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Career Success
FEB 13, 2017

Still Lovin’ It! McDonald’s Japan CEO Sarah Casanova Is a Model for Passion and Staying True to Yourself

By Saskia Rock, Presenter Sarah L. Casanova

I didn’t know what to expect when I heard McDonald’s Holdings Japan CEO Sarah Casanova was coming to speak at GLOBIS, but boy, am I glad I went!

Casanova is a great speaker, effortlessly mixing personal history and wit with company strategy. She talked about how McDonald’s got its mojo back after a downturn in profitability.

“If you love what you’re doing, success will be yours.”
Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonald’s

Many of us are still trying to figure out what we want to do with our lives after years of searching and trying new things. Not Casanova. She knew as child that she wanted to work for McDonald’s. Not only did she know, but she made a plan to get to where she wanted to be, and then executed it. It took time, a lot of guts, and persistence, but she did it.

Some people, like Casanova, just know where they’re going from the start. Lucky for the rest of us, Casanova and others like her are open to stepping out and sharing their passion, as well as their advice.

“Plan your work, and work your plan.”
Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonald’s

Casanova talked a lot about taking chances and saying yes to new opportunities. She mentioned how this lead to her expat experiences in the USSR, Malaysia and Japan.

If you’re impulsive like me, taking chances and saying yes comes naturally. I’ve been pretty lucky in the decisions I’ve taken: leaving a well-paying, steady job to start my own company, and then five years later leaving that to pursue an MBA at GLOBIS. These turned out to be the best choices I could have made. Did I know they would be? No. But like Casanova, I had hope.

“The more you give of yourself, the more you receive.”
Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonald’s

Does being impulsive always work out? Unfortunately, no.

Since graduating GLOBIS, saying yes has proven somewhat counter-productive. I thought I had a pretty clear plan of what I was going to do at my current company, but I ended up mostly carrying out other people’s agendas. After all, I like helping people. I like saying yes. But this is a trap many service-oriented people fall into, and while there are certainly benefits to this attitude, forgetting your own purpose eventually leaves you feeling empty. Worse, it stops you from not moving forward.

You might think that after twenty-six years in the business, Casanova would be pretty convinced of her own expertise by the time she came to Japan. But rather than forging ahead with tried-and-true practices, she instead made the effort to find out what the McDonald’s Japan consumer really wants.

She talked to mothers about how to get families back into McDonald’s. She listened to employees and franchisees to find out what support they needed. She was a CEOーthere were certainly other people she could have delegated this to. Instead, she made time to visit restaurants in each and every one of Japan’s forty-seven prefectures. She saw the value in rooting out the problems in person so McDonald’s could start afresh.

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
Dalai Lama

As we get older and gain life experience, it’s so easy to slip into an “I know that already” mode. We stop listening. As we climb the corporate ladder, it’s easier still to stop saying thank you. Reaching the top without losing the humility, open-mindedness, and kindness we started out with is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and those around us.

“If you believe in it, and you believe in it hard, it is impossible to fail.”
Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonald’s