“Your job is whatever your attitude is. You need to go in thinking positive and productive.”
— Emily Willems, Craig McDonald's general manager
Four days after getting her license, Emily Willems backed into a car.
To pay for it, she took what she thought would be a part time job at the McDonald's in Craig.
As soon as she paid off the damages, she backed into another truck.
Six years later, Willems is the general manager and loving her career at McDonald's.
“I would be bored if I were working a desk job,” Willems said.
It’s becoming a more rare occurrence for young people to work their way up within a company without having incurred student loans and debt along their path to success.
But Willems has done just that.
After starting her junior year at Moffat County High School, Willems was offered a shift manager position her senior year. One year later she was assistant manager.
Willems originally thought she wanted to go to college to be a teacher, but soon found herself questioning whether or not the teaching profession was really for her.
“It was hard to justify student loans when I was making more in my current position than a first-year teacher does,” Willems said.
She didn't abandon education altogether, however.
McDonald's is the only restaurant chain with an accredited college program through Hamburger University. Willems holds a degree in hamburgerology, which she described as schooling in business.
Willems said her favorite part about working at McDonald's is the opportunity to work with so many different personalities, and the fast pace.
She added she loved her regulars who come in almost every day.
“You’re able to build a relationship,” Willems said.
When she was a shift manager in high school, Willems said the hardest part of the job was coming in and being in charge of peers, she said otherwise she didn’t find managing school and work too difficult. She said making sure everyone, employees, managers, customers are happy is one of the most difficult aspects.
“It really is a great place to work and a great group to be around,” Willems said.
“She’s been great," said Chris Nichols, owner of Craig McDonald’s. "That’s why we’ve continued to promote Emily over her tenure with us."
Nichols knows what it’s like to work your way up. He too started as a McDonald's crewmember to pay the rent while he was in college. He now owns four McDonald's locations.
“It’s very typical, a fast food or quick service restaurant will get a bad image as being a bad end or no-advancement job,” said Nichols. “But Emily, myself and 75-80 percent of McDonald’s owner/operators and top management have started at the bottom and worked their way up.”
To those who think fast food is an easy job that anyone can do, Willems said it might be surprising to find out it’s not that simple. She said if someone puts their mind to something they will surely be able to succeed, but it’s not something to just walk into.
“Your job is whatever your attitude is,” Willems said. “You need to go in thinking positive and productive.”
Willems said working at McDonald's has taught her some skills she has applied to her own life like time management, general interactions with others and diffusing situations.
During an effective management program she attended, Willems said she learned to balance her work and personal life, saying she tends to get wrapped up in work.
Nichols said some of Emily’s strengths as the general manager include holding high standards, being procedure oriented, knowing the Craig community and her commitment to the job.
“If you’re willing to work as hard as Emily has, you can advance through the ranks and eventually become top management,” Nichols said.
Now that Willems has done just that, her advice to youngsters working part time jobs to earn extra money or to go to school: “Stick with it. You never know where a job might lead.”
Darian Warden can be reached at 875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org