Taoke (Business)

1.87M Views and on 1CH1NOY’s Season Finale: Mr. McDonald’s and Singing Taipan George Yang

Best season yet. And the numbers are here to prove it. 

Dentist to the Stars Dr. Steve Mark Gan’s episode garnered a total of 1.87M Views, making it the top-rated episode of CHiNOY TV in its history. Proving that sheer will and excellence in craft lead to success, Dr. Gan has revolutionized the dentistry landscape in the metro and continues to chart its future. 

And to end this season with a bang, 1CH1NOY: Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart is featuring the eternally young, hugely successful and well-loved taipan Dr. George T. Yang.  

Persistence & Passion

At 82, Yang is as spry as ever, sparkling with youth and verve, all true to the Happy Meals he has delivered to millions as Founder, Chairman and Master Franchise Holder of McDonald’s Philippines. 

And while many articles and features have been made about him, to completely capture the spirit of Yang, one must start at the beginning.

His grandfather and parents came from China, his father arriving in the Philippines at the tender age of three. Yang cites him as a huge influence in his life, recalling, “My father, for him, the most important was education. He made sure that I was properly educated and even up to the time that I graduated from college and went abroad for master’s degree, he was very much involved in helping me choose the school, talking to friends, also in getting the finances because it was very expensive going abroad at that time.”

Yang went to two schools as a youngster—San Beda College in the morning (and where he was also in the swim team) and Hope Christian College in the afternoon (when he was in the tennis team). After completing his university degree in De La Salle University, he went on to take his Masters at arguably one of the best business schools in the world, Wharton University of Pennsylvania, USA. And later on, for his life’s achievements, he would be granted an Honorary Doctor of Humanities Degree by De La Salle University.

His first job was at the Bataan Cigar and Cigarette Factory, where another taipan, Lucio Tan, cut his teeth as a chemist. Yang though entered as the Director of the Marketing department. However, a lifelong desire to be an entrepreneur persisted and Yang found his future through his voracious reading. Yang shares, “ You know at that time I have not even actually seen a McDonald’s, only in a magazine and I read about it only. I started writing to them and that was I think starting 1974-75 I was already writing to them, asking for information, how do I get a franchise… but it’s still a long, long process because first of all, they don’t know about the Philippines. Where is it? They don’t even know. So I would inform them. We’re already westernized. In fact, we were colonized by US for a number of years. I continued and I’ve found out they opened in Japan, first in Asia and afterwards they opened in Hongkong but mostly they were in Europe. They were expanding in Europe, konti lang maliit lang sila noon.”

This would trigger a long and arduous process that would test the patience and creativity of Yang. But unfazed, Yang continued to court McDo, despite having to compete with bigger companies and more established “suitors.” However, one fateful day, Yang shares, “While communicating with them, they don’t seem to be that interested. One time I went to a coffee shop in Cubao for merienda and I found out their sandwich, yung wrapper nila nakalagay “Big Mac,” because they know about McDonald’s also, so what I did is I took the sandwich and kept the wrapper and send it to them [McDonald’s]. I said, “You better register this brand or you [will] lose the brand”. They replied to me by sending me an application, that’s the only time. So, that visit to the coffee shop was a stroke of luck for me because I was concerned about the future, that if I want to open this kind of business – this brand is open.” 

Humility and Hands-on Leadership

Like a man out to prove his worth, Yang would continue to communicate with the Big M, until finally in 1976, their honchos visited the Philippines. On that, Yang thought he had botched things. He laughs, “When these guys were here, an EVP and the lawyer was here, the one in charge of international. The other applicants were big companies, so they picked them up with limousines, bringing them to the big hotels and putting them in the suites – no pay. But me at that time, I borrowed my brother-in-law’s old Mercedes, came and picked them up and I was taking them to some coffee shops to see what’s out there. Of course, everybody says hamburger and hotdog but no kind of stores like this. On the way, my brother-in-law was driving the Mercedes, I was in front and these were three big guys in the back, they were all in suit and tie. In the summer time, the Mercedes conked out in the middle of Ortigas! The air-conditioning wasn’t working and I can see the three of them they’re sweating like anything in my Mercedes. I’m just telling you the difference I wanted to impress them with the Mercedes and then the other applicants were taking them around in the limo. So, I thought I lost my franchise application at that time.”

