GLOBAL ECONOMIC VIEWPOINT
MCDONALD'S: A RESPONSE TO GLOBALIZATION CRITICS
Jack Greenberg, the CEO of McDonald's, was recently interviewed by Foreign Policy editor Moises Naim. Editors must note that this Q&A is excerpted from a longer conversation in the summer issue of Foreign Policy magazine.
GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: What would you describe as the most common misconceptions or outright lies circulated about McDonald's?
JACK GREENBERG: First, there's an assumption that we're some big American company that exports things everywhere else to make a lot of money. Sure, we're everywhere, but so is Nokia. So is NBC, so is CNN.
(McDonald's) is a global brand, but we run our business in a fundamentally different way that ought to appeal to some critics of globalization. We are a decentralized entrepreneurial network of locally owned stores that is very flexible and adapts very well to local conditions. We offer an opportunity to entrepreneurs to run a local business with local people supplied by a local infrastructure. Each creates a lot of small businesses around it.
Second, the idea that we damage the environment. Not only is the charge (that we raise cattle on land slashed from rainforests) not true, but our environmental record is generally very good. We've never bought cattle that were anywhere near a rainforest. We've had the policy for 13 years.
Third, this issue of McDonald's as a cultural threat. We have become the symbol of everything people don't like or are worried about in terms of their own culture. I think that charge reveals a level of general insecurity about identity rather than anything about McDonald's, and it doesn't square with the facts. You know, we've been in countries such as Japan, Canada and Germany for almost 30 years. I don't see those cultures faltering because of McDonald's. In fact, I think the opposite is true.
Fourth, the idea that there's a nutritional problem with McDonald's. The facts are that we're selling meat and potatoes and bread and milk and Coca-Cola and lettuce and everything else you can buy in a grocery store. What you choose to eat is a personal issue. Every nutritionist I've talked to says a balanced diet is the key to health. You can get a balanced diet at McDonald's. It's a question of how you use McDonald's. Nobody's mad at the grocery store because you can buy potato chips and pastries there. Nobody wants a full diet of that either.
GV: And what about genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?
GREENBERG: Well, we have no policy on that because the scientific community guides us. We're very sensitive to the debate. In markets where our customers really feel strongly about this and want to avoid GMOs, we don't use them.
In the United States, we do use some because they're in one-third of the corn product and, I don't know, in half or a third of U.S. soybean crops, which obviously serve as some base for our food supply. So it would be impossible today to not use GMOs. But we're being guided by the scientific community and the government.
GV: So, why are your stores trashed whenever there is a protest?
GREENBERG: This kind of criticism is the price of our unique success. There is no other retailer, there is no other service business that touches so many people every day in such a personal way. We're serving 45 million people a day. At 28,000 restaurants. In 120 countries. If you're going to have that kind of presence, you're going to have that kind of attention.
And we're in a world today where people focus a lot of pent-up frustration about a lot of issues on a single concept called globalization -- a concept that is much more complicated than some of the people who write and talk about it want to admit. In fact, globalization has become a shorthand way of describing frustration with a lot of circumstances that may have nothing to do with globalization. So McDonald's is a convenient target.
GV: What stands in the way of the reality you describe and global perception?
GREENBERG: I don't believe that you're right to characterize this negativity as a global perception. You have a small number of people who are very articulate and have access to the media. But the average customer doesn't agree with them or they wouldn't be visiting our shops.
Look, during the four days of protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, there were anywhere from 100 to 2,000 people who trashed our stores and those of other companies. But during that time, 175 million people around the world visited McDonald's. So which figure is more representative?
GV: But you would resist the notion that McDonald's is homogenizing global eating habits?
GREENBERG: I think McDonald's provides a consistent experience wherever you are in the world, but to call us a homogenizing force gives us much too much credit. There are 20,000 Chinese restaurants in Italy. While they're not all under one brand, there are 20,000 Chinese restaurants, and nobody is saying they hurt Italian culture.
GV: What are the countries you feel are more resistant to this homogeneity you convey? Which countries have given you more trouble? Which countries do you find more resistant to adopting your standards?
GREENBERG: Really, except for the countries we've been in less than five years, such as Pakistan and India where it's too new to know yet, we've had success almost everywhere we've been for a longer period of time.
GV: What about places like France?
GREENBERG: We are a lightning rod (there) for a lot of criticism. But think about how consumers are behaving in France. What do the people do? Do they not vote with their feet by patronizing our stores? Are those restaurants not owned by French? Are they not buying French farmers' products? Are they not creating jobs for the advertising agency, the construction company, the real estate agent, the lawyers, the accountants? Do they not create jobs for thousands of kids who, in France in particular, have had a hard time getting into the workforce? I mean, this is a fabulous story for France. It's not being told. It is a wonderful story, not something we should be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It's a great story. Most companies can't tell this story, French or otherwise.
GV: So, if you could use your last words to deliver a message to critics like Jose Bove, the French farmer (who led a group that ransacked one of your restaurants in France and protests McDonald's at worldwide summits), what would it be?
GREENBERG: Jose Bove and a handful of terrorists are more interested in using McDonald's as a convenient symbol than understanding the facts behind our business. (They should) recognize the essential local character of McDonald's and find a more appropriate target for whatever it is that they're angry about.
(c) 2001, Foreign Policy. Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 7/16/01)