regional plans.  He currently is the East Division People Team Lead, the team that assists with issues in regards to people, human resources and training.  In 2003, he won the Golden Arch Award, the most prestigious recognition awarded to an owner/operator who delivers a superior customer experience, gives back to the community and is a leader whose actions build trust in the brand.

While extremely proud, he does not view this as personal recognition, but as recognition of the efforts and support of his family and the entire organization.  His strong commitment to people is reflected through his company’s slogan, “Powered by People with Pride.”

Pellicci is very proud of his military and McDonald’s experience: “I do not ever pass people in uniform and not thank them for their service.  McDonald’s at a different level is keyed in on the same thing.  It is serving the communities as a good corporate partner.”  Here is his story.

 Q: What initially led you to McDonald’s?

 Pellicci:  I was a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy and a naval aviator for nine years.  During that time I flew the A-6 Intruder aircraft off the attack carrier Forrestal.  While serving as a flight instructor, I went to work one day and a fellow officer next to me had a McDonald’s brochure on his desk.  He had applied to be in the Registered Applicant Program, so I then wrote a letter to McDonald’s and drew parallels as to what I did as a leader as both an officer and a pilot.  It takes people to run a restaurant. As a personnel officer I was responsible for caring for and feeding a squadron of 375 enlisted men.  I knew if I could do that, I could care for a team in the restaurant.

Q:  How does your military experience affect how you run your restaurants?

 Pellicci:  The military taught me commitment, value of structure, and standardization, and I try to instill that into my restaurants.  Creativity and personalities are great ingredients to a strong team, but you still need to always embrace procedures, policies and standards.

Along with my son Joel Jr., I help to oversee the director of operations and three supervisors in the organization (each supervisor oversees four stores).  We standardize procedures and set policies as a team, allowing for more efficiency when employees go from restaurant to restaurant.

As a pilot in the Navy for nine years, I used a pre-shift checklist on the first landing I made and used the same pre-checklist for the last landing I made.  Use of existing tools and following the proper procedures in the military and in the restaurant allows for the easiest way to get the best and most positive results.  I love the individual approach and ideas to things, but there is no compromising on policies, procedures and standards.

Employees need to be trained; I was a teacher before I went into the military and was serving as a flight instructor. You have to be a leader and I was an officer and that helped to mold my leadership skills.  I was accepted into the program and began training at McDonald’s in my off-time as a flight instructor and was able to grow from there.

As a leader you accept responsibility, bring adaptability and provide discipline.  If you are not a leader, you will not succeed in this business.  You have to hold yourself and others accountable.

 Q:  How do you recruit veterans to work in your restaurants?

 Pellicci:  We represent and recruit at job fairs that target the military.  Joel Jr. is a founder and current vice president of Special Operations Wounded Warriors and through him we have sponsored events that focus on Special Operations’ individuals.

Location is an important factor. We used to have an air force base nearby where we would hold recruitment activities. We would recruit active military personnel, veterans, military spouses and their children when they were of age to work in our restaurants. While the local base was open, I staffed 60 percent of my managers with military personnel.

I encourage business owners to build those relationships with local military bases and partner with them in recruitment activities.

 Q:  What skills from the military have helped you excel at McDonald’s?

 Pellicci:  Working with people, understanding the value of teamwork and leadership has helped us succeed at McDonald’s.  We understand that no one individual can do it alone; it takes teamwork.  We have production teams, drive-thru teams and grill teams.  Many teams make up the whole team.

Along with authority comes the responsibility and accountability to lead.  I try to teach my teams that you can command compliance, but you cannot command respect.  If you order individuals to do things, they will do them, but it does not mean they will respect you.  You need to help coach them and appreciate their value to the team.  The military teaches you all these skills that are so valuable in other professions.

 Q:  What do you enjoy most about your job?

 Pellicci: The people. The community. The relationships. I enjoy focusing on taking care of the people I work with so they can take care of their customers. I love to see individuals grow within the organization. In seven of our 12 restaurants, general managers started as crew members and worked their way to the GM level.  When I came to the Myrtle Beach area, the stores I bought were struggling.  Some of the employees took customers for granted.

You need to operate every day like your biggest competitor is opening next door tomorrow.  Turning it around was not easy and I learned many lessons along the way.  I got everyone together and let them know we were going back to the basics.  We made each manager go back through various classes and we made the investment to send the GMs back to Hamburger University (global training facility in Oak Brook, Ill. for McDonald’s operations coaching and leadership development) for additional training.  It took time, but once again it confirmed our belief in the McDonald’s system which provides opportunities, training and development for employees to grow and succeed.

One of the things I appreciate most as an owner/operator is the relationships with my fellow owner/operators where we become not only just business associates, but dear friends — much like it was when I was in the military.

 Q:  What are you proud of with regard to McDonald’s and its veteran partnerships?

 Pellicci:  I’m very proud of the fact that McDonald’s recognizes, values and appreciates the sacrifices our military men and women make every day.  McDonald’s is able to recognize talent and potential that it can bring into the family. We are actively seeking additional partnerships from veteran organizations around the United States in helping us identify this great talent.

 Kraig Baker is project manager, U.S. recruitment services, employment strategy and U.S. human resources for McDonald’s USA, LLC. Find him at  

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