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When her mom fell ill, Claire Andrew went to work as a crew member at a McDonald’s in upstate New York to help pay their bills

Claire Andrew transitions from career in medicine to one in restaurants

The McDonald’s general manager loves to mentor and develop crew members

Claire Andrew didn’t learn how to read or write until she was 8. Growing up in Antigua and Barbuda, she endured some challenges during childhood that kept her from an early education. Those challenges pushed her to want to succeed in academics. So she went to Cuba to study medicine and eventually received her medical degree.

“I was really excited to be able to change lives as a physician,” she said. Andrew spent seven years in Cuba and then moved to the U.S. to study for her medical license here. When her mom fell ill, she went to work as a crew member at a McDonald’s in upstate New York to help pay their bills. 

“I fell in love with it. It was amazing, the transition. It turned out to be something that was very important to me,” Andrew said. “I found that I loved mentoring people — being able to help crew members or managers and being able to help them to grow and change and find a career is very important to me.”

She worked her way up from a crew member to swing manager and then a people experience lead, a position that helps multiple restaurants hire and train employees. According to Paul Hendel, owner of McDonald’s franchisee Hendel Products Group, she did such a good job that the company fast-tracked her to unit manager. In July 2022, Andrew was named general manager of a 24-hour, dual drive-thru restaurant in the Cambria Heights neighborhood in Queens, N.Y.

Hendel said his company bought that store nine years ago when it was generating about $3.7 million in sales and “running really rough. We were very inconsistent. People weren’t gelling.” After bringing in Andrew and her supervisor, a new culture was created, he added. Turnover dropped from about 150% to 90% and the store now generates more than double the sales.  

“It’s a $7 million store and we employ up to 90 employees. I have a management team of over 10 managers. Currently, we have managers in training — all age groups, different personalities. I would not give up my team for anyone,” Andrew said. “It’s challenging, but I love it.”

As Andrew talks about her job, her team, her restaurant, it becomes clear why she pursued this career over her in-progress medical career.

“In medicine I was more so helping people to feel better. Here, I feel like I’m fostering people for the future. Some employees may not stay with us — they have different career paths — and to be able to be a leader to guide them, that has been the most important thing,” she said.

Andrew’s enthusiasm comes despite joining the system in the middle of unprecedented challenges, including labor shortages and historically high inflation. As GM, she is responsible for managing operations and profitability of the restaurant, in addition to ensuring a positive overall experience for both crew members and customers. She credits her team for keeping the wheels spinning effortlessly.

“Our management team is young, but because of that, they are different in the way that they think, and they work very hard and they’re solution-oriented,” she said. “They are able to transition into running a great restaurant and we have so many training programs to help our team handle all these things.”

The people she works with and for are what she likes best about the job. She said she wants to inspire people to be their best selves and lead them to the point where they can reach their long-term career goals. That said, the people also tend to present the most challenges. Having a younger staff means Andrew manages people who have a lot of adversities, for instance.

“They’re unable to see their potential and how they can grow, and that can be difficult. But I do my best to work with them and understand what is most important to them to give them the support they need,” she said.

Hendel said Andrew’s ability to support her employees in this way is what makes her a “rising star” in the company.

“The GM role has changed from when I was a manager. The people part of our business is so critical now. Claire walks the talk. She sets the culture in the store. She’s got five manager trainees who want to be just like her,” he said.

Hendel also boasts that Andrew has guided this specific restaurant into the digital age. McDonald’s digital sales systemwide are about 35%. Andrew’s restaurant generates 50% of its sales digitally.

“Prior to the pandemic, we had zero digital business. She’ll do over 300 orders in delivery alone in that restaurant. … She’s really adapted to this digital way of life. That’s pretty complex, and some managers are having a tougher time. She has done it very, very well and has gotten great results,” Hendel said.

Andrew believes her background makes her uniquely qualified to manage this job. Not only did she grow up in a country known for its hospitality, but her med school background also taught her how to be organized and methodical, to handle high volumes and to deal with patients going through difficult times.

“It has helped me be warmer and more sympathetic to my employees and to listen to them more,” Andrew said. “We have a younger staff, and they have a lot to offer in the way the world is transitioning and how we are becoming futuristic. Listening to them and providing what they need helps create that culture of care and gives you an environment of growth.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

TAGS: Workforce
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