But still miraculously undeterred, Yang did one last leap of faith. And that would prove the clincher and the Yang Family, not the corporation, today being the Master Franchise Holder of McDonald’s. Yang recalls, “I went to Hong Kong and I tried to find out who this guy that also franchised and through a mutual friend, I was able to meet him and said, “I wanna come in to see the experience in your store,” “Sure come, come over.” I was there, they made me wear a crew uniform, and I worked in McDonald’s for one week, learning and cleaning the floor, cleaning the toilet, they taught me what to do in the front counter and “Oh my God,” I became even more interested. They’re so fast, those Hong Kong kids were so fast and even in handling the customers I said, “I couldn’t give up.” 

The McDonald’s Philippines empire is now being led by Yang’s eldest Kenneth, and it seems almost pre-destined as Kenneth was there from this moment. Yang shares, “I was in Hong Kong and I brought my son with me. My son who is now the President. He was 14 years old or 15 at that time. He was faster, he was fast just like them [the HK workers]. While I was there, the US guy found out. He asked the managing director, “What’s this guy doing there? We didn’t give him the franchise.” But that probably gave me a step forward because here’s this guy, he must be very interested and he went to work there and I showed them my interest and my capacity to work. And because those Hong Kong guys were evaluating me also while I was there; how I relate to the crew, how I work, me and my son, we’re very good persons and so, that probably put me one step ahead. You know with other people; they probably won’t do that. Multi-million-peso company with so many employees. We can do great things for you. Yet, [working on the ground] that was how I sold myself. I sold myself by telling them that I’m going to work – myself. I’m going to build this business myself and I’m going to be hands-on. That was my promise to them and I dropped everything else I’m doing and joined and signed up with McDonald’s. They’ve finally signed up with me. So, that was the start.” 

From their first store in Morayta in 1981, to what are now 600 McDonald’s dotting the country, Yang is proud of many things but one that sticks out to him is how McDonald’s employs young people (including the likes of Rico Hizon and Richard Gomez, who had their first jobs there) and how it was the very first QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) in the country.  

More than McDo

And while being Mr. McDo has put George Yang on the proverbial map, and has helped him create jobs for at least 50,000 Filipinos and counting, Yang is a man of many talents and interests. He was also the Walt Disney merchandise licensee for 20 years, and his wife Kristine has a long-time jewelry business. In philanthropy, Yang has also created many organizations, from Bright Minds Read (formerly Read to Learn) to Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC), to the Ronald McDonald Bigay Tulong program, which provides disaster relief and finally the pandemic-born Kindness Kitchen which has served 510,000 meals since COVID-19 hit. 

But probably most fascinating of Yang’s interests is his knack for singing. Now he has his Klassikal Music Foundation but Yang reminisces, “It just came accidentally, but I know that I could carry a tune even when I was young. I would follow the radio and sing but it never entered my mind to be a singer. Chinoy families, the most important is business. I was about 13 years old sabi ko, “I want to take singing lessons. My father said “What for?” so that’s it. I never mentioned it again, I just wanted at that time but I agreed also it wasn’t really a passion until late in life. I think it’s nice to do that when you’re growing old, you have other things you can have another hobby to rely on.” 

Three musical albums and a solo concert at the CCP later, with even a charming, tongue-in-cheek McDonald’s “Live Your Dreams” commercial co-starring fellow businessman and renowned singer Jose Mari Chan, Yang has also become synonymous with being a singing, talented taipan, adding further to his legacy and rounding out his role as one of the best-regarded entrepreneurs in the country. 

Catch 1CH1NOY: Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart only on CNN Philippines via Free TV Channel 9, Sky Cable Channel 14, Cignal Channel 10. It will also simultaneously air on CNN Philippines’ webpage www.cnnphilippines.com.

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