Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Karen King, McDonald's East Division president, center, talks with Lawrenceville store manager Kathy Marcano, left, and area supervisor Allen Schumann on Tuesday at the Lawrenceville store. King grew up in the Lawrenceville area and worked behind the counter at McDonald's in the 1970s. King now oversees about 5,200 stores along the East Coast.
LAWRENCEVILLE — Everyone loves a success story, a “local girl does good” story of hard work, dedication and reward. Karen King appears to have written her very own version.
King is president of McDonald’s Corporation’s Eastern Division territory, one of the most powerful women in one of the most far-reaching companies in the world. And on Tuesday, she came home.
As part of McDonald’s National Hiring Day, a nationwide initiative that will result in 50,000 hires (1,000 locally) and geared toward introducing the McDonald’s employment and career opportunity to the country, King came back home to Lawrenceville to see some old friends, owners and customers.
“When I was 19 years old, I walked into the Clayton Street McDonald’s restaurant and applied for a job. I was newly married and wanted to earn some money for Christmas,” said King, who was employed full-time with Gwinnett County Department of Family and Children’s Services at the time.
But after only three months, McDonald’s offered her the opportunity to become a manager.
“I had a choice to make,” King said. “The teamwork, energy, the spirit de corps, I loved all that, so I made my decision.”
So King took a part-time manager position, at that time called a “swing manager.” The work environment was a little different back then than it is today.
“When I first went to work for McDonald’s, girls weren’t allowed to work in the grill area. I worked up front, taking orders on a memo pad. Our menu was much more limited back then,” King laughed, recalling how much the workplace has changed.
“At the time, I didn’t understand the opportunity I had to go to work for a global organization. I was the oldest of seven children, and my parents didn’t have the money to send us to college. It was a great opportunity for me.”
In about three years, King became an area supervisor, then was promoted to field consultant. She was the first female restaurant manager and the first field consultant in the company.
“Now, our ranks are predominantly women,” King said.
But her rise didn’t come easily, or cheaply. She made the first of nine relocations for the company in 1986, when she was asked to move to West Palm Beach, Fla., for a promotion. In 2002, she led Strategy and Business Development for the corporation and became one of the very few female executives in the company.
Today, King is the president of the Eastern Division and is in charge of a territory that runs from Key West to the Canadian border. That territory includes 18 states, 5,300 restaurants, more than 1,000 staff employees and 953 franchisees.
King travels pretty much every week, doing whatever is necessary to keep employees, franchise owners, customers and suppliers happy with McDonald’s. Would she do it again? Without a doubt.
“My 32-year-old daughter works for McDonald’s, and I couldn’t be more proud,” she said.
That original restaurant on Clayton Street in Lawrenceville has been torn down, but King has one of the bricks that came from the store that started it all for her so many years ago. When asked what piece of advice she would give a young woman of 19 with respect to building a career in today’s climate, King thought a minute before answering with a piece of advice given to her by her grandmother: “Don’t have a wishbone where your backbone ought to be.”
In other words, women can and should earn their way up the corporate ladder and never apologize for having a seat at the table